Having gone through many cycles of IVF, I can say that whether its one cycle or five, stress, fear and worry can creep in and affect an otherwise stable, healthy relationship. Over the past two years I have come to know my husband in a very different way. Sometimes he knows how to help me and sometimes he doesn’t; not because he doesn’t want to, but simply because he doesn’t always know what I need from him. It is my hope that sharing my insight will make it a bit easier for those about to embark on the IVF adventure-one that may last longer than anticipated. These are the things I think every partner should know before starting IVF.
It is stressful.
For obvious reasons, women bear a large majority of the responsibility of the IVF process, which only adds to the enormous potential for anxiety. We think about it daily; quite possibly every minute of the day. We have to take pills, patches, suppositories and injections, get blood work and ultrasounds done nearly daily, and keep track of changes that may arise in our IVF schedule while somehow maintaining a sound mind and carrying on with other daily activities or work schedule. If we don’t do something exactly as planned, we worry that one mistake will throw everything off course and result in an unsuccessful cycle. We tend to have “performance anxiety” when thinking about what the end result will be. Will we produce enough eggs and enough quality embryos? What if we don’t get pregnant? What if we have to go through this again?? The potential for stress and anxiety is limitless.
The hormones are REAL.
Let’s just say going through the hormonal changes during IVF can be brutal. I got very depressed, which was very hard for me because I am normally a very even-keeled, structured person. I knew that I wasn’t being myself. To put things in perspective, a normal estradiol (estrogen sex hormone) level is around 25-300 at baseline. In some of my IVF cycles my level got to 4000+! I’m sure my husband felt at times like he was going through IVF with 100 wives rather than just me! I finally started giving my husband verbal memos so he would know the hormones were kicking in. Even with my efforts, though, he still didn’t “get it” right away, which made me even more frustrated. It wasn’t until he started saying, “What can I do to make it better for you?”, that the tension between us finally got better.
When most people think of IVF, they think about all of the injections we have to take. The truth is the injections, except those awful progesterone shots, aren’t really that bad. The time will come, though, when our ovaries get bigger and bigger and every step we take makes our insides ache. Going to the bathroom and even passing gas can feel like someone is stabbing us in the gut. Just wait to you see the “IVF shuffle” and you will know exactly what is going on. I’m also going to bring up a topic that most people won’t—sex. Just thinking about another activity jarring my baseball-sized ovaries made me want to hide in my own home. The desire may have been there, but the end result simply wasn’t worth it. Now back to the progesterone shots. The needle is HUGE, the medication is thick, and the shot goes into the muscle—daily! It’s like getting a flu shot every day for weeks…in your rear! The IVF shuffle will turn into an all-out limp when these bad boys get started!
We worry about “us”.
No matter the reason for pursuing IVF, we will worry enough for the both of us. If the reason for IVF is due to a ”female factor” try multiplying that worry a dozen times more. We worry that the stress will drive a wedge between us. Is our relationship really strong enough to withstand such pressure? We worry about the consequences of NOT achieving a pregnancy. Will he resent me? Can we be fulfilled in a childless marriage? Finally, we worry about the oftentimes lack of intimacy that results from repeated cycles of IVF and infertility itself. We feel guilty for not being “in the mood”, for being grumpy or “hormonal” and for being scared to be intimate because of the discomfort. Women are said to be worriers; IVF definitely puts that stereotype to the test.
YOU have the right to ask questions, have fears and feel frustrated.
Although you will never fully understand what we go through, we must respect and recognize that you are going through something, too. This is something that you can not “fix”, which must be very hard to accept. Yes, it is true that we bear the brunt of the IVF burden, but you have to be willing to tell us how you feel. You have the right to ask the doctor questions when you don’t understand what is happening. You have the right to worry, be stressed, and feel disappointment and loss. You have the right to feel anguish and despair when things don’t go as planned—and believe me no one should ever assume the IVF process will be seamless.
Communicating and having empathy is the only way a couple can successfully go through the IVF process. IVF can result in the best thing that will ever happen to you, but it can also be a long road getting there. The best thing my husband ever said to me after multiple IVF disappointments is, “We are in this TOGETHER.” Maintaining a strong, healthy relationship during times of tribulations is what will make that end result even sweeter.
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
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