In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a form of assisted reproductive technology or fertility treatment that helps individuals and couples struggling to conceive. Unlike IUI (intrauterine insemination), with IVF eggs are removed from a woman’s ovary and combined with sperm samples outside the body to create embryos. Then the best embryo(s) are transferred into the uterus in hopes of a successful pregnancy.
Advances in reproductive science and technology continue to improve IVF success and pregnancy rates since it became available in the late 1970s. Navigating IVF begins with a better understanding of what the process entails.
Prepare like a pro
IVF treatment is as much an investment for your mind as it is for your body and overall health. It brings ups, downs, and everything in between for you to process before, during, and after the cycle is complete.
Here are 10 ways to help you mentally and physically prepare for the IVF process:
Get the facts
One of the best methods to combat anxiety is with knowledge. Do you truly know why you’re doing IVF? Are you aware of what is going to happen during each phase of the treatment cycle? Did your fertility specialist (reproductive endocrinologist) discuss possible side effects such as cramping and complications that could occur? What are your individual success rates? How many blood tests are there? How does the ovarian stimulation process work? What about implantation? When is the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) pregnancy test performed? What are the odds of IVF resulting in a healthy pregnancy, live birth and healthy baby?
A detailed conversation about your diagnosis, how the treatment process works, and what your responsibilities are will provide clarity and confidence as you move through your IVF journey. It is your right to ask. Talk with your fertility team to ensure all your questions are answered, you are comfortable proceeding, and proper expectations are set.
Focus on a healthy fertility foundation
At a time when so much feels out of your control, it’s crucial to control the things you can before starting the IVF process. While you can’t change your age or genetics, the best chance for a successful outcome starts with good choices. Nourish your mind, body, and reproductive health from within.
To lay the best path, you can make small changes in various lifestyle areas including:
Nutrition & hydration
There is no one perfect fertility diet, but eating healthy and staying hydrated can benefit reproductive health.
Getting a solid 7-9 hours is good for general health and many body processes. Brain chemistry normalizes and hormones levels return to a baseline when healthy sleep levels are attained.
Moderate amounts of physical activity have been shown to benefit fertility. Consistent movement helps balance hormones, increase circulation, and decrease stress levels.
IVF is already a stressful process, and being disorganized will only serve to add undue stress. When emotions can run amok and random thoughts enter your mind at any given time, especially while on fertility medications, promote calm by keeping yourself organized.
An IVF notebook or phone app is great so you have one go-to place for all things IVF. Use it to jot down questions, record your cycle results, ponder emotions, and note anything you want to remember along the way.
Just a quick search on Etsy, Amazon, or similar site will bring amazing IVF cycle support products to your fingertips. Many are made with love by current or former IVF warriors who have been where you are and get it. You can find medication organizers, injection tools, cycle journals, adorable clothing items, and meaningful keepsakes.
Master your injections
Injections may not always be enjoyable, but you will be amazed at what you’re capable of doing to reach your goals. Review all your medications before day 1!
Giving yourself an injection at home can be scary the first time. Here are some tips to conquer your fertility medications; it is always easier after the first injection is done!
Watch training videos and ask your fertility team questions so you understand what each medication is for and how to mix and administer with confidence. The most important thing you can do is give yourself time and space to get it right.
Deep breathing and relaxation techniques prior to the injection can be helpful so your body is less tense. Try not to psych yourself out by getting ready to do the injection and repeatedly stopping—say 1, 2, 3, and just do it! Set reminders or alarms to keep on track and avoid late or missed doses.
IVF can be costly compared to other treatments, especially without good insurance coverage. It may take time to get finances together for treatment and medication expenses. Those with coverage will need to plan treatment around the time it takes for the insurance company to authorize treatment and receive medications.
No one enjoys the surprise of getting an unexpected bill during or after IVF treatment. Be clear on exactly what your insurance or financial contract covers (or doesn’t), expected co-pays, and what your out-of-pocket costs may be for both the IVF cycle and fertility medications.
A few additional financial considerations:
There will be additional cost for any medication refills needed throughout the cycle. If your cycle is canceled prior to egg retrieval or embryo transfer, understand what that financially means for you.
Check in advance if early pregnancy monitoring is included in your coverage or contract.
It’s okay to say no
Certain occasions bring simultaneous joy and pain when trying to conceive (like baby showers and birthday parties). Protect your valuable time, emotions, and mental health during IVF and put yourself first. If you aren’t up for an activity, it is okay to just say no.
Choose your people
Be proactive about creating your IVF support system. Identify who you trust to include on this incredibly personal and special journey. Knowing who you want to share this part of your life with when you’re in the thick of it and need someone to lift you up, or just listen, is priceless.
Family and friends can offer amazing support or they may end up being an emotional drain. This is your private information to share, and it can take time to decide on the right people you want to let in. In hindsight, sometimes patients wish they had not told so many people initially as it adds more pressure.
Counseling with a reproductive medicine mental health professional is a great option to help you work through your fears and feelings, and build resilience. This can be a valuable tool for both individuals and couples.
Don’t leave your partner behind.
Infertility and IVF can be one of the most challenging experiences a couple goes through in their life. It is completely normal for each partner to react differently to fertility tests and IVF stress.
Make communication a priority. Your partner needs support just as much as they need to be there to support you. Provide the opportunity to discuss your feelings, concerns, and excitement as you move through your cycle. Talk about your hopes and expectations for each other and how to better support one another. No one should feel alone, especially when you’re in it together.
A quick note about IVF and sex. Unless prohibited by your fertility clinic, try to work in some “just for fun” sex instead of the “let’s make a baby” sex that has likely taken over this part of your relationship.
Stress management and resilience
Additional stress with IVF is normal, and everyone will experience it differently based on their own personality and life experience. But it is powerful and can throw hormones awry. When you’re under stress, the fight or flight response kicks in by making more cortisol, the stress hormone, which can easily throw off your reproductive hormone production.
Mindfulness and stress awareness are the first steps toward better management and resilience. Identifying your triggers can help you anticipate, avoid, and employ coping strategies. For some, it is the stress of injections, while others may be triggered by the impact on their work or daily schedule.
Avoid unnecessary stress during your IVF cycle by making your life as simple as possible and learning to ask for help. Small tasks like walking the dog or getting groceries can be done by those who want to support you. Major changes like moving homes or a career shift bring more stress and are better avoided if possible when in treatment.
Combat the effects with relaxation-promoting activities like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, walking in nature, journaling and more. A mental health provider and IVF support group are great resources to utilize when undertaking IVF.
Breathe. Enough said, you’ve got this!
You are strong and can absolutely do this, but support is available and you don’t have to go through IVF alone. Look for the positive and celebrate each milestone as you move through treatment. No matter how big or small, each one is vital to reach your goal.
Focusing on these areas in advance will help you have a better IVF experience overall. This is an exciting, magical, and momentous time, so remember to be kind and patient with yourself along the way.