Always keep in mind that no one causes this on purpose. With such a high number of people working through infertility, you’re not journeying this alone. This article is written with both men and women at the heart of it. You are a team. Teams need to stay strong and remember who they are as individuals, especially when in the thick of a fertility journey.
For the sake of clarity, the following words are written for a man and woman couple going through IVF for whatever reason and touching on the male infertility side for a moment. Please note I am painting it all in a hard and negative light, just because if I paint it to be all rosy and a walk in the park, you’ll never believe a word I say again.
Dealing with IVF/ICSI. This is a big one for so many men who have sperm count/mobility/morphology issues to deal with. The cause begins with them, the treatment is based on the woman. To introduce the sperm and the egg outside of the body means that both must be brought out. Sperm has an exit, eggs don’t have such a simple exit.
The man gives his sample, which I appreciate turns out to not be such a pleasurable act in some ways! The woman ends up poked around in and at. She needs to trick her body into thinking she is at menopause, and to stop cycling (down-regulating), which can come at a physical and emotional cost. There may be moments where you can’t figure out where your partner in crime has gone. She may well be crying one minute, screaming like a banshee the next. Ride the waves with her. If she needs space, give her it, if she needs holding, hold her. If she needs cooking for, cook. If she needs a nice glass of elderflower something or other, serve it to her.
This is not about blame, cause, guilt… this is about carrying the load when the other has a new unknown load to carry… She is going through a tough time with her body, and never knows how she will feel from one minute to the next. But give it time. Ride this journey together.
Following down reg there will be other protocols to follow. Daily injections. She may need you to do them for her. They can hurt so much and it’s not easy to carry out a task that hurts you, the subconscious mind fights it. But equally so, it’s not easy for another to carry out the task on someone they love. It does end though.
Let’s jump through these stages to after the egg collection, and the few days wait whilst the embryologists do their job. Every hour can feel like months. Every day is like a millennium. Even when embryo transfer has happened and you are in 2ww (two-week wait) territory, you think it will be fine because the embryo (or more) is on board, and you’ll just relax and finally let nature take its course… BUT I can tell you that even as a mother of four, surrogate mother of two… the 2ww was still the longest wait of my life. Even though it isn’t always 2 weeks that you need to wait. Even when it’s not your baby, your be all and end all, even when you have a different level of emotional involvement, and you have skills as a long time meditator, a hypnotherapist, four children and a job to keep you busy, every hour seems to log as eternity.
There will probably be as many tears and fears if the pregnancy test is positive or negative, but with different emotions lying behind them.
I have described this process in a hard and arduous light, because hopefully with the following tips in mind, you will come out of the other side pleasantly surprised.
So, what tips are those Jay? Well…
1. Take an active role in helping yourself. See the page on how to improve your sperm. (Click on the link and it will open it up on a new tab for you to really take it seriously!)
2. Communication, communication, communication (plus some more superhuman mind-reading skills for you men.)
Keep communication a top priority. About little things and big things. Keep the communication channels open. Man tends to feel like he needs to fix things, trust me that you don’t always. Sometimes just leaving communication channels open to be able to properly listen is more important.
3. Intimacy. It’s a bit of a sticky area this one, as in the throws of IVF, you must remember that a woman is being forced into synthetically induced menopause. It’s far harder than the natural, gradually felt menopause. She may have lost all sexual desire, there can be vaginal dryness, or there could be a sore mess as the pessary use is prolonged. Sex may be the last thing on her mind. Reassure her that you understand that, and use this time to find new ways to be intimate, and I’m not talking oral! I’m taking back rubs, planning in adventures together, such as a picnic somewhere you can give each other some undivided attention. You never know, if the pressure is off and you’ve raised her oxytocin levels high enough one thing may lead to another… but to achieve this it must not be the objective!
4. The blame game or resentment. This one needs knocking on the head immediately. It could be that you both need space somewhere or somehow to allow thoughts and feelings to arise so that they are not stuffed down. Stuffed down feelings often use the worst moments possible to come out. This is not the way to do it.
It could be by having a little couple’s counselling. It could be doing some Hypnotherapy or EFT sessions. It could be writing each other a letter.
However it is, this must be cleared and never hidden.
5. Teamwork. From what possibly started out as a “let’s make a baby” ooh la la kinda conversation, it turns into a medical triumph with a team of medical specialists, that despite probably not wearing white coats, that’s what you’re wrapped up in. Remember that you still have choices. Research rather than be railroaded. Don’t accept add ons of “Endometrial scratches” and “Embryo Glue” without research and time to talk and decide. Treat your clinic people as part of YOUR team. You have employed them to help you two… Yes, they are professionals in this area, but working in this area for so long as an independent Fertility Specialist, with no fixed agenda or employer, I see so many different approaches. “You must do this, because this increases your statistical chances by x amount” is often told by one professional when whatever “this” is may be scoffed at by another professional.
Not all drugs that they use are equal. As a team, you need to read up. I know that I can handle one type of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) with no problem, yet another type causes me to hyperstimulate my ovaries (not a pretty sight to witness!)
Don’t take salesman promises without time to step away and remember that IVF clinics are businesses, even when it is an NHS clinic. They are all businesses and they all want you.
Step back, breathe, take stock, read, research and as a couple you make choices. Use someone experienced and independent to use as a bouncing board if it helps. Expand your team to include someone independent to help Sherpa you.
6. Remember to focus on who is in the here and now. You two.
Focus on each other through this journey, not just the end result. The end result will be better if you put in the effort to keep each other your priority right now.