By Susan Lockhart, PhD, MBA, BScN
In the scientific community a number of studies have looked at the impact stress has on the outcomes of fertility treatments. While the results are interesting, there has not been strong evidence to suggest that stress itself has either caused infertility or has a negative impact on fertility treatment outcomes. However, most people who have had the experience of infertility would agree that while stress hasn’t necessarily caused their infertility, infertility certainly has caused additional stress in their lives! Now, add fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the increase of stress can be exponentially higher. Leading up to IVF can be an intense experience. Infertility itself is a life crisis, usually an unanticipated event. Tests, procedures and probing into one’s intimate personal information can, and often does, produce stress. Overall, infertility can impact one’s psychological, emotional, and physical well being. Once the decision is made to pursue IVF there is the additional financial burden. IVF undoubtedly adds to an already stressful situation.
A few years ago, I conducted a study of women and their partners undergoing IVF. At the beginning of their IVF treatment (which was the first day of blood test and ultrasound monitoring) patients were asked to record their level of stress experienced during their IVF treatment at certain time points: the start of IVF treatment, during hormone injections and monitoring, egg retrieval, waiting for fertilization results, embryo transfer and waiting for pregnancy test result. Not surprisingly, the highest levels of stress for women were waiting for fertilization results and waiting for the results of their pregnancy test. What was interesting was that men recorded their highest stress levels at the same time points as women but with lower scores overall.
So how does this information help? For the health care providers at Genesis, it reinforces when our patients need the most support. For those going through IVF, it alerts them when they need to have self-care measures in place. Previous blogs have focused on ways to help ease stress and increase well being when dealing with infertility and infertility treatment. We will explore in subsequent blogs the different stages of the IVF treatment cycle and what you can do to reduce stress and increase quality of life during this challenging time.