By Lisa Newton
If you’ll be going through fertility treatments this upcoming year, you might be wondering what you can do to make the process stress-free. A treatment cycle is never 100% stress-free, but there are several things you can do in advance to help your cycle go more smoothly and alleviate some common stressors. Having been through a total of eight treatment cycles myself (four IVF cycles and four medicated IUI cycles), I’ve come up with a few tips I always share with anyone about to begin treatment.
Consider Your Calendar
Treatment cycles can last anywhere from a few days to an entire month, and you often won’t know when exactly they will begin and end. It’s important to take a look at your calendar and consider making a few changes that will allow you some flexibility during your cycle.
Give yourself time for relaxation, fun, and healthy distractions
During a cycle, you’ll be juggling appointments, lab tests, and taking your medication on a strict schedule. Be sure to also schedule time for fun and relaxing activities. If that means canceling a few non-essential items on your calendar, then do it! When I went through IVF, I worked a full-time job during the day and taught piano lessons in my home at night. I couldn’t take time off from my day job, but I canceled the piano lessons at night during my treatment so I could focus instead on relaxing and doing things I enjoyed.
Plan for extra time for essential tasks and appointments
Of course, there are some obligations you just can’t cancel, and sometimes they happen during the times you’re supposed to take your medication, give yourself injections, or go to a doctor’s appointment. Rushing through injections or medication can be very stressful, and you never know when a doctor’s appointment might run late. So if you think a doctor’s appointment will take a half-hour, try to give yourself an extra twenty or thirty minutes on your calendar, just in case. Building in buffer times like that will ease your stress and give you a cushion when things don’t go as planned.
Delegate when possible
Make a list of all the tasks that stress you out at home and at work. Then try to come up with a plan for delegating as many of those things as possible during your treatment cycle. Things like hiring a housekeeper for a few weeks or using a drop-off laundry service can really make a difference in your stress levels during your cycle. You can also ask your spouse or partner if they would be willing to temporarily take over some of the chores you usually do. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for or accept help. Treatment cycles can be physically and emotionally draining, and you are not weak for needing extra support.
Stock up on healthy snacks
I don’t know if it was the medication, the stress, or a combination of both, but each time I did IVF I was ravenously hungry the whole cycle. I learned that in order to keep myself from bingeing on junk food, I needed to make sure I had healthy snacks at home and at work. I bought lots of easy-to-eat, nutritious snacks like pre-cut fruits and veggies, nuts, and small portions of cheese. This helped me satisfy my appetite without overdoing it on sweets and chips.
Make sure you have loose, comfortable clothing
A lot of women experience bloating during a treatment cycle, and women who are using injectable medications often experience tenderness at the sight of the injections. Pants with a button-fly or tight waist band might become uncomfortable. If your budget allows, purchase a few pairs of fold-top yoga pants, comfy sweats that are loose-fitting, or leggings that you can lounge in at home. For work, looser dresses or longer tunic tops might be a good option to feel comfortable and hide the bloat.
Build Your Support System
Having a group of people who surround you and support you during your treatment cycle is essential for your emotional and mental wellbeing. Here are a few tips for creating your support system:
Be intentional about who you tell
Sit down with your spouse or partner and talk about who you will tell about your treatment cycle and when you will tell them. It’s not uncommon for one partner to want to be more private than the other. Deciding in advance on your level of privacy could save you from stressful disagreements in the middle of your treatment.
If you decide to tell a lot of people about your treatment, you’ll also want to determine the timeline for when you’ll tell them the outcome. Will you call everyone as soon as you know you’re pregnant or not, or will you give yourself a few days to sit with the news alone? If the outcome is not what you hoped for, do you want to call everyone individually? I recommend you consider choosing someone else who is willing to call others for you so you don’t have to repeat the bad news several times. It may feel awkward to plan for the unknown, but doing so has the potential to save you the stress of making these decisions during an emotional time.
Talk to a professional
Seeing a counselor or therapist before, during, and after a treatment cycle can help you process unexpected emotions and outcomes in a healthy way. If you can’t afford it, check with your local health department to see if they can refer you to someone who offers free or sliding-fee based sessions. Many churches or places of worship also offer free or low-cost visits with counselors, trained clergy or spiritual advisors, even if you don’t attend their worship services.
Go easy on yourself
If all these tips seem too overwhelming, focus on implementing just one or two. Even a few small preparations in advance can go a long way in making your cycle go smoother.
Lisa Newton is an infertility survivor and advocate. Her blog, AmateurNester.com, encourages women experiencing infertility, and was a 2014 nominee for the the Best Blog Award from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. She is the author of two books, “31 Days of Prayer During Infertility,” and “Preparing for IVF: Approach Your IVF With Confidence and Courage.” She lives in Central California with her husband and two daughters.