Undertaking IVF is often viewed as a difficult, sometimes negative journey towards the ultimate positive: a baby.
According to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, "women often experience symptoms of depression and anxiety during IVF." It's not surprising given the treatment's demanding nature: numerous medical procedures can feel invasive and exhausting, anxious hours can be spent waiting for test results, and the emotional and financial burden can be considerable.
Although IVF can be difficult, it is possible to find positivity along the way. Jenni Salisbury is the author of Little Blessings, a book that details her struggle to fall pregnant while undergoing infertility treatment. Jenni and her husband underwent 19 IVF cycles and experienced a mid-term miscarriage, but after nine long years Jenni finally completed her family and now has two children.
Jenni believes having a glass-half-full approach to life made a positive difference to her IVF experience. Although she was devastated when a cycle failed, Jenni tried to resist fearing the worst at the next attempt.
"Not getting your hopes up is a natural way to try and minimise the hurt when things don't work out, but staying positive and hopeful helped me," she says. As a result, Jenni approached each cycle with a fresh perspective. "I would visualise what pregnancy was going to be like and get excited about the possibility that this was the cycle that was going to work".
Melissa Stephens, a counsellor at IVF Australia, agrees that maintaining a positive mindset can have significant benefits. "When people feel positive and in control of a situation they feel like they are coping better, and it can help make the whole process easier."
Finding positives in the process will be different for everyone, adds Melissa. "Some find hope and excitement in the fact they taking a positive step towards having a family. Others will find joy in connecting with their partner on a new emotional level as they support each other through the journey."
In addition to a positive mindset, it can also be helpful to find humour when you can. Jenni recalls how difficult it was trying to organise her injections.
"Getting my husband and I in the same place at the right time for 14 consecutive days wasn't easy," she says. Despite the frustrations, the couple saw the funny side. "We've pulled over on the Bruce Highway, found a private spot at the Noosa Food & Wine Festival and excused ourselves at dinner parties," she says. "We always had a laugh at the crazy places we had to do the injections."
Sarah, an IT consultant from Melbourne, also found relief in humour while undergoing IVF. Scared of needles, Sarah became extremely anxious when her husband needed to do her injections. Fortunately, her husband came up with a great way to get her through the ordeal.
"One day my husband pretended to be a doctor. He did the full dress up thing and put on a sexy accent to get me to relax. It was hilarious and really took the pressure off," says Sarah.
While there are many ways to make the IVF process less arduous, it's also possible to take joy from the unique experiences IVF can provide. Jenni found the connection with her growing embryo remarkable.
"You are completely involved in the process," she says. "If you have the clinic's support you can meet your embryologist and see what's happening through a microscope at a very early stage. It's really special."
Sarah agrees. "While our IVF journey was sometimes tough, I will always treasure the memory of the embryo transfer that resulted in our first child," she says. It was an incredible moment not every parent gets to experience, as Sarah explains: "For my husband and I to witness the embryo being transferred to my body was a real privilege."
IVF can and does yield positive, even joyful, experiences, but counsellor Melissa Stephens says we need to remember that it's an emotional process, and that people will experience a mix of feelings with each cycle.
"Remember that everyone has good days and bad days, and while we try to be positive it is okay and normal to have ups and downs. Focus on self-care and do things that you enjoy and find rewarding," she advises.
If people need help finding the positives in IVF, Melissa recommends seeing a specially trained counsellor. "A counsellor will explore a whole range of emotions you may be feeling, then develop coping strategies that can help you feel more hopeful and positive."
Ultimately, Jenni recommends trying to enjoy the ride because the end result is worth it. "We now have two beautiful boys and I feel like the luckiest woman on this earth," she says.
Find support and talk to other women who know what you're going through during the IVF journey in the Essential Baby forum.