In this webinar, Karenna Wood, an international fertility coach, founder of Your Fertility Hub and a passionate advocate for emotional support and information for women trying to get pregnant was talking about how to get through the emotional roller-coaster throughout your IVF journey.
Mindset and our emotional side of things is often the last thing that we come to look at. It is often the last piece people start looking at, which is their emotions and thoughts because going through infertility and fertility treatment can be incredibly stressful. The levels of depression and anxiety among women going through infertility are very high and sadly undiagnosed. It is an area that should be looked at more, and that is what Karenna Wood has been doing for the last 10 years. Her role has been of emotional support.
When you are starting your journey, very often you look at medical diagnosis, and there can be numerous factors that can be the cause of not being able to conceive. There can be a male factor, there can be a female factor but also an unexplained factor. The next step goes to looking at a healthy lifestyle, diet is a very particular area of focus, supplements can be another area, and generally looking around lifestyle. However, very often this last piece in the puzzle is how you feel.
Dealing with IVF – steps to take
The first step is to think about asking yourself: how are you feeling about IVF? It doesn’t matter whether you’re preparing to go into IVF or you are in your mid-cycle, or you just come out of a cycle, wherever you are in the IVF process checking in with how you’re feeling is important. This will change as you go through different days and different processes. One of the best ways is through journaling. It’s about getting your thoughts out of your head because often they can be going round and round in a huge loop, and it’s important to break that cycle of thinking by getting it out. It can help you process some of those emotions in a much more productive way and help you move towards any sort of decision-making or clarity.
You can’t control infertility and that’s hard especially in the modern day to not being able to control something is very difficult. What you can do though, is control your response to it. You can control your thinking, and how you think about IVF. Trying to reduce your stress in trying to control those things. If you are thinking something that is unhealthy, then challenge that because you know you were the only one that can challenge these negative thoughts, you are the only one who can stop some of these negative thoughts, and you can’t change what’s going on, but you can change how you’re responding to it and how you’re thinking about it. Take a moment to just tune into what you intuitively are feeling, and that’s often the first voice that you say can be how you’re feeling.
The next question is: how do you want to be feeling about IVF? That’s a key question, once you are aware of how you are feeling and write those things down as well. Think about how you can work towards getting there. If you’re not feeling well and thinking some perhaps negative and unhealthy thoughts, try to change your attitude and say: ‘I’m not going to think like this, I’m going to choose to think that I’m moving forward in a more healthy way around IVF and the process.’
IVF is this two-horse race, you’re either positive or negative at the end, and that’s the result. There’s a lot of pressure, and it’s important to take away some of that pressure because we all want that positive result, but what we need to do is to do this realistically and manage the thoughts and emotions around the positive or negative outcome. Karenna said:
One thing I always say is to have a positive plan and a negative plan, especially if you’re going through 2-wait-week and you’re approaching your beta test, it’s good to feel like you have a plan, particularly a negative test result. For example, if you receive a negative result, who are you going to call, what are you going to do that day, is there something you’d like to eat that day, is there something you’d like to watch, or is there somewhere you’d like to go like a special place. You need to have those set boundaries. Even just knowing that you have that plan in case it’s a negative result is important.
Your best approach to go through this is to do it optimistically because underneath all those thoughts is hope within you that this is going to work. That little part of you, that hope is so important, and it is often shut out because it’s painful. However, you need to allow yourself to go into that on your good days when you can. Visualize this working, visualize becoming a parent, visualize the pregnancy, it’s okay to be optimistic about this cycle because, unfortunately, if it is negative, the fall is very hard, the sadness, the grief, the loss of it is so hard anyway that having gone through it in an optimistic way you’ll have gone through. A lot of the studies show how important optimism is to your mindset and your decision-making. When we’re feeling more optimistic a lot of things generally flow better in our life w
Another thing is to be assertive. Tune in to your every decision, and every appointment, it is so important that you are managing this in the best way that you can, you are asking the questions, and you are sure that you are understanding everything. Therefore, try to be more assertive with the people around you in terms of saying, I can’t do this right now, I don’t need this right now, I can’t attend this baby shower or family gathering, it’s just not healthy for me and so on. It’s the same with your clinic because you must understand what’s going on so that you feel that you’re getting everything you need, and it is also important in this doctor-patient relationship to not be passive in those appointments and make sure to understand them and that maybe means taking somebody else with you to those appointments, so you can talk about it afterwards.
