IVF 101May 11, 2023
In the process of starting an IVF cycle? Already in your first IVF cycle? Read on to learn more about the IVF process and strategies to support yourself during this time!
Words by Angela Shaba
If you are anything like me, I was overwhelmed when I started IVF. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety to name a few. But there was also a part of me, a tiny part that had hope and a little excitement. My first experience with IVF (the first part of it, anyway) was freezing my eggs. I received my fertility diagnosis when I was single and a few months before I met my now husband. When I met my now husband, I was open and honest with him about my infertility and the long road that might come with having a family. I knew I wanted children and wanted a family, and I knew that he wanted that too. So on our third date (yep, the third date!) I told him about my diagnosis and about starting the process of freezing my eggs. I was beginning my fertility journey as I had just received my diagnosis and was still looking for the right doctor to support this older single woman as many doctors referred to me as! And my now husband said okay. There was no hesitation in his voice.
I am very aware that the conversation could have been entirely different! But I guess when you meet the right person, you meet the right person. I am forever grateful for being honest and for his love and support. We discussed starting IVF on that initial egg freeze cycle, as we were serious about our future. But as a single girl who had been single for a while, I wanted to preserve some of my fertility, just in case.
So, I went through my initial egg freeze cycle, and then we started our IVF journey together. I didn’t know at that initial cycle that I would be doing IVF for many years or would have gone through multiple IVF and egg retrieval cycles. It took three years and eight cycles to get one healthy embryo, or as some say to succeed or, as we like to say, we got lucky. You may hear those terms often during your journey or in the community, we got lucky, or it was successful. I still don't feel comfortable saying those things. For me, it is hard to hear those statements sometimes because although they are valid and have so much meaning behind them, what does being successful really mean with IVF? Is it one embryo, is it multiple embryos, is it donor egg? I feel the individual or the couple defines their success and what they want out of their journey. I say this because I feel that we are all successful in just going through our fertility struggles. The fact that we must do this and deal with all that comes with this is so difficult and challenging. And so, to me we are all a success in that regard. But in terms of being successful with your treatments and what you want out of this journey, I truly believe is defined by you and you alone.
I discuss success at the end of my online course, Optimizing your Fertility and IVF Cycle. I talk about this in my course because I think it is important to discuss your definition of success and how your definition of success might change as you go through your fertility journey. When I started my journey, I defined success as multiple eggs, multiple embryos, I even had a number. But as the cycles went on, as the months went on, and as the pain and loss continued, my idea of success was one healthy embryo. If you’re on your journey and your definition of success has changed, or you are just starting out, I am here to tell you that is totally okay if your idea of things about this process change. It’s something we all deal with during this journey.
Okay, back to IVF 101. So, if you are starting your first IVF cycle, you may ask yourself, what the heck do I do?! First, if you are reading this article and have not done so yet, check out my online course, Optimizing Your Fertility and IVF Cycle. This course will give you all the skills to manage a fertility mindset, keep your mind and body connected through your journey, which can help support and optimize your fertility. Why is this important? Because when we have a strong and balanced mindset and we support the mind-body connection, our bodies are more relaxed and can perform better. Our mind isn't preoccupied with stress and anxiety but is more balanced and this helps us manage our mood better. You can read more about the fertility mindset here in this article.
Here’s the bottom line with IVF. IVF is stressful. It is hard on our bodies physically and hard on our minds mentally. IVF affects our mental health and our emotional mindset. Therefore, doing things to manage our stress and anxiety, doing something to help us stay more in control of what we can control, and making us feel more like us during this time can be super helpful to the whole process.
I know I am talking about a bunch of non-tangible ideas right now. And I know that having things you can hold on to during difficult times is helpful. Unfortunately, IVF and fertility struggles are not tangible. We never know what will happen in an IVF cycle, and we don’t have much control over our infertility. I know too well about wanting to control my infertility. Every day, I wished I could change my diagnosis. There were many days when I would scream about it all. Even though you can't change your diagnosis, you can change how you think or handle the situations and things you face during the process. By doing so, you will stay focused and more in control of yourself and your mindset. And that is how you will feel better during the process.
Here are six things you should do if you are starting an IVF cycle…
Manage your Calendar
You are going to be busy! You may need to clear work and social calendars or at least reduce time spent on other things if you can. You will have ultrasound monitoring and bloodwork appointments, depending on your clinic, every two days, every other day, or daily. Your clinic will monitor you more closely, daily even, as the egg retrieval gets closer. You will be driving back and forth to the clinic each day, which can be exhausting, all while your body becomes increasingly tired from taking more medicine while your ovaries and follicles grow. You can feel bloated, tired, and crampy. For some, the medicine also has emotional side effects, such as sadness, anxiety, anger, or irritability. You might cry one minute and not know why you were crying the next. Even though it won't feel this way, this behavior is normal during IVF! These feelings will go away once you stop the medication. So having a lighter schedule during your IVF cycle can be very beneficial and can reduce stress during this time. If you can do this, I highly recommend it!
