Coping as a couple through IVF – A Time For Grace
Coping through IVF as a couple can be a difficult time and may place pressure on a relationship. It is normal for each member of the couple to use coping mechanisms in different ways and for each to express emotions in ways that may or may not be recognized by the other.
Dr. Mark Nethercote is a pediatrician and author of A Time For Grace, an emotional and humorous account of his and his wife’s experiences through IVF. Successful and in their mid-thirties, the couple’s dreams of having children came to a devastating halt when Susan miscarried and it was revealed the couple would need help to have a baby.
After deciding to give IVF a try, the couple are now parents to two beautiful girls. Mark, struggling to find literature from the male’s perspective, has written A Time For Grace to give hopeful parents a real insight into both the medical process of IVF from a patient’s perspective and the personal struggles that can arise between partners.
The following is an excerpt from the book describing Mark’s reaction to the news that just four eggs were to be collected the following day.
I walk down the footpath, staring at my feet as I go.
Each step, I get a little bit faster, and I realise how angry I am, how hurt I am. What the f&*^ did I do wrong?
I’m scared, and I’m angry. We’re both doing everything right. We’re both doing everything we can. Each day, I pop a multivitamin, a vitamin D and two fish oil tablets. Suse has her acupuncture, her Chinese herbs, and her specially compounded vitamin powder. I’m exercising frequently and barely drinking. We’re eating right. We meditate together, several times a week.
I’ve read all the literature; I know what’s going on. I’ve devoured the starter pack, the manuals, the pamphlets, and the drug information. I even started reading the book with the black-and-white kid on the cover, getting through the chapter about the IVF kid who died, and the next one about the couple who took 19 tries with donor eggs and donor sperm.
Each night, the alarm goes off for an injection. Each morning, the alarm goes off again. Last night, exactly 38 hours before theatre, we gave the last injection. And tomorrow, at exactly nine in the morning, we go to the bookie to collect.
We’ve been good. We’ve played by the rules. We’ve done everything we should. And yet, there’s only four.
I’m tired, and I’m scared, and I realise as I walk that I don’t want to be like this, I don’t want some lab rat to decide what kid I get. I don’t want these odds. I want it to be real. To be natural. To be loving. To be normal.
I don’t want it to be like this.
But what choice do I have? What choice do we have?
I open the door; and slam it hard behind. I sit down, running my hands through my hair. There on the couch sits the brown paper bag, stuffed full of drugs. Sticking out of the top, in a clear plastic bag, is the specimen contained, readied for tomorrow.
I take it and hold it in my hand.
It’s short odds we’ve got. Four. Shorter than we’d expected, but betting has closed.
With many emotions in play, it may be difficult during the process of IVF to feel like you have control over your feelings. This is normal and, though each couple is different, below are a number of coping mechanisms you can use as a couple and individually when coping with IVF.
Together: make time to sit and eat dinner, together
It’s a busy world – with 40+ hour weeks, household duties, family and friend commitments and seemingly endless mobile alerts, it can feel almost impossible to get quality time in with your partner. Setting aside one hour each night to sit and eat dinner together without distractions can give you the time to speak freely about what’s on your mind and make sure each other know their importance.
Individually: think about what you’re grateful for today
Even on those days that seem almost impossible to face, there are usually things to be grateful for. Take five minutes when you wake up in the morning to identify what you can be thankful for that day and use it to propel you through. Whether it’s your best friend, your home or even the delicious leftovers for lunch, remind yourself through the day and smile.
Together: compile questions
Your fertility specialist is there for you. If you have questions about your treatment, symptoms or anything else, compiling a list of them together and taking them to your next appointment can ease concern.
Individually or together: hit the pavement
Exercise is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, so starting or finishing your day with a brisk walk to clear your mind of the smaller daily stresses can give you the opportunity to put that mental energy towards what really matters. Staying physically healthy during fertility treatment is important, too.
Together: plan ahead
Undertaking IVF can take up a lot of time not to mention both physical and mental energy. Keeping other areas of your life as simple as possible by planning ahead may mean less stress when it comes to arranging appointments, eating properly and taking time for yourself.
If you find yourself time-poor in the evenings, investigate a meal-delivery or ingredients-delivery service as a temporary way to simplify appointment-heavy weeks. If needed, sync your appointment diary as soon as possible with your employer to lessen work-related stresses where possible.
Setting aside organised time each week to do something for yourself is important, too.
Together: talk about your IVF, then don’t
Setting yourselves time to talk about your treatment and ensuring your feelings aren’t left unsaid is important in ensuring open communication at a trying time.
It can feel like IVF treatment consumes your relationship for its duration. However, it’s important to let each other know you’re there for them by also allowing general talk about each other’s day, families and interests. At times, you’ll need a break from the mental stresses fertility treatment can bring.
If you think your conversations about treatment could use more support, Monash IVF is here to help you through the emotional side of coping with IVF. Whether you could use some help knowing how to talk about your feelings together or would like an open safe space, getting in touch with your specialist about counselling may assist you in the process of coping.
For more information about Dr Mark Nethercote, A Time For Grace or to purchase a copy of the book, please visit http://marknethercote.com/a-time-for-grace/