Speaking about IVF, we cannot forget that it is a numbers game. You may have heard things along your journey like you have an X per cent chance of conceiving naturally, your IVF success rate might be this or that, you get X number of follicles, your FSH is this level, your AMH is this level, it’s all around. Particularly after egg retrieval, it’s all around fertilization rates and grading of embryos, how many embryos you have. The numbers are immense, and it is mind-boggling our core brain doesn’t work in numbers, you, as a person, work intuitively around how you feel. The numbers can be great in terms of your analytical brain and understanding things, but they can also be incredibly difficult to manage emotionally. Therefore, regarding the numbers, you need to understand what you’re going to do with them and rationalise them as well because they can become very overwhelming and again, you cannot control this. You can only control your response to them.
Tools to support you
Karenna worked for years to support women, and one of the things she focuses on is providing tools to support patients. One such useful tool is App called ‘Your Fertility Tool Box’ where you’ll find all useful resources on IVF but also other things like meditation for each stage. Meditation is one of the first tools because it is probably the most successful one. You have to train yourself to be able to sit quietly. One of the options is guided meditations, where you’re listening to a relaxing audio track with a voice talking you through something. Listening to some specific fertility meditations can be a good tool that you can use. Another useful tool is mindfulness, which means just being in the present moment. This is very powerful for you during infertility because you often spend the majority of your thinking time going over the past or the future. The present moment is the only thing that’s real, so instead of thinking about what am I going to say next or allowing your mind to drift, be present in those conversations with your partner, particularly it can be very powerful as you go through IVF. You may feel it is hard to achieve mindfulness when you’re going through infertility because the thoughts are very overwhelming, there is so much going on in your life. However, it’s not necessarily needed to be in silence or be very quiet, there is also active mindfulness, this could be going for a walk in nature and listening to the sounds and just being aware of your senses when you’re out. Another thing you could do is play the guitar, or if you’re an artist or used to doing some painting or exercising, you can mindfully exercise, it’s just a way of giving your brain space from all the thoughts.
You also need to feel supported either by your family friends, coach, doctor, nurse, community or even some groups. It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes it might be more beneficial to join some private group, so you’re not overwhelmed. Think about what is going to be best for you in terms of connection and support and making sure that you get what you need are the key parts of how you’re going to be feeling. One other thing is mindset, if you’re wanting to work on your mindset, tune into hope, gratitude can be a huge huge part of moving your mindset forward as well. You could just think of three things when you go to sleep each night that you were grateful for that day, however small they are. This can start to transform your mindset.
Life outside IVF, it’s important to find a way to widen your lens so that you are remembering yourself and especially you as a couple outside of IVF, it can consume you, and it is not healthy for you or your relationship and for sure not healthy for your emotional well-being. Relationships get stronger in most cases as you go through IVF, but there is a lot of strain, and that strength shows up later on, but finding ways to support your relationship as you go through IVF is crucial. Have limits around a fertility talk time and worry time, you can discuss it for an hour or so, but then cut it off and do something else with your partner. The last tool suggested is affirmations, which are positive forward-facing statements, it can be very powerful to be looking at a statement every day of where you want to get to, where you want your emotions and your mindset to get to. Find some positive fertility affirmations that resonate with you and stick them everywhere all over your house, so your brain is reading them over and over again, and what you’re doing is changing the neural pathways in your brain, so it’s very powerful brain training.
Lastly, IVF is an incredibly stressful thing but there are tools that you can use to experience IVF in a better way. You don’t want to just survive through IVF, you want to find ways to thrive through it. Even though sometimes you may not feel that’s possible, you can experience this in a better way, and it just takes a bit of that daily work and that decision to change that.