One of the most helpful things to do during an IVF cycle is to stay organized. Organization is your friend! You will have to keep track of many different things, such as medication, times to administer medication, dosage, which can change during your cycle, doctor appointments, and much more. Staying organized will keep you on top of the daily things occurring, and you won't miss a dose or an appointment. Keeping organized and having everything in its place can also make you feel a little more in control during your cycle. I have a few things to help you stay organized on my website and will mention them here but feel free to check out my favorites page for more. I recommend a planner and a calendar to track and log all appointments, medication changes, medication times, and how you feel (physically and mentally). I recommend an organizer to store all medication. There is a ton of medication! Having an organizational system to keep all the meds, needles/syringes, alcohol wipes, etc., is very helpful and one less thing you do not have to think about. I have used this caddy or plastic bin to organize my fertility medications. I even like this three-drawer shelf to store the medicine. I posted a reel of how I use this organizer on my Instagram page so feel free to check it out. It has become my go-to for IVF organization! Keep all your IVF medications and items in one space in your house or apartment. For example, if you decide it's easier to do your shots in the kitchen, keep the planner and caddy in the kitchen. If you are doing your shots in your bathroom, keep everything in the bathroom. When you stay organized during your cycle, you are taking one less stressful thing off your stressful plate. There will be a lot to manage, so having everything in one place is helpful.
Making some lifestyle changes can be beneficial to optimizing your fertility before and during your IVF cycle. You may have heard that taking certain vitamins and supplements and eating a certain way can support your fertility. I talk about this in my course, and I tell you everything I did during my journey, so you don’t have to worry or google it! I even made a recipe book with all the yummy foods I ate during my fertility journey. It's a great way of eating fertility-friendly meals and not having to think much about it day and night. So what are some lifestyle changes you can make now? You can start eating a fertility-friendly diet, which consists of a balanced anti-inflammatory diet, mainly considered a Mediterranean-influenced diet. You want to stay away from alcohol and caffeine, especially during your actual IVF stim phase (where you are actively injecting yourself with medication). And then, there are fertility-supportive supplements and vitamins. These supplements and vitamins are said to enhance fertility and support egg quality. Although there are limited studies on certain fertility supplements and vitamins, many clinics and physicians recommend them. These supplements and vitamins do seem to have supportive qualities for egg health. It was super important to me to optimize my fertility and support good healthy egg quality and development; antioxidants, supplements, vitamins, and eating well all support our health and mood. You can check out my favorites page for most of the supplements and vitamins I used during my fertility journey to support my egg quality and fertility. I believe they helped, and I also think they helped my overall health, well-being, and mood.
Acupuncture is so good for your fertility. It supports blood flow and circulation and can reduce or manage your stress and anxiety. I recommend finding someone specializing in fertility so they are versed and trained in the fertility process and what you will need individually. You can see a fertility acupuncturist if you are going through IVF, trying naturally, have just started, or have been on your journey for a while. I even went to see my acupuncturist after I got pregnant and had my baby, as it helped with balancing hormones during that time too.
Talk to a Fertility Coach
IVF and infertility are challenging. It is stressful. And it is emotionally draining. It consumes every aspect of your life. It consumes you during the time you are in it. It can sometimes also consume you after the cycle is over. The trauma around infertility and constant fertility loss is real both during and after the journey. Having someone to talk to, like a professional counselor and coach who has the education and the personal experience with infertility can be immensely helpful. This person can guide, support, and process your emotions with you. Check out my coaching services here.
Find a Supportive Fertility Clinic
You will be spending a lot of time with your fertility doctor and clinic. For some, this journey can take a lot more time than we initially thought, and it can be more mentally and emotionally exhausting than we ever imagined. When I was going through my journey it was important to me to find a fertility doctor who supported my diagnosis, who worked with advanced maternal age and someone who supported where I was and what I wanted at that time in my life. When I spoke to my now fertility doctor and clinic, I knew instantly I was in good hands, I was supported and valued, and I was not defined by my diagnosis. Read more about my story here.
There is one last thing to mention… trust the process. I know this one might be difficult. But you really do have to trust in the process. Although none of us fertility warriors choose this path, we are here nonetheless, and while we are on this journey, we need to trust. We need to trust in our doctors (or we should change to a new one). We need to trust in the medication and what it can do for us, and we need to trust in ourselves and our bodies. I know it is hard to trust in our bodies after we feel they have failed us, but if we can trust and accept what is, we can move forward. That can make our mindset stronger. When our mindset is stronger, we can tackle anything. Especially this infertility battle we are about to fight!
Want more tips? Need more support? Going through an IVF Cycle? You don't have to do it alone. I can help support you. Check out my online course, Optimizing your Fertility and IVF Cycle. I will run this IVF marathon with you! And remember to follow my Instagram page for more helpful tips!
Stay Fierce. Stay Fiercely Fertile
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