IVF, mental health

Preparing for IVF: A control freak’s plan

I’ll be starting IVF when my next period arrives. I’ve been impatient to get to this stage, so why aren’t I more excited now I’m here?  

Basically, I think it comes down to control – or a lack of it. I am someone who uses control to calm myself, to quiet the anxiety that I am so familiar with. It helps me to understand what’s happening now and to predict what will happen in the future.  

So willingly undergoing a process like IVF, with a lack of control as its central axis, will be a difficult process for me to navigate.

The physical worries

Right now, we’re ready to go with our IVF cycle. The medications are paid for. After a scan and a COVID swab, it’s a case of waiting for my next period – due in a little over two weeks – then getting the nod from the fertility clinic to start.  

Because we’re so close, I can’t ignore the worries about the physical side of the process now pushing their way to the surface. Because of COVID19, there won’t be regular scans and blood tests. After my baseline scan, we won’t be seen at all until day ten of stims.  

I worry about how my body will react to the drugs. Will it over respond or under respond? Will I be ok with the injections?  How painful will stimming be? The egg collection will be under sedation, will it hurt and will I remember anything? And the eggs – will they get enough, how many will fertilise and will they continue to develop?  

There are so many questions and none of them can be answered until we’re there living it. I have to accept that there is nothing I can do. I can’t control the variables. I can’t see into the future. But still, the risk-averse control freak inside balks at the uncertainty of IVF.

The emotional toll

I’m already finding my emotions are ramping up as the beginning of treatment approaches. So when I start treatment I expect to be a big ball of feelings. Some emotions relate to the huge process I’m beginning. Others relate to what I’ve already been through with pregnancy and loss. More will stem from the high doses of hormones taking control of my body.

I expect to fluctuate in mood from day to day, maybe even hour to hour. I’ll be hopeful, or I’ll be full of despair. I’ll regret our decision to do IVF, or I’ll think it’s the best decision we ever made. I don’t expect any part of the process to produce emotional stability. And yes, you guessed it, control freak me hates that.  

What if it doesn’t work?

The enormity of what this cycle represents isn’t lost on me either. This might be our last try.

And in some ways, I do want all this to be over. I resent how much trying to conceive and then being in early pregnancy completely takes over my life. I would welcome early pregnancy if it led to the second and third trimesters and eventually, to a baby.

But in my version of pregnancy I’m not in control and I can’t clearly picture my future, because I don’t know which version I’m going to get – the ‘baby’ one, or the ‘other’ one.  

So, when thinking about IVF, in my usual way, I race ahead of the drugs, the procedures, the ‘getting pregnant’ and head straight to the pregnancy going wrong. Pessimism or realism – call it what you will – it’s hard to get excited about something that I expect will only bring more grief and disappointment.  

And I suppose by jumping straight to the loss, it’s a way for me to exert that all-important control over the situation. If I expect something to go wrong and it does, well, I was right all along wasn’t I? I was in control.  

The control freak’s plan for IVF

With my control issues, I realise that IVF is going to be a tricky process for me, so in order to maintain some sanity over the next few months, I’ve devised a plan. Some techniques to trick myself into believing I have some control over the IVF process – even though, in reality, I definitely don’t.  

  1. Meditate daily

If there’s one feeling I know well, it’s anxiety. The panic, the raised heart rate, the distorted vision. And although I’m resistant to it, I’ve found that meditation can really help to calm me. So I’m aiming to meditate every day during the process to try and ground myself, if only for a few minutes at a time.

2. Have regular acupuncture sessions

I’m not a huge fan of needles, and I find acupuncture too expensive to commit to on a regular basis, but when I have a session, it definitely calms me down. It also did wonders for regulating my menstrual cycle. So I’m going to have acupuncture sessions throughout my IVF cycle because something that balances me – emotionally and hormonally – can only be a good thing. And if I’m doing something good for my body, I’ll feel more in control.

3. Practice gratitude

I’ve gradually started to believe in the huge benefits of practicing gratitude. Focussing on what I have, rather than what I want, helps me to feel more positive about my life – and will hopefully help me to cope whether or not our IVF cycle works.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I tend to avoid bothering healthcare professionals with my medical worries. But I’m promising myself that if I have any questions during IVF, I will ask them. There’s no point worrying on my own – or worse, relying on Dr Google for medical advice. Knowledge is power. Or in my case, control.

5. Keep communication open with my husband

I don’t like to lose control of my emotions and this has led me to sometimes internalise grief from our losses. No matter how many times my husband encourages me to cry if I need to, I find it hard to let go and make myself vulnerable. So I’m going to make a real effort to let him in, hoping that it will strengthen our connection during what could otherwise be a lonely journey for both of us.

6. Accept support from friends – when the time’s right

I’ll be self-isolating from the beginning of treatment, but I’m aware I’ll need support more than ever. So I’m going to focus on staying in contact with my friends (virtually, at least). I tend to retreat from my social life when I’m feeling stressed, so this will be challenging, but worth the effort, I think. On the flip side, I also need to remember that it’s ok to cancel a planned video-call if it will benefit my wellbeing.

7. Seek acceptance

This is a tough one. I know that the chances of IVF working for me are low, around 15% according to our consultant. But that doesn’t mean it’ll definitely fail. I need to let go of my obsession with statistics and my desire to control things and just accept that IVF will either work, or it won’t.

8. Acknowledge my strength

I need to remind myself that not everyone could do what I’m doing. It takes bravery. And if it doesn’t work, I am strong and resilient enough to get through it. This is important, because I often feel weak in this journey and I need to remind myself that I’m not.  

9. Be kind to myself

For someone who’s had multiple losses, fertility can become inextricably linked with blame and negative feelings towards myself. So being kind is sometimes hard. But I need to show the same care and forgiveness to myself as I’d show someone else going through a difficult experience. If I’m snappy, I can let it go. If I’m tired, I can relax. I also plan to have masses of bubble baths and copious amounts of chocolate, because I count that as self-kindness too!

10. Distract myself

As I’ll predominantly be at home during my IVF cycle, I will have lots of time on my hands. And I don’t want to spend that time obsessing about the state of my ovaries. So I plan to find activities to distract myself with. Taking long walks, hunting out new podcasts to listen to, doing some writing exercises, having books to hand to lose myself in. Anything that will occupy my mind with healthy thoughts.

I hope that if I incorporate these simple, positive practices into my life over the next couple of months, they will help me to maintain a level of positivity, connection and appreciation that will benefit me and those around me.  

Do you have any other tips for calming your inner control freak during IVF? I’d love to hear them, if you do.

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