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How to thrive and not simply survive during fertility treatment

by Clare Goulty, Head of Country Development (UK) for The European Fertility Society, co-author of fertility book, ‘IVF: All You Need to Know’

Clare Goulty on her fertility journey spanning six years.

At the beginning of our journey, we were oblivious to the importance of self-care. We were focused purely on the physical aspects of IVF.

My fertility journey spanned six years. It began with the alarming diagnosis of stage 4 (the most advanced stage) of endometriosis. Following two grueling laparoscopic operations to eradicate the endometriosis, my husband and I were faced with a simple yet challenging decision. If we wanted to pursue our dream of having a family then IVF was our only option. Little did we know that five years of repeated IVF cycles in multiple fertility clinics lay ahead.

At the beginning of our journey, we were oblivious to the importance of self-care. We were focused purely on the physical aspects of IVF. By the end of our fertility journey, we understood how vital coping strategies are and that IVF is not simply a physical challenge but a mental marathon too.

My top tips for thriving during fertility treatment are:

Be aware that everyone is different

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how an individual or couple will wish to navigate fertility treatment. Listen to your gut instincts. Do what feels right for you. Stay true to yourselves.

Don’t stress about the stress!

There’s no denying that fertility treatment is stressful. Whether it’s managing multiple clinic appointments, juggling work commitments or fretting over how to tell family and friends about what you’re going through, there’s so much to potentially get stressed about. Accept that there will be stressful times. Acknowledge both to yourself and to your partner that there will be bumps in the road. Plan for the ups and downs, put emotional support in place from the start of your fertility journey. It’s also important to understand that there are no known studies to show that stress impacts on the physical outcome of fertility treatment.

Be open to emotional support

Most people are aware of the physical challenges of fertility treatment – the blood tests, the scans, the hormone injections, the procedures. But many forget about the mental challenges - the rollercoaster of emotions, the ebb and flow of hope, the highs and lows that accompany every IVF cycle. Be open to emotional support. Explore the counselling options available to you via your fertility clinic, investigate support forums, make time to relax and unwind. But most importantly, do what feels right for you.

Take control of what you can control

During my fertility journey, what I found most frustrating was the lack of control. I came to accept that there were many aspects of my IVF treatment that I couldn’t control. I couldn’t control how many eggs would be harvested during each cycle. I couldn’t control how many embryos would result from each cycle. I couldn’t control how many embryos would reach blastocyst stage. Ultimately, I couldn’t control the outcome of my fertility treatment.

It was only when I realized that focusing on what I couldn’t control was wasting my energy that I shifted my focus to what I could control. For example, I could control my mindset, my attitude to what I was going through. I could control that both myself and my husband had our own outlets for stress. I could control whether we were putting practical coping mechanisms in place.

When my husband and I started out on our fertility journey, we were unaware of all the amazing support out there.

Be mindful of the importance of coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are highly individual. What works for one person may not work for another. Within a couple, coping mechanisms may vary enormously. My husband and I learnt to be honest with each other about what we needed in order to cope with a long fertility journey.

Be open to trying different coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms come in all shapes and sizes. It can be as simple as taking regular ‘time out’ for yourself, reading a book or taking a walk. It can be talking with a trusted friend or sharing your thoughts in a support forum. It can be writing a journal where you’re taking the time to process and validate your feelings. It can be unwinding with your partner and sharing ‘no fertility chat’ time out together. In short, it’s what makes you feel good.

Recognise the positive actions that you’re taking on a daily basis

It’s common to forget the positive things you’re doing, particularly if you’re on a long fertility journey. Perhaps you’ve made positive lifestyle changes? You may have given up smoking or reduced/cut out alcohol. You may have made improvements to your diet or exercise routine. Whatever you’re doing, it’s important for mental self-care to acknowledge it. Congratulate yourself and your partner. Celebrate the small successes along the way. It’s all part of your shared fertility journey.

Be aware of the emotional support available to you

When my husband and I started out on our fertility journey, we were unaware of all the amazing support out there. During our six-year journey, we discovered a host of support and guidance.

Firstly, every licensed fertility clinic in the UK should provide their patients with access to counselling. Explore the counselling options at your particular fertility clinic.

The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) offers impartial, accurate information on many aspects of fertility treatment.

The Fertility Network UK offers free resources in the form of webinars, support groups and forums.

BICA (British Infertility Counselling Association) offer a ‘Find a Counsellor’ service where you’ll find accredited fertility counsellors.

Clare Goulty MBA, MBS, BA (Hons) is Head of Country Development (UK) for The European Fertility Society. She is co-author of fertility book, ‘IVF: All You Need to Know’. Clare is a former magazine editor and communications specialist. She has girl & boy twins who were born following IVF treatment.

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Review date: 10 October 2023