Coping with infertility and IVF

As you can imagine, the counselling department of an IVF clinic is always busy. Over the years I have been privileged to assist countless women as they undergo fertility treatment. Sometimes this is with a husband, sometimes a female partner, and not uncommonly this is as a single woman. No matter what the reason for needing IVF may be, the journey is nearly always accompanied by hope, fear and deeply personal thoughts and feelings. Some women feel ashamed of the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing, particularly those involving jealousy and resentment towards pregnant friends. This blog is to let these women know that they are not alone and to give voice to a common emotional reaction for those undergoing IVF or other fertility treatments.

“I’m not proud of it, and I’m not normally a jealous person, but I don’t like hearing that my friends are pregnant”. This is usually followed by a shift of the eyes and downward turn of the head. I want you to know that are not an awful person, you are experiencing a normal human emotion that is likely beyond your control. We all feel jealousy from time to time and when you so dearly want to become pregnant it can be very difficult when you are confronted by other women’s “exciting news”.

Clients who feel this way often tell me how they cope better when they know the pregnant woman has gone through her own fertility struggles. Equally, it is typical that they feel a certain amount of resentment when people fall pregnant straight away or without even trying. It is also common for me to hear statements like “It is so unfair, I see pregnant teenagers who don’t even want babies” and “I am measuring ovulation month after month and my friend gets pregnant without even trying”. I typically respond by saying yes, infertility is a medical problem and there is nothing fair about it.

Coping with infertility is often the first time a person has experienced something in which the outcome is truly out of their control. We are so used to working hard in the assumption that we will reap the benefits of our hard work. Yet beyond attending fertility treatments and following doctors orders, there is often little more work people can do when they are having fertility issues. When we “work hard” at falling pregnant to no avail it can be extremely frustrating and demoralising.

I also regularly hear women say “I keep seeing pregnant women, it’s like all of a sudden everyone is pregnant”. No this isn’t the world playing some cruel trick on you. This is a common psychological process of noticing that which we are paying attention to. There is only so much data our brains can process so we select data that is most relevant to us at the time. If our thoughts are consumed with babies and getting pregnant then we are likely to notice them everywhere. It’s like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden you notice your car everywhere.

Some women have found it useful to take a break from Facebook to avoid those pregnancy announcements that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. You probably don’t need to know that that British girl you befriended whilst backpacking in Europe when you were 21 is having a boy. In those inevitable moments when friends announce their pregnancy to you face to face you may find the following coping strategies helpful. Firstly, it can be useful to rehearse how you will react so that when faced with the announcement you are better equipped to manage your discomfort and shield the unwitting pregnant person from a “strange” reaction. Next take a deep breath and try to relax your posture, letting go of any tension that you notice. Finally, it can be helpful to have a coping statement that you can tell yourself such as “Everyone’s journey is different” or “I can feel happy and sad at the same time”.

It’s so important to be kind to yourself and realise that these feelings alone are nothing to be ashamed of. Have a look here if you want to know more about self-compassion. It is equally important to manage these emotions in a way that doesn’t lead to further pain such as the loss of friendship or blaming the other person for what you are experiencing. I’m writing this in the hope that it provides some comfort in knowing that if you are experiencing any of the above, you are certainly not the only one. There is nothing wrong with you, you are not an evil person, and actually you are utterly normal (be that a comfort or not).

Tom Morley