Self-care during fertility treatments

Day 29 - Through Soapy Waters
Look into my eyes: you are feeling relaxed. Very, very relaxed. (Through Soapy Waters © by saebaryo, used under Creative Commons license.)
If you're doing fertility treatments, chances are pretty good that you're stressing the fuck out. Not only do you have the logistics of appointments and medications (and physical/emotional weirdness from said medications), but if you found your way to fertility treatments after dealing with infertility, then you've got the emotional burdens from THAT whole awfulness.

And then, as if the whole process wasn't stressful enough, then you have to stress about STRESSING, because everyone tells you that anxiety will negatively influence your chances of getting pregnant. Not stressing isn't just an issue of sanity — it's an issue of treatment effectiveness. AARGH!

So, that's all fine and good: DON'T STRESS. But how? How can you keep yourself calm and non-anxious during the mind-fuck that is fertility treatments? The key: SELF-CARE.

Here were the self-care steps I took for myself during my own process of fertility treatments:

  • Weekly talk therapy
  • Weekly massage therapy
  • Twice-weekly baths
  • Made a weird bargain with myself: if the treatments didn't work, I would get a special consolation prize. In my case, it was a trip to NYC. The goal is to have something to look forward to no matter what. Pregnancy or … something else awesome!

This might sound like a LOT of self care, but I needed it and still had a few days where I just laid in bed and cried, thanks to the combo of the fertility drugs and the stress/anticipation. If you have the resources to pay for treatments, I highly recommend scheduling time at the spa and with every gentle body-worker/woo-woo practitioner you know and trust. Is reiki your thing? BOOK IT. Sound healing? SCHEDULE IT. When you're knee-deep in invasive Western medicine fertility treatments, the more holistic/spiritual treatments can feel deeply healing and do a lot to keep you sane.

Ok, fine. But what about when you DON'T have those resources? Fertility treatments are expensive, and having budget left-over for aura cleansing can be a serious challenge. My personal self-care plan definitely reflects the extreme privilege of the great health insurance I had at the time, which covered stuff like therapy and massage. Even if you don't have the resources for paid mellowing treatments, you can prioritize free self-care like:

  • frequent baths or showers
  • scheduling your day to be in bed for at least 8 hours each night
  • calling in on any and all support you may have from friends & family
  • taking frequent breaks during the day to close your eyes and breathe slowly, even if it's just for 30 seconds
  • being intentional about food so that you don't find yourself starving and frantic
  • scheduling gentle, relaxing physical activities like walking around the block or stretching at home
  • singing to yourself
  • making your house as comfortable as possible — reduce the kinds of clutter that freak you out when you walk in the door. Make a little clean, quiet corner for yourself.
  • truly prioritizing the deeply relaxing activities that mean the most for you.

When I did IVF in 2009, I also did acupuncture immediately before/after the embryo transfer. There's research to suggest it helps with implantation rates… but for me personally, the value for me was in book-ending something so emotional and heavily charged with some extreme relaxation. I did 45 minutes of quiet acupuncture in a dim room, then drove straight to the brightly lit fertility clinic, and then drove straight back for 45 more minutes of relaxing acupuncture. I'm not sure what I would have done OTHER than stress out during the time immediately before and after my embryo transfer.

My goal during the heinous anxiety of fertility treatments was to worry and fret as little as possible by doing overkill amounts of self-care. So, whatever self-care makes you feel calm? Prioritize it the same way you prioritize your invasive fertility treatments and medications. Whatever resources you may or may not have available, schedule a ton of self-care during fertility treatments — and then DOUBLE IT. You cannot be too calm.

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  1. Ah relaxation and distraction. Don't forget things like going rowing on a lake, taking a nature walk, picnics, making a meditation space or learning to zone out in knitting or crocheting 😀

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  2. For me, it's exercise. I know that some people aren't into weight lifting while trying, but right now, it's my sanity. I am probably an inch taller on the days I do to the gym and I feel more physically capable, more relaxed, more beautiful, and more myself when I get my sweat on. Not sure that this applies for fertility treatments because I'm not at that point right now, but I know that it's keeping me sane while my body figures out what shape my family is going to take.

