Countless doctor appointments, talks with your spouse, internet research binges, and the thoughts that invariably drift into your own mind on a daily basis. Infertility and infertility treatment is a stressful experience, no doubt. It’s worth it, though—you’ve already decided that—but there are definitely some things you can do to balance out your life and create more headspace.
You might believe that others’ happiness affects your own. But did you know that it goes much further than this? In a study that assigned non-depressed participants to depressed roommates, the non-depressed individuals increased in their depression scores over a 3-month period compared to the control subjects.
It’s already established among psychologists that one person’s mood affects another’s in the short term, particularly through facial expressions, body language, and the tone of their voice. This is called emotional contagion. However, what about the long-term? A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal showed that one person’s happiness in a social network affected another person’s for as long as a year.
We can imagine, then, how much our own social networks affect our mood, outlook, and level of calm each day. This is why it’s so important that people support each other because if your personal life is in havoc, it will likely seep out to affect the people closest to you. Keeping in mind how much our moods and actions affect each other, here are some relational tips to practice during the emotional stress of fertility treatment:
1. Have a support system
The IVF process can feel isolating, especially if you don’t know any other women who have personally gone through it themselves. Find a friend, family member, or a woman who shares this experience to talk to and confide in. Having someone to share the ups and downs with whom you trust will make the experience much more manageable.
2. Remember that fertility treatments are also hard on your partner
You’re not in this alone, but relying on your partner for support simply won’t be enough. That’s why I’ve included step #3. Of course this will be something you discuss together regularly, but don’t let it take over your lives and strain your relationship. Remind yourself that this is tough on them, too, and find time to take your minds off of it and just unwind.
3. Accept and welcome help
Small gestures from friends and family such as a meal can make a huge difference. You’ll be exhausted and probably have little time to plan and prepare a meal. Since proper nutrition is more important now than ever, it’s not the time to skip a meal or break out the ramen noodles for a quick fix. It’s perfectly ok to allow friends or family to help out with housework as well.
4. Listen to your partner’s needs
Everybody copes with stress differently. Some people want to approach problems pragmatically, and immediately map out a game plan. Others want to take their time and just be able to vent to their family and friends. Make sure you are attuned to your partner’s feelings during this time. Take turns listening and do your best to meet the other person’s needs.
5. Stay Informed
There are many options available to couples that are struggling to conceive. Talking to your family, friends, and doctor will help you figure out what method is best for you. One such option is in vitro, or IVF treatment. Talk to a professional to see if IVF fits your needs. Each situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Through a combination of independent research and professional advice, you will be able to map out your best path to parenthood.
6. Talk to the Clinic
Receiving fertility treatments can cause a wide range of emotions. You might feel overwhelmed at the thought of becoming a parent. You might worry about judgement from others. You are making a life-changing decision—of course you’re emotional!
But remember, you are never alone. Talk to the staff at your clinic. They may be able to point you to helpful resources in your area, such as local support groups. Discuss how you’re feeling and never be afraid to ask for help. They’ve seen it all!
7. Get Online
While advice from friends and family can be helpful, sometimes we need to talk to people who know exactly what we are going through. Whether you are looking for advice, or you simply want to talk, online support communities can be a great source of comfort. Rather than obsessively searching the internet for rare side effects, infertility horror stories, and what-not, check out DailyStrength, an online support community where you can share advice, experiences, and stories with people who are dealing with similar struggles.
Many people face challenges when trying to conceive. When you have the proper emotional support, you will truly be able to enjoy your path to parenthood.
Sometimes, everything is a mess in your own head. Your situation doesn’t make sense, you’re worrying about many things at once, you’re trying to predict the future, and on top of that, what if this infertility treatment doesn’t work? What if it does? Then parenthood is ahead of you. It’s important to take the time to clear your head, and this doesn’t mean trying to solve each problem or possibility that occurs to you. Here are some ways to calm down, refresh, and open up your mind a bit.
1. Go easy on yourself
Try boosting your mood by reflecting and focusing on self-care to get yourself through this process. You can’t spend this time beating yourself up and flooding your mind with negative thoughts. Find something relaxing that makes you feel good, such as yoga, daily meditation, or even consider writing down your daily thoughts in a journal. Put yourself first and do things that make you happy. Yes, ladies, you should treat yourself to dessert or a pedicure.
2. Prepare for changes in your body
The list of side effects from IVF and fertility medications are endless, but some of the most common include mood swings, bloating, cramping, and headaches. Remind yourself that your body is preparing for a baby and that these changes are all part of the process.
