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How to prepare for IVF - beginners guide

How to prepare for IVF – A beginner’s guide

Personal Development Coach, and author of the IVF Positivity Planner.
Originally published at Fertility Road Magazine, ISSUE 54.

Trying for a baby is supposed to be a wonderful and exciting time, but when it doesn’t happen naturally and you are told that you will need IVF to help you conceive, it can feel really scary and overwhelming.

It’s no-one’s ideal way of getting pregnant, but for some of us, unfortunately, it is our only option.

Many people don’t know anything about IVF, what it is like physically or emotionally, and if you don’t know anyone who has been through IVF (or you don’t want to tell people what you are going through) you may not know where to turn for support or advice, so it can feel very lonely.

It may feel like a big step going on to IVF, but things often feel less overwhelming when you know more information about them, and you have a plan of coping through it.

What to expect when you are starting IVF

  • It may be tough, physically and emotionally, but there is support available to you, and lots of people who understand.
  • You may feel a whole range of emotions, and that is really normal. Some days you might feel excited to get started, especially if you have been trying for a long time, other days you might feel sad and scared that it won’t work.
  • Not everyone around you will understand what you are going through. It’s very hard for anyone that hasn’t been through the heartache of struggling to conceive to understand the depths of emotions you feel and why you feel the way you do. Your loved ones may not know how to support you, that’s normal, but there are people out there who do understand and that will support you.
  • Even if you have a very strong and supportive marriage/partnership, fertility issues can still put a strain on your relationship. Although your partner may want a baby as much as you do, their experience of the process can be very different to yours. Remember that your partner may be struggling with the inability to conceive too (especially if the issue is on their side), it’s important for you to talk it through with them.
  • Struggling to conceive and going through IVF can leave you feeling out of control of your life, your body and your future. Again, that’s completely normal, but it’s important to understand that there are still things you can do to take back some control.

Although it may feel overwhelming, there are lots of things that you can do to cope throughout treatment…

Breathe

Take slow, deep breaths when you are feeling anxious – in through your nose and out through your mouth. This basic technique relaxes your body and can calm you mentally. It can be really helpful if you are feeling anxious at appointments.

Take control of the things you can, to help you feel that you have some say in the process and that you have control over your life. Think about your lifestyle, your mindset and the practical parts of treatment.

Lifestyle

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Start taking prenatal vitamins – speak to your clinic about the best ones to take.
  • Stop smoking, drinking alcohol and recreational drugs.
  • Reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake.
  • Avoid travel to any countries or regions that may put you at risk of exposure to Zika or other significant infectious diseases, which could delay treatment.
  • Speak to your consultant about the COVID vaccine.

Practical

Empower yourself with information so that you can make informed decisions:

  • Educate yourself on the IVF process – types of treatment, the stages of an IVF cycle, clinics, success rates, add-on treatments and support available. Some of the fear and anxiety that comes with IVF, stems from uncertainty about the process and potential side effects of treatment.
  • The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) has a lot of information that you can look at when researching treatment and clinics www.hfea.gov.uk
  • Use reputable and trusted sources to ensure you are getting the correct information.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, make a list of everything that is worrying you or adding to the overwhelm – what can you do to find out/get reassurance/feel more comfortable?
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are feeling unsure about any part of the process.
  • Understand all the costs involved – if you have funding from the NHS (what’s included, number of cycles etc), if it is self-funded, what level of treatment are you planning and does it include treatment add-ons etc. Plan your finances so that you feel comfortable that your treatment is affordable to you.

Emotional

Infertility takes its toll emotionally and physically, so make sure you are being kind to yourself.

  • Reduce/manage stress – reduce the number of activities you are doing that make demands on you, make a list of the things that are causing you stress, so that you can think about ways to reduce or manage it.
  • Find coping strategies that work for you – journaling, meditation, exercise, therapy.
  • Plan in time doing things and seeing people that make you feel good.
  • Consider benefits of complementary techniques and therapies, such as yoga and acupuncture, to help reduce anxiety and stress.