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  3. One that I would add is looking for an online community that is supportive. I found an awesome one full of women on the same journey, and it was a lifesaver for when my IRL friends (all of whom I love dearly) just didn't understand, or when I needed to talk more than any one person could possibly listen. Also, another one that comes up with the holidays near: take care of yourself first. If you can't hold your sister's new baby without bursting into tears, if you have to lie about 'waiting a little longer' to have children (or, conversely, need tell everyone every single gritty detail about exactly what egg retrieval feels like), if you need to get out of the house and go see TinTin so you can just stop thinking about babiesbabiesbabies all the time–do it. It's a rough time.

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    • Interestingly, for me I found online communities focused on conception and fertility incredibly stressful. All the fertility acronyms and stress and obsessing just did my head in! I consciously made a choice NOT to journal and NOT to track my treatment in that way, because it triggered my brain into obsessive thinking patterns that felt really unhealthy for me.

      Obviously, it's about knowing what works for each person, but for me, I chose to stay far, far away from fertility forums when I was doing my treatments.

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    • Yes, this! I don't have any experience with forums, but there's an incredibly supportive, really organized infertility blogging community that I've found really helpful (Stirrup Queens' Blogroll, which I actually found through a link in a comment on Offbeat Mama!) Being in touch with so many people who are going through the same thing I am is really comforting when I'm all stressed out, whether it's through blog comments, emails or tweets.

  4. Thank you for this! I'm not doing fertility treatments and hope it won't get to that point, but I had a miscarriage recently and it has left me very stressed out about getting pregnant again, worried I won't, etc etc. I was reading yesterday about how stress can make it difficult to get pregnant, and I could feel my stress level rise while I was reading it! I've been SO stressed since losing the baby…I'm doing my best to be as relaxed and positive as possible, but sometimes it's so hard not to get caught up in all the emotions and stress out!

    I appreciated this post because it helped remind me how important self-care is, and just to take a few moments to breath.

    PS Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!

      • I just read your story. Sorry you had to go through so much, but it was so worth it to have your beautiful boy! I'm so happy for you that it worked out 🙂

  5. I'm glad you mentioned how weird the drugs make you feel. I was not prepared for that at all and had no idea how to deal with it, esp. the extreme bloating that was caused by all the follicle stimulation [I was told that an ovary normally the size of an almond gets stimulated to the size of a cat's head!]. If I had to do it again I would def plan some self-care into it all.

  6. I agree, I'm going to make more of an effort to pamper next time round. But one thing I did do was weekly acupuncture which for me ended up being a solid half hour of meditation while the needles were sticking in and another half hour of therapy with my German acupuncturist!! But even my – albeit Chinese fertility Dr (whose father is an acupunctrist) approved of acupuncture immediately after implantation. There have been studies that it does help and he gives lectures about benefits of acupuncture during ivf! My husband and i documented the process taking photos of our fertilised eggs, and the implantation but we were lucky and fell pregnant first go so i think that might get boring on too many attempts, but the photos are great! My baby was born was born six months ago but prematurely – a whole other kettle of fish, but I could have used some extreme self care then too to help me through the 3 months of daily hospital visits – another great post on offbeat mama!! Thanks!

  7. When I was going through infertility and fertility treatments my go to was a pedicure….complete with silly massage chair and wax. It was about the only thing that could de-stress me.

    (also, you can do self pedicures at home!)

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  8. We had acupuncture right before and right after our embryo transfer. We were successful on our first round after two failed IUIs. I also did acupuncture for a few months leading up to our IVF cycle. My acupuncturist did treatment right before ovulation and right before the start of my period for three or four cycles. I have never done acupuncture before this infertility stuff, but I was willing to give it a try. Also, my insurance company covers acupuncture and massage, so it wasn't out of pocket. If you can do it, go for it! It isn't going to hurt, and there's research that shows it helps! (Also, see research about laughter right after the embryo transfer!)

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