3. Tackle the two-week wait
Waiting for those two weeks to find out whether you’re pregnant or not can be the longest and most daunting two weeks of your life. Keep yourself busy and focused during that time so you aren’t driving yourself totally crazy obsessing over the results.
4. Set your boundaries
When it comes to infertility, people don’t always know the right thing to say. Decide as partners how much information you are going to share and who you are going to share it with. Remember, it is your choice, and no one needs to validate it.
5. Take breaks
When you are undergoing fertility treatments, it may seem like the process is taking over your entire life. Remember to have fun and take a break now and again with your partner. It’s also a good idea to take individual breaks as well.
6. Eliminate everyday hassles
Taking out the trash, washing dishes, going grocery shopping—even the simplest tasks might seem like a colossal stressors when you are dealing with fertility treatments. Surprise your partner by knocking some daily chores off their routine. Even eliminating one dry task from someone’s to-do list can be enough to alleviate their stress.
7. Decide how long you’re going to try
After investigating your options and better understanding your chances of pregnancy with the treatment you’ve chosen, it will help mentally to decide with your partner how long you’re going to receive infertility treatment. It doesn’t have to be an unbreakable rule, but more of a guideline. Fertility treatments are expensive, and setting a time you plan on moving on if you don’t become pregnant might reduce the future stress of trying to decide in an emotional moment.
Mental strategies and advice are helpful, but sometimes, it’s what you do that counts more and balances out your life. Here are concrete ways you can improve your health and life by reducing stress and finding enjoyment:
1. Light exercise
"Exercise would cure a guilty conscience,” Plato said. Though it can seem paradoxical that physical activity calms an overactive mind, numerous studies support the way exercise reduces stress and anxiety while improving mood. Biologically, exercise reduces stress hormones in the body—adrenaline and cortisol—and stimulates production of endorphins, which are hormones responsible for reducing pain and elevating mood. Another way of looking at it is using exercise as a way of channeling your overabundance of mental energy.
As recent medical advice encourages pregnant women to exercise, even, exercising on a daily basis is a good habit to start both mentally and in preparation for your pregnancy. Harvard Health says that almost any type of exercise helps reduce stress, but it’s important to stick to low-impact exercise like light hand weights or walking while undergoing fertility treatment. Remember, consistency is key.
2. Educate yourself.
Understand how fertility works biologically and what the medical procedures you’re undergoing are actually doing to help infertility. Understanding something is often the best way of reducing the way it intimidates you. However, consult reliable sources rather than someone’s personal anecdotes posted online.
3. Find new hobbies, or pick up old ones.
Not only will hobbies distract you, but they will become pockets of meaning dispersed throughout your life so that during stressful times, you have multiple places in which to find joy. They will also prevent you from concentrating all your hopes and happiness on the one thing that might not happen.
4. Drink some tea.
Tea has been associated with relaxation and a pleasant social time, especially in countries like the United Kingdom, but some studies actually support its link to lower stress levels. Check out this article on five tea remedies for stress, and try a new tea you’ve never had before! It might become your new favorite. Sip it and read a good book.
5. Play with a pet for a couple minutes.
Something about those lovable faces can do wonders to lift anyone’s spirits. Maybe because they don’t talk, but just watch with those adorable eyes and listen. Who knows where the charm comes from? But pets really do seem to be connected with a better mood. Female participants in a study who spent time with a dog had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and spending time with pets has helped elderly people feel less lonely.
6. Write lists.
Writing things and thoughts down clears your mind, and there are several ways of going about this. Try writing a worry list—jot down your concerns, tell yourself you will review and consider it later, and go about living in the present moment. Or how about a gratitude list? Not only will this broaden your perspective, but it will highlight all the positives in your life. Try an achievement list to bolster your view of your own capabilities, or use a hopes and dreams list to create aspirations that go beyond the realm of pregnancy. Then pursue them.
7. Do something for someone else.
Doing nice things for others not only brightens their day, but distracts you from your own problems, or reminds you that everyone struggles with something. Check out this list of random acts of kindness ideas and try one out. It might make someone’s day--and yours, too.
As you receive fertility treatment, your stress level might skyrocket with the emotional, biological, and relational changes in your life. That’s ok, though. Sometimes, you just have to be creative, look for inspiration around you, take a breather, or do the opposite and make yourself busy. There are always ways of coping with difficult times, so you’ll be ok! Hang in there.