One of the most common issues our fertility patients have is anxiety. Some come to us with a pre-existing anxiety condition which has worsened with every month of no positive pregnancy test. Many women have no history of anxiety but find themselves overwhelmed by thoughