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Managing stress of IVF key to having a better experience of the process

Uncertain outcome, medication, and financial costs of IVF can be very stressful

IVF is stressful. Just how stressful depends on the individual, more than factors such as age or the number of cycles they’ve had.

Dr Bart Kuczera of Beacon CARE Fertility, part of the Beacon Medical Group. says in terms of life events infertility can be up there with the death of a close family member and divorce in terms of stressful events.

Having a good support system in place is hugely important. Research undertaken by Dr Alice Domar in Boston in the 1980s suggests that people who have the opportunity to express their emotions prior to IVF fare better in terms of pregnancy than those who don’t.

Fertility clinics provide support by being honest and open about success and failure rates, and by referring patients to specialist counsellors as appropriate. “Expectation management” is key, says Dr Kuczera.


“Being open about the issues from the beginning is important. At the end of the day, a lot of money, physical and emotional resources go into the treatment. Most people prefer the honesty.”

The uncertainty of the outcome, side effects of medication, the stress of managing appointments, financial costs, all on top of the fact that couples often don’t anticipate ever having fertility issues, can cause a lot of emotional stress.

"The fertility journey, by its very nature, creates emotional challenges," says Mary McAuliffe, head of clinical services at Waterstone Clinic in Cork.

“Managing these may not always be straightforward, so finding techniques that are appropriate to you is important. Many patients privately access treatment, and we strongly encourage our patients to access counselling or share their journey with trusted family or friends. Counselling can support you with tools to make the process easier, improve communication while fostering a no-blame culture, and support your decision making.”

Waterstone Clinic provides specialised fertility counselling and has developed a range of emotional supports for patients, and prospective patients, such as a dedicated phone line with the nursing team, regular ‘Ask The Expert’ sessions on social media, and a mindfulness programme.

“A person’s fertility journey is hugely emotional. Even to walk in our front door is a big decision,” confirms Deirdre Gorman, head of nursing at Sims, an IVF clinic with units in Dublin, Cork and Carlow.

“In many cases people feel a sense of relief in knowing they are taking action but they are also entering into an unknown world that can be emotional and stressful, for a very much wanted pregnancy that we can’t always offer, and we have to be honest about that.”

While it too provides support and can refer clients to counsellors, “it’s a very good idea if they have a good support system in place themselves, someone they can just go to and say, ‘I’m having a good day’, or ‘I’m having a struggle’.”

That means not just a supportive partner, if there is one “but also someone else, such as a friend or family member,” she recommends. It’s vital for single women coming in on their own.

“At any point along the journey there are moments when treatment might have to be paused, and these can be very stressful. It can seem like hurdle after hurdle, from eggs collected to transfer to positive pregnancy test to waiting for scans.”

The trend is increasingly to tell workmates, she says. If that’s you, be careful how you respond. “If your workmate is going through it they don’t want platitudes,” she says. That means avoiding stock phrases such as ‘ah you’ll get there’, ‘if it’s for you it won’t go by you’, or, worst of all, ‘just try and relax’.

“They don’t need it yet they hear it all the time. What they do need is to be allowed to have a vent, or to have someone to celebrate a joyous moment with.All they really need is for you to listen.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times