'Heartbreaking': Infertility and the 'two week wait' amid COVID-19

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

The "two week wait" has always been an anxious time for women going through IVF - but the coronavirus crisis has made it even more difficult. 

Conception and fertility specialist psychologist Cath Corcoran tells Essential Baby that the "wait" - the time between an embryo transfer and learning whether or not the process was successful - is a struggle during isolation.

"It's made people more hypervigilant around their worry," Ms Corcoran says.

"They're not able to get out and do a lot of their normal self-care and their normal ways of coping in the two week wait if they've had cycles before." 

As well as not being able to catch up with friends for coffee, she says being unable to attend acupuncture, yoga or other exercises classes is also making it harder to cope with stress. And so is working from home.

"Women don't have the distraction of getting ready for work and going in and dealing with people interpersonally," Ms Corcoan says. "It's a lot more pervasive ... I'm in my house, I'm waiting for my results on this, and I can do my work, but it's easier to get distracted when you're sitting at home with your own thoughts. It can be quite detrimental to our mental health."

While Ms Corcoran says she would normally get people to address their worry and concern and what's triggering it, she says doing so at the moment isn't helpful.

"We know why we've got that added anxiety," she says. "We've got the unknown of the virus." Instead, Ms Corcoran recommends distraction activities such as journaling, light exercise, gardening and reading. 


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But she also acknowledges the importance of honouring feelings when they come up.

"I'm not wanting people to completely suppress their feelings because that would again be unhelpful and unhealthy," she says.

"If you want to have a space to focus on it, it's about sort of scheduling it in." Ms Corcoran also encourages women to try to focus on the positives, for example a ten minute meditation where they connect to their embryo that's been implanted.

"It gives people a focus," she says. "They know they're not ignoring the process of what's going on."

Ms Corcoran explains that those undergoing IVF and faced with having their treatment placed on hold, will also be dealing with feelings of having been obstructed yet again.

"There's another hurdle they have to get over," she says, adding that the difficulty is not knowing how long this will last. "Normally people cope better when it's time limited. But because we don't know, I think that that gets people spiralling and feeling uneasy."

Ms Corcoran says that while it's okay to grieve, women should also try to use the time as an opportunity to re-align and focus on making themselves as physically and mentally healthy as possible to go through the process when it opens back up again.

"The positive is it will eventually come back," she says, adding that she is encouraging women to ask, "What can I do in the meantime to really support myself?"

Samantha Payne CEO of Pink Elephants Support Network, tells Essential Baby that "there are a lot of triggers" when it comes to the coronavirus and infertility.

"With infertility, with loss, there's already a lack of control a sense of overwhelm and sense of anxiety. And this is being triggered by that."

Ms Payne adds that many of the women within their communities "don't always have time on their side. "If you're going through fertility treatments you've already waited a year or longer," she says.

"You've had that period of trying naturally and doing absolutely everything you can. If you're at the fertility treatment stage, it's because you need to be. So add that layer of fear - 'I can't afford to wait six months.' Now there's this sense of 'if this goes on for longer than three to six months this might be it for me. And they've got every right to grieve that. There needs to be permission given for women and their parents to be sad."

Ms Payne suggests women join their online Facebook communities and connect with others going through different stages of their fertility journey. "They're a safe, nurturing space," she says.

"And you can still have counselling appointments. Now more than ever we need to validate that this is an anxiety trigger."  And if you're feeling overwhelmed or extra anxious she's urging women to reach out. "Get a GP mental tele-health plan. Go to your psychologist or counsellor," she says.

"It's heartbreaking. You're already isolated. You already feel like you're the only person going through this and then you add in physical isolation, it's one layer and then a massive other layer."


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It's a pain mum Rachael Casella knows all too well. Ms Casella, who shares her fertility journey on her blog My Life of Love, took to Instagram last week to share her grief at the announcement that IVF treatments were to be put on hold.

"This news obviously devastated us," she wrote. "We have had more obstacles than anyone could ever have - genetics, chromosome issues, deep vein thrombosis, child loss, terminations, chemical pregnancies, endometriosis and now a pandemic. This is insanity."

Ms Casella told Essential Baby that for her and her husband, "becoming parents has become our lives". "

Having the option of IVF taken away from us hurt deeply. However, we know we are not alone. Through speaking about our struggles we have built a beautiful community who support us and many who are experiencing the same thing.

"Together we will get through this."


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