Get support in whatever way works for you – The type of support people need and want is very personal, so think about what type of support works for you – something more anonymous, a more public forum like Instagram, or more in depth counselling support.

  • Friends/family – you can help your loved ones understand how to support you. There are lots of blogs and information that can help you let them know how you are feeling and how they can support you through treatment.
  • Fertility counsellors – you should be able to speak to a counsellor that is linked to your clinic, or if you aren’t with a clinic or would prefer someone else, you can look at the BICA (British Infertility Counselling Association) website www.bica.net for counsellors that are local to you.
  • Support groups – there are lots of support groups full of amazing people who fully understand what you are going through.
  • Fertility charities offer lots of support and advice – for example, Fertility Network UK, www.fertilitynetworkuk.org and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association www.resolve.org
  • The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) www.hfea.gov.uk offers lots of advice and guidance on fertility treatment.
  • Social media can be great for chatting with others that fully understand what you are going through.

Coping together as a couple

  • Keep talking – talking to each other is one of the most important things you can do – tell each other how you are feeling about the process, be honest, that way you can work together to get through it and support each other in the way you need it.
  • Don’t place blame – It is really important to see the fertility issue as a joint issue (whichever side the problem is on).
  • Plan in quality time together and set designated ‘No baby/IVF’ talk times.
  • Don’t just have baby making sex – it adds pressure and can take the fun and intimacy out of it.

Take some time out for self-care and focus back on you rather than what you are going through – create a list of things that help you relax and make you feel good (exercise, time with friends, beauty treatments, acupuncture, reflexology) and plan them in around your treatment.

Think about how you can juggle treatment and work

  • Think about how much time you’ll need off – speak to your consultant to find out more about your treatment plan and approx. timings for treatment. You can then think about what time you would like off throughout the process, which parts you can continue to work through (initial appointments, stimulation etc), and how much time you would ideally like off for the other procedures (for example Egg collection and Embryo transfer) depending on the type of work you do (how physical/stressful).
  • Research your company’s policy for fertility treatment/time off/sick time so you are aware before you speak to your boss and can think of how to work around it.
  • Decide how much you want to disclose and who to – think about whether it will make it easier if you are not having to hide things from management.
  • Develop a plan before talking to your boss – it can be helpful to think about some ideas on how you plan to make it work around appointments and treatment.

Going through IVF can be tough, but it doesn’t need to be a stressful and negative process. Take control of what you can, keep positive about your reasons for doing it and use your support network when you need it.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and would like more support, I run a free Facebook support group called TTC Support UK that you are more than welcome to join for peer support, advice and comfort from me and lots of lovely people who completely understand.

Do’s and Don’ts before IVF

Do’s:

  • Make positive lifestyle changes
  • Educate yourself on the IVF process
  • Talk to your employer about your treatment
  • Take control of the things you can
  • Empower yourself with reputable and trusted information sources www.hfea.gov.uk
  • Avoid travel to countries or regions that risk exposure to Zika or significant infectious diseases
  • Plan your finances
  • Reduce/manage stress
  • Talk to your consultant about the COVID vaccine

Don’ts:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for support
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are feeling unsure about any part of the process
  • Don’t place blame in your relationship – try to see the fertility problem as a joint issue
  • Don’t feel that you have to tell everyone about your fertility treatment
  • Don’t feel guilty for feeling upset when you hear other’s pregnancy announcements
  • Don’t feel that you ‘should’ feel a certain way
  • Don’t use social media forums if they’re not making you feel good
  • Don’t forget to take time for yourself
  • Don’t lose sight of your relationship

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Sarah Banks
Sarah Banks
Trying for a baby can be a wonderful and exciting time. But for a number of couples (approximately one in seven) it can be an exhausting, heartbreaking and stressful time, full of ups and downs and feelings of hopelessness, failure and grief.