For some couples IVF can be a solution to infertility, but it can also be their relationship’s greatest challenge. Chris Pavey has experienced this journey first hand and shares his insights in the hope it may help others.
From the moment I was told we might not be able to have children naturally, everything intensified. I wanted a baby all the more, and with more urgency. My wife and I were willing to do whatever it took. Often for couples, as it did for us, it leads to In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF); a scientific solution to an emotionally charged problem. Preparing yourself and your relationship for the emotional IVF journey is every bit as important as understanding the science.
Timing is everything
IVF is science lending a helping hand to a woman’s natural reproductive cycle . Hormones are given to stimulate ovum (egg) production. A doctor steps in at the right moment to extract eggs, a scientist brings them together with sperm in a culture dish (rather than a woman’s Fallopian tubes) to create embryos, and then a doctor transfers them back into the woman’s uterus.
Timing is everything and if you’re undergoing IVF you and your partner will quickly become familiar with the cycle of hormone stimulation, monitoring, trigger injection, egg collection, fertilisation and transfer; which are all scheduled and planned out in advance.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the right timings involved for IVF, Melbourne IVF counselling manager, Marianne Tome, says it’s important couples consider everything else they’re juggling in their lives.
“We often assist people who are in the middle of moving house, renovating, have changed jobs or are dealing with an illness in the family.” says Ms Tome. “Adding more tension into your life during a round of IVF can affect your physical and emotional well-being and place further strain on your relationship.”
For our final round of IVF my wife and I planned the best time for us to undertake it. This allowed us to take some control back and contributed to a much more positive journey.
“For some couples, they have no choice,” says Ms Tome. “They’re told it has to happen now,”
“But where possible, it’s important to plan when you’re going to do IVF, and wherever possible ensure that it’s a period in your life which is relatively stable,” she says.
Manage your emotions, don’t let them manage you
There are two primary medications that are used during an IVF cycle: Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Both can cause physical side effects, and the latter can cause mood swings. But often the medication is unfairly blamed for the heightened emotions women experience during treatment, which can be a response to the stress of the situation.
“Most of us presume we will have children and will have them naturally,” says Ms Tome. “When you’re faced with the prospect that this may not occur, or may not occur as easily as you wanted, it can be a stressful and emotional time.”
“There’s a lot of grief associated with IVF; grief that you might not be able to have children or have children the way you had hoped you would, grief that others are having children, grief when a cycle doesn’t work or having to go through another cycle and grief over what you have to give up to go through a cycle,” she says.
Part of Ms Tome’s counselling sessions at Melbourne IVF concentrates on helping couples acknowledge their grief, developing ways to manage the stress, focusing on personal well-being and the strengthening of their relationship. Many couples, my wife and I included, deal with stress in very different ways and need time apart to deal with these emotions separately. But Ms Tome encourages couples always to come back together to talk about it with one another.
“Often couples who deal with their grief separately in their own way, find it hard to come back together,” explains Ms Tome. “It can cause considerable distance between them. Talking with one another is the key.”
During our emotional IVF experience, my wife and I walked together every morning, taking some time out away from all the distractions to talk through how we were feeling, how we were coping individually with the stresses and emotions, and how we hoped to overcome the hurdles in front of us. In Ms Tome’s experience it’s quite a common approach, many of the couples she’s helped reporting that they set aside time each day to talk with one another, even if it was to talk about something other than IVF.
You can read more about supporting your partner through fertility issues here.
Share the journey with others, but on your terms
One of the most difficult decisions my wife and I faced when undertaking IVF was who we told and how much we told them.
In Vitro Fertilisation has become a far more common procedure in recent years (over 66,000 cycles were performed in Australia and 12,637 babies born because of IVF, in 2013 alone ), so many couples are comfortable sharing their journey with family and friends.
But Tome says it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for questions from friends and family about your progress and for their reactions and emotions.
My wife and I also found that a lot of our friends and family, although quite knowledgeable, had a lot of misconceptions, and it was really difficult helping them understand what we were going through.
“A lot of couples will talk about losing friendships over this period,” says Ms Tome. “Sometimes it’s just too hard, for the couple going through IVF, and for the friends who don’t know how to respond or what to say and when.”
Ms Tome suggests having a conversation with family and friends, if you do decide to share your journey with them, right at the beginning. Speaking to them about your approach and expectations can save a lot of heartache and stress later on.
Whether you choose to share your journey with the many or just a few, Ms Tome recommends having at least one person, other than your partner, to talk about it with. Perhaps you could speak to someone who has been through IVF, or a friend or family member who knows you well.
If you’re not comfortable with having such personal conversations with someone close, you can speak to your IVF clinic. Most offer counselling and patient-led support groups that can help you through this journey.
“One of the main reasons people stop treatment early is because of the psychological impact,” says Ms Tome.
Having someone in your corner, ready to support you through the lows and share with you the joys can make all the difference.
Read more about alternatives to IVF here.