Coping with stress during fertility treatment

Getting fertility treatments is often described as an emotional roller coaster. One day, you may feel hopeful and excited. The next, you may feel sad and uncertain.

The ups and downs of getting treatments may cause you physical, mental, and emotional stress. This is normal, and there are things you can do to manage your stress.

Causes of stress

There are several reasons you may be feeling stress as you go through fertility treatments.

Sense of loss

You may feel a "loss of control" in planning your family. You may also feel you have lost your hopes and dreams for the future, privacy, self-esteem/sense of self, intimacy with your partner, and autonomy over family building.

Social issues

Social stress can be one of the hardest things to manage. Other people may not know or understand what you are going through. You may not want to share your experiences with family or friends. Comments and questions, no matter how well meaning, can at times feel intrusive and insensitive. Because others may not understand or appreciate the challenges you are experiencing, you may feel socially isolated and awkward around family and friends.

Treatment stress

Medical treatment for infertility means you must hand over a very private and personal matter to health care professionals. Also, many women have emotional side-effects when taking hormone-type drugs.

Disruptions to everyday life

Getting fertility treatments may become all-consuming and disrupt your normal routines, work hours, and lifestyle. The financial costs may also cause you stress since treatments are often expensive and may not be fully covered under provincial or private health insurance. If you live some distance from the nearest clinic, you may have extra travel costs too.

Tough decisions

Many of the decisions you need to make when getting treatments are complex and hard. Some examples include:

  • You and your spouse or partner might not agree about which treatments to try, how many times to try, or when to stop treatment.
  • If you get in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, single embryo transfer is often advised, and you may be asked what to do with embryos that remain.
  • You may need to consider other ways to build your family, like using donated sperm or eggs, surrogacy, or adoption.

How to manage stress

There are several ways to deal with the stress you may feel.

Coping with yourself

Recognizing and paying attention to your own needs is very important. On top of “emotional roller coaster” feelings, the physical side effects from treatment may really affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is important that you continue to eat well, get enough rest, and plan to do other activities. Moderate physical exercise can also help relieve stress.

With your spouse or partner

Although fertility treatments affect both women and men, women report higher levels of physical and emotional stress. This process can also be very stressful on a couple's relationship. You and your spouse or partner may not always react the same way or cope with stress in the same way. It is important to talk and stay connected with one another. But it is equally important not to allow the issue to consume your lives. A good strategy is to schedule activities together that allow you to focus on something other than your situation, to give you a diversion from the stress.

In social situations

It can be a challenge to cope with things like baby showers, family gatherings, or even work, where questions may come up about your plans for having children. It is really your decision how much to tell others, depending on how open you are with your family, friends, and colleagues. Sharing some information can help to reduce social pressures, gain support, and sensitize others to comments that might be upsetting or unhelpful. Infertility and experiences with treatment are actually more common than you may think. Sharing your situation may inspire people you would not have expected to tell you their stories and give you helpful information.

Becoming informed

Learning as much as you can about your treatment can help you regain some sense of control and make informed decisions. It is important to ask lots of questions so that you can actively participate in your care. You may want to get a second opinion from another healthcare provider. For more information, there are also books, websites, online forums, and support groups.

Getting help

Talking to a counselling professional who specializes in infertility issues and fertility treatment (like a psychologist or a social worker) can be very helpful. These people can help you explore different coping strategies, consider the pros and cons of different family-building options, find information and support, and manage stress. Your treatment centre may have a counsellor on staff or be able to refer you to a resource in your community. Patient organizations may also be able to help you find counselling resources. See Getting fertility counselling for more information.

Support groups and networks can help make you feel less isolated. They let you meet and share concerns with others who have experiences like yours. These groups may be led by peers or professionals.

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