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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to acquire emotional resiliency in order to cope with the IVF roller coaster ride? - Part I

IVF can be a financially, physically and emotionally draining process. It can be extremely stressful for most people, and while a little stress is useful in coping with life’s difficult moments, too much stress can be paralysing.

What makes the IVF process so stressful?

  1.  IVF treatment is costly!
  2. It is a time-consuming process 
  3. The outcome of an IVF cycle is always uncertain 
  4. Women undergoing IVF treatment have to take lots of drugs mostly in the form of injections. The physical and mental changes caused by such hormones (drugs) can be stressful for many. 
  5. Low success rate (40-50%) per cycle 
  6. The taboo associated with the IVF process 
  7. Social pressure of being infertile and the need to prove yourself by having to succeed in the IVF cycle! 
  8. A failed IVF cycle can cause enormous emotional pain and psychological damage

Going through IVF needs lot of emotional resilience. Even people who are mentally tough find it hard to cope with IVF roller-coaster ride! If you are someone who is not resilient by nature, the IVF process can cause significant damage to your personality. I have heard about women who attempted suicide after a failed IVF cycle. Marriages have broken up because couples were unable to bear the stress the IVF process placed on their relationship. Many couples become demoralized and give up completely. But, I have also seen couples who bonded more strongly because of their IVF journey. Some couples underwent several IVF cycles with ease and confidence, before their baby dreams finally came true. What contributes to this difference?

Learning to ‘bounce back’ to your original mental shapeafter an IVF failurewill help you to lead a normal life and will also help you to prepare for the next IVF cycle. Are you someone who has fallen prey to hopelessness and depression because of undergoing an IVF process? Don’t you think it wise to be resilient and fight for your baby dreams than to give up the process prematurely and regret it for the rest of your life later on?  Is it possible to undergo this IVF roller-coaster ride without falling into the quicksand of negative emotions which drain all your energies? The answer is; yes it is possible! Below are a few tips which helped me to cope with this emotional roller-coaster - and I wish these will help you too to acquire emotional resilience so you have a pleasant IVF journey!

I am a woman who had undergone several IVF cycles without a baby in hand! After the first few failed cycles, I was torn apart emotionally.  I did suffer from low self-esteem, anger, crying spells and depression. Life seemed to have lost its lustre. But, at some point, I realised that this attitude is not going to help me. There were two options in front of me:
 I can feel sorry for myself, make my life and my partner’s life miserable, blame my destiny, fall into the grip of depression, and shut myself from the outer world and give-up the entire baby-making process.  

Accept the reality that life isn’t fair all the time, be happy for my blessings, concentrate on things I love most, spend more time with family and friends, share my IVF experience with people who need guidance and support, work towards making my life (and the life of others) a little more beautiful, hold on to my baby dreams and fight for it!

I decided to take the second route and that has made a wonderful difference in my life! It gave me the courage to undergo the next IVF cycle with much more ease. I agree that every failed IVF cycle is still hard to face but I have now acquired the ability to bounce back much more quickly and with much more determination than before. I wish every couple undergoing IVF learns to be mentally tough so that this journey becomes a little easier.

How to acquire emotional resiliency in order to cope with the IVF roller coaster ride? 

1)   Be well-informed!

Remember- knowledge is power! Acquiring knowledge about the IVF process will preserve your emotional well-being. The difference between going through an IVF process with and without knowledge is like crossing a busy road with and without vision. Understanding the intricacies of the process will make you feel less scared, more confident and will also help you to take control of your situation. This in turn will make you feel strong and powerful, rather than weak and powerless. Knowledge of the process will also help you to accept the unexpected twists and turns inherent in an IVF cycle (for example, the ovaries might not react as expected to the stimulation, there can be fertilization failure, the embryos might fail to divide etc). This will prevent you from feeling betrayed and hopeless when the cycle does not go as per your desire! When you are ignorant about the process, you tend to strongly believe that a failed IVF cycle is your body’s fault - or your doctor’s. As a result you lose confidence in the entire process, and going through more cycles becomes impossible. This puts an end to your baby dreams. While it is true that ignorance is bliss, such bliss can turn into a curse when your cycle fails! So gain enough knowledge in order to prevent an emotional breakdown when going through IVF.

2)   Have realistic expectations

When I started my first IVF cycle I was full of unrealistic expectations. I read only the success stories on the internet. I thought I will end up with several eggs and many embryos. I believed that I will easily get pregnant. But everything went against my expectations. I had only 3 eggs collected during my first IVF and had only one embryo for transfer. Even though the second IVF ended in a pregnancy, I suffered a miscarriage. I was not prepared for any of this. I had naively expected only the best to happen, and I was not prepared for the worst! This took a toll on my mental strength and I was totally shattered! So when undergoing an IVF cycle please prepare yourself for the worst. Do not expect that your cycle will end up with many eggs and embryos. Do not think that you will get pregnant in a single cycle. Do not start dreaming of your potential baby immediately after the embryo transfer (I know it is difficult!). Although it might sound pessimistic, this is hard-earned wisdom from an IVF veteran! It is wise to be pessimistic than to be foolishly optimistic and fall into depression. Having realistic expectations will help you safe guard your peace of mind and also will help you cope better with failure.

3)   Accept the fact that life isn’t fair always!

The emotional impact of a failed IVF cycle can be disastrous.  ‘I am a good person, I haven’t done any harm to anyone, I have spent all my hard-earned money for this process, I am so fond of children, I prayed to God everyday and why did this happen to me? Why did God punish me?’ These are the question which will haunt you after a failed IVF cycle. Remember that life isn’t fair and it doesn’t have to be! Just like good things happen to bad people, bad things will happen to good people. When you want everything to be fair in your life you are prone to several heartbreaks. When you accept the fact that life isn’t always fair, you will learn to cope with a failed IVF cycle too.

4)   Weed out negative emotions

Life is a collection of emotions. You are perceived as what you emote. Healthy emotions will help you to stay strong and happy while unhealthy emotions can cause serious harm to your mental well-being. Infertility plants fear, mistrust, lack of confidence, hatred, envy, worthlessness, depression in you. IVF is the last resort for any infertility patient. So, when you start your IVF journey you are already tormented by all these negative emotions. Most IVF patients carry emotional baggage filled with all these harmful feelings. IVF is a very stressful process and carrying all the unwanted sentiments in your mind will corrode your positive spirit which can be a very valuable tool when going through this stressful process! When an IVF cycle fails, such people tend to break down completely. The first thought that will come to their mind is – I failed even in my last resort to have my baby, and this in turn adds to the mental stress and strain! But if you are wise enough to weed out these negative emotions and plant positive emotions in their place, you will feel better and the persons around you will feel better too! How can we do that? The answer is simple – Learn to live in the present! Learn to experience the happiness within you! Happiness is the best antidote for weeding out negative emotions. If you decide to stay happy, nothing else can prevent you - not even the stress of IVF. Happiness creates an aura of positive energy around you and every other positive emotion like hope, optimism, compassion, gratitude, empathy, serenity, interest, and love will sprout within you. You should realise that it’s not because of infertility that you are unhappy; you decided to be unhappy because of your infertility! The happier you are, the less stress you will feel. This will help you to balance your mind and cope with the ups and downs of an IVF cycle. Remember the quote “No medicine cures what happiness cannot.”

5)   Express yourself!

The best way to be stress free is to be expressive.  Many couples undergoing IVF do not have the chance to express their fears and concerns, their struggles and heart-breaks! Infertility is still viewed as a social stigma in many countries. As a result of this, many couples are reluctant to talk about what they are going through. This causes serious emotional distress. When you are going through IVF,find a way to vent your emotions in an honest and constructive manner. My way of relieving stress is to write what I am going through. Maintaining a blog has helped me a lot. Sharing your feelings with people who are in a similar situation has an immense positive effect on you emotional well-being. You will feel good when you realise that you are not alone! Internet is a boon for infertile couples. You can get access to so many infertility bulletin boards and the good thing about such online support groups is - you can remain anonymous and at the same time express your fears, concerns, anger, happiness and what not! This helps to relieve you from your stress when undergoing an IVF cycle. So be expressive to come out of the IVF blues!

6)   Do your duty and also learn to accept the fruits of it!

Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture states that "Do your duty and let not the fruits of action be your motive’’. Can anyone even function without expecting the fruits of their action? When you get hungry you eat – you expect the hunger to be quenched!  Likewise, when you think of each and every action you perform in your life, there will be an expectation hidden behind it! We undergo an IVF cycle expecting that we will get pregnant and have our baby. Actually, ‘A BABY’ is the driving force for performing the action (IVF treatment!). So, what does the preaching of Bhagavad Gita mean? When you perform an action to the best of your ability then you should learn to accept both the success and failure as if they are one and the same. If we IVF patients keep this in mind throughout our journey we will learn to accept the positive and negative result without losing our sanity! The decision to go through an IVF treatment is in our hand, but not the outcome.  When the outcome of an action is not in our hand, it is not wise to worry and get depressed about it. Easier said than done but it is the wisest advice available to build our emotional resiliency! Below is an excerpt from a book called The Genius of Dhyaneshwar! If you are interested to know more about this book please see follow this link:

For some reason if you fail
There is no reason for you to wail
If you succeed
Well and good
If you fail
Also good
Whatever you do
Give it to ‘that’
Done your bit
That is what

7)   Shed tears for other’s suffering

Be empathetic! Empathy is the most beautiful of all human emotions. It makes you feel good about yourself because it brings people closer to you. The more connected you are with people, the better you will feel during the IVF journey. Empathy will also help you to see this world in a broader perspective. Infertility is hard but there are harder sufferings in this world, and lots of people go through such struggles everyday. When your mind is totally occupied with thoughts like ‘I am suffering, I am the victim, and I am unfortunate’, you get lost in your personal miseries which then get magnified, because you are focussing only on them. You fail to notice what other people are going through. Forget your pain for some time and take time to experience other’s pain. This will open a new world in front of you. You will realize that you are several times more fortunate than many other people in this world. Your IVF journey will appear lot easier and the pain of failure will become much more bearable. As a result you will bounce back to normal quicker and much stronger!

8)   Consider yourself as a survivor of infertility rather than a victim

I went through a miscarriage after getting success in my 2nd IVF cycle; it was the most painful period of my life. Miscarriage after infertility can be very devastating. When I was depressed I always thought ‘why me?’ ‘When most women get pregnant naturally and have children, why do I have to go through so many struggles to experience this joy in my life?’ When I thought all my struggles had finally come to an end, miscarriage came as another big blow to my mental integrity. I felt I am a victim of fate and infertility. I considered myself as a very unfortunate person who is cursed to suffer. But when I came out of the trauma, the entire view of my miscarriage experience changed. I even felt proud that I have survived it. I felt very thankful for each and every blessing in my life. The aftermath of pain is very positive; it allowed me to perceive and receive even the simplest joy with so much gratitude. I realised nothing has gone out of my control - there is always a plan B if plan A doesn’t work! It is OK to grieve for a short period of time but if you always see yourself as a victim of a traumatic event you lose the most essential ingredient in life – HOPE! When your IVF cycle fails, consider yourself as a survivor of that trauma rather than a victim. This will give you enough strength and hope to explore further options.

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