by Lizanne van der Waart, Psychologist and co-owner of Wijnland Fertility Clinic, Cape Town
The decision to undergo IVF often comes when you have already wandered down a challenging emotional road. Many women – and their partners – take it for granted that there will be children in their future and when this doesn’t happen naturally, a difficult journey of self-discovery begins.
The World Health Organisation has defined infertility as a disease, the emotional effects of which are second only to cancer. My husband and I had personally experienced IVF before we opened our Wijnland Fertility Clinic in Cape Town. We felt that there was a psychological need in the treatment of infertility that included a focus on the emotional well being of patients. Today our patient-centered approach is central to everything we do – and we also like to think it contributes to our success rates. I have worked with countless couples through their experiences of infertility and I have found that whether or not they end up with a baby in their arms, there is an opportunity to grow and learn through the process.
Control is a key issue for a lot of would-be parents and with infertility control is taken away. Added to this, the escalation of hormones in the body and the feeling of loss and disappointment can often evolve into blame and judgement within the relationship. To a large extent the emotional fallout is very similar to that experienced in grief. The intensity of the emotional roller-coaster varies from person to person but you may experience anything from the inability to concentrate to numbness, to guilt, deep sadness and isolation.
Your relationship with yourself is central to ensuring that IVF doesn’t derail your relationship. It’s important to look into what your motivation is for wanting a baby and to plan for all the possible outcomes rather than being focused on success alone. Cultivating coping mechanisms that take your mind off of the ‘goal’ will help you manage the experience. Nurture the things you can control and make sure you spend time in your day enjoying simple, easy pleasures that make you feel good about yourself and that aren’t related to your desire to fall pregnant. Talk to your partner about your feelings and share your feelings about all the possible outcomes. This will deepen the trust between you.
I have seen many couples experience something very meaningful when faced with the challenges that IVF treatment can bring and I am positive that with guidance and honesty it can be a transitional moment.