IVF is an intense and consuming journey at any time, however the delays to treatments and tests caused by Covid-19 have added an additional layer of angst to an already stressful situation. Many who’d hoped to start IVF treatment this year found themselves unable to access facilities or have had the much-anticipated procedure postponed.
For many people in this situation, their fertility journey is likely to have begun a long time before. Let’s consider everything that goes into preparing yourself for IVF – not just the treatment itself and the intrusive investigative treatments, but prior to that the months, if not years, of disappointment and agony that each monthly period can bring.
It’s common for couples to spend years suffering emotional upset, heartache and distress as they try to conceive, often exacerbated by the fact that, in some cases, waiting lists for NHS treatment can be years long. This in itself can lead to all sorts of issues: loss of confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and conflict within the relationship. Any delay to treatment or progression through the investigative procedures can therefore be devastating.
Often, it’s not just the partnership that’s affected but also your relationship with family and friends. You may find yourself becoming more isolated as you try and protect yourself from intrusive questions, or avoid seeing people you’re close to as they become pregnant and start families. This can be a painful reminder of the life you don’t yet have, leaving you feeling disempowered with a sense of lacking control.
The impact on your sexual self and the connection between you and your partner may become strained because infertility and IVF can often be all-consuming. It’s easy for your relationship to become dominated by the process and the need to get pregnant, and in so doing, the other parts of yourselves and your life can become neglected.
It’s clear that IVF and infertility can be very isolating and Covid-19 has exacerbated this sense of being alone. Although clinics were given the go ahead to reopen in May, there has understandably been a backlog in availability for treatment, particularly in the NHS. With the constantly changing news cycle and the impact of local lockdowns, there’s the potential for guidance to change again.
Because fertility treatment is often considered to be time sensitive from a biological perspective, this adds to the sense of pressure. You may already feel that you’re not in charge of your fertility and seeing the external help being taken away adds to the feeling of being powerless and alone. Likewise, if you start treatment only for it to be put on hold, not knowing when you can continue may put you in a state of distressing limbo. In addition, many of the usual support systems outside of the home may not be not available – from work to social activities to yoga classes – which places increased pressure on both couples and individuals.
Taking care of yourself is the best way to ensure that you’re as prepared as you possibly can be in the current situation. There are some practical steps that you can take to stay on top of your mental and physical wellbeing, build a support network and strengthen your relationship with your partner through these difficult times.
Keep yourself informed about your clinic’s policies and the latest government guidance. The human fertilisation and embryonic authority (https://www.hfea.gov.uk/) provides the latest advice.
IVF can take over your life. Try to use this time as a positive opportunity to reconnect with yourself and your partner outside of the roller coaster of IVF and infertility.
Keep communicating as a couple about your fears, hopes and expectations. Try to be kind and support each other – you’re in this together.
Look at this as an opportunity to access what has been neglected in your life: yourself, your relationships. Can you use this time to reconnect with friends and family?
Reconnect with your body. The body can be seen as the enemy during infertility or IVF. The intense treatments, hormones and procedures can often make women (and sometimes men) disconnect from their bodies. Try guided meditations using the body, with Headspace for example. The idea is not to think, but to ‘feel’ into your body. Sometimes external sensations can help with this like having a warm bath and feeling the water on your body or having a massage.
Practice selfcare. Fear and stress are bad for our bodies generally, lowering our immunity system, which we want to avoid in the current climate, but they’re also detrimental to fertility. Online yoga, meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing are all good ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Reclaim your own personal power. We can all strengthen our own immune systems and bodies through nutrition, exercise and stress reduction exercises. Naturopaths can help with this and you can see them for online consultations.
Counselling or psychotherapy with someone who has knowledge of this area can be really beneficial during this process, and again, you can see them for online sessions.
Finally, it’s important to realise you’re not alone. There are support groups and therapy available to help you through this time. Take your power back in areas that you can and think about how to really use the time for you. Focus on what you appreciate in your relationship and your partner – you’re in this together, both going through the same experience, which can be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
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