IVF is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. While much of it can be attributed to the hormones you are injecting, ingesting and inserting into your body, your emotions are understandably erratic when there is so much at stake. Having suffered an early miscarriage from a spontaneous pregnancy and four failed IVF cycles, I am very familiar with the highs and lows of this all-consuming experience. Wherever you are on your journey, I hope my A-Z Guide to IVF Emotions is helpful.
Ashamed: When your body cannot do what nature intended, even with medical assistance, you feel like a failure. Despite knowing that my infertility is not my fault, keeping that demon at bay is a daily battle.
Bereaved: When I miscarried, I grieved for the child I will never meet and the future I may never have. What people fail to realise is that when IVF is unsuccessful, you also experience grief; a small piece of you dies after each round.
Confused: From the acronyms and drug names to the procedures and protocols, there is an overwhelming amount of information to digest. I did not have a clue what anything meant at first. Fertility is a complex field, but the more you learn, the more empowered you feel.
Delighted: Successfully hitting each IVF milestone feels like a lottery win, e.g. responding to the medication, harvesting good-quality eggs, embryos becoming blastocysts, undergoing a transfer, etc. Do celebrate these steps as they are part of the process.
Emasculated: The current narrative is dominated by the female voice, but what about the male perspective and male factor infertility? Whether they are supporting their partners or dealing with their own diagnosis, their viewpoint is equally valid and we need to encourage them to speak.
Frightened: I remember feeling this way when I first saw the syringes and needles that I would need per cycle. Scared I would get things wrong. Scared this would be for nothing. And now I am scared it might be too late. IVF and fear go hand in hand, but whatever happens, you will be OK.
Grateful: Whenever I feel angry about my infertility and self-pity kicks in, I remind myself I am lucky to have access to IVF and a strong support network to celebrate and commiserate with me.
Heartbroken: I wish I could say you get better at dealing with failed cycles, but the pain only increases. Instead of your dream baby, all you have are bills, bruises and a broken heart. I try to put up a protective fence around my heart, but some hope always squeezes through the cracks.
Isolated: During my first two cycles, I struggled to cope with the invasive procedures, medications and emotions, shutting myself off from everyone. I felt utterly alone. Discovering the TTC community (Trying to Conceive) on Instagram made me feel seen and heard at long last.
Jealous: One of the hardest aspects of lockdown was hearing people moan about homeschooling and childcare or making baby boom jokes while my chance of becoming a mother was cancelled when clinics closed. Unsurprisingly, pregnancy and birth announcements also make me envious.
Kind: Complete strangers can surprise you with their kindness when you open up about your infertility. I have had the deepest conversations with people via DM, which have made me feel validated when no-one else seems to understand.
Livid: The rage was real when my latest round failed. Why was life so unfair? Why can some women get unintentionally pregnant? Why is my body so useless? People will tell you to be positive, but I believe it is important to acknowledge your anger in order to move past it.
Misunderstood: When you are honest about infertility, you hear plenty of platitudes, “Just relax and it’ll happen” being a favourite. Unless someone has had IVF or is extremely empathic, they will be unable to understand the depth of your pain, no matter how many times you explain it.
Naïve: There is a common misconception that IVF guarantees a positive outcome, but success rates are low, especially among older women. Having heard stories of friends and family who got lucky on their first attempt gave me a false sense of hope.
Optimistic: Toxic positivity is damaging. While being optimistic will make IVF more bearable, it does not affect the outcome whatsoever. By suppressing our negative feelings, we will end up feeling like a failure for not being happy all the time, which is not normal anyway.
Punished: With four failed cycles behind me, it is hard not to feel like I am being punished for not trying to conceive sooner. Each needle feels like a form of punishment for taking my fertility for granted. Hopefully it is not too late to make my dream of becoming a mother come true.
Quiet: I may be passionate about destigmatising infertility by being an open book, but there are times when that is the last thing I want to discuss. If you feel triggered, take a step back and do something that makes you happy.
Supported: If you are unable or unwilling to talk to your entourage about IVF, there are many resources and networks available to support you through this challenging phase. Whether you prefer to remain anonymous or not, hearing others’ stories will make you feel less alone.
Resentful: When you are TTC, it feels like every woman is pregnant or has children. Triggers are incessant, from social media posts to family gatherings, but you can temporarily mute accounts or avoid events to protect yourself.
Tearful: I have cried in clinic corridors, in parks, on the street, in toilets, on the Tube… The list is long. IVF will push you to your emotional limits, so please do not beat yourself up about being weak if you feel teary. You will feel better after a good cry.
Unworthy: When nothing is going your way, you start to question whether you deserve to have a baby. You may even have been told that it is not “meant to be”. Do not listen to those internal or external voices: you are worthy.
Vulnerable: Not only do I feel emotionally vulnerable during cycles, I also feel it on a physical level during scans and procedures. I sometimes disconnect from both to get through it, but then it can be hard to reconnect with and love yourself afterwards.
Weary: IVF is exhausting. Between blood tests, ultrasound scans, procedures and daily medication schedule, you barely have time to just be. I find that taking it one day at a time helps, as well as letting myself feel what I need to feel.
Yearning: This feeling has been my constant companion since I miscarried. If alternate paths to parenthood are as unsuccessful as IVF for us, I hope we can eventually accept our childless status.
Zen: If, like me, you are reluctant to embrace meditation, just give it a go. Unlike IVF itself, it will not hurt, and you may come away feeling good.