The First Cycle: mentally preparing for your IVF journey

There are few things more daunting than preparing yourself for a first IVF cycle. After all, there are so many steps to take, terms to learn, and fears and hopes to juggle. It has likely already been a long road to get to this point, and the journey ahead may not be a straight one. 

Statistically in Australia, the overall chance of becoming pregnant with your first round of IVF is 33% (with the age of the mother a major factor in success rates) – so how best to prepare yourself psychologically for the greater statistical possibility of an unsuccessful attempt, while still maintaining high hopes for a positive outcome?

Learn the IVF lingo (and the medical nitty-gritty)

Being literate about the IVF process is a strong way to guard your emotional health, giving you the confidence to know what is going on, as well as a sense of control over the treatment. From unfamiliar medical terminology and procedures to ultrasound appointments to hormone injections and their possible side effects, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with information. Research the details carefully and prepare a list of questions for your fertility specialists. And remember: your medical team wants a positive outcome (almost!) as much as you do and they’re there to answer all of your questions – no matter how small or how many times you feel you’ve asked them.

Prepare for IVF failure (but don’t let go of hope for IVF success)

Hope and despair are both completely natural emotions felt during the IVF experience. One way to hold space for the hope without giving in to the despair is to aim to be optimistic but realistic – after all, not everything in life works out on the first go, and just like anything, the process of IVF can be trial and error, with different assisted reproductive protocols working for different people. If you take some time to consider the possibility of failure – to think about next steps or a plan B and ways to help deal with potential disappointment – you’ll give yourself a base for emotional recovery should the ‘worst’ happen. You might also want to write your coping-strategy ideas down as a way of processing these thoughts without unduly dwelling on them. 

Build your IVF support system

Before you get started in treatment, it’s a great idea to think about who you might feel comfortable talking to when you begin the process of IVF and who might become part of your core support network. Beyond your partner (if applicable), another trusted friend, family member or small group of people who know what you’re embarking on can give you a platform to vent/cry/celebrate. Remember that you can choose to involve as few or as many people you want in this process – the important thing is that you feel supported by those people (and not stressed out by them!).

Online infertility support groups can also be helpful sources of information and a safe space to share your fears and hopes with other people commencing (or already in the midst of) similar journeys to your own.

Take self-care seriously

The long and short of it is that IVF can be incredibly tough, both physically and emotionally. This may not be the time to start running a marathon or taking on extra hours at work! It’s vital to acknowledge that this will likely be a time of heightened stress, remembering as well that the side effects of treatment can affect both your physical and emotional wellbeing. Starting to take care of yourself early (and often!) can help you better manage the negative aspects of the process. Some tips to look after yourself:

  • Learn to say ‘no’ to commitments or activities that you know will be stressful or sap your energy
  • Review your social media use – if you notice certain things online make you sad or anxious, take a step back
  • Focus on your physical health by eating well, getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, doing regular (gentle to moderate) exercise and taking part in fun activities that you find energising
  • Practice relaxation using breathing techniques, meditation, journaling, yoga or anything else that you find helps calm your mind
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine as much as possible
  • Look after your relationship – keep communication channels open with your partner, letting them know how you’re feeling, and understanding that they’ll be experiencing strong emotions throughout this process, too.

Seek help from an infertility counsellor

It’s important to note that studies have shown that stress does not affect IVF treatment outcomes. If you’re feeling fearful and anxious, however, seeking stress reduction will make coping with day-to-day life during the process that little bit easier. Speaking to a Geelong psychologist experienced in infertility counselling can help to not only unpack your current concerns, but also help you prepare for the end-of-cycle outcome – whether that outcome turns out to be positive or negative.
Using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), alongside other evidence-based positive psychology modalities, our supportive Happy Minds therapists can help you navigate the emotional speed bumps in your IVF journey, building on your coping strategies and increasing your mental resilience. We can offer face-to-face consultations in our newly renovated Ocean Grove office or remote consultations via Telehealth Australia-wide. For more information and appointments, give us a call on 03 5292 8833, email [email protected] or reach out via our online contact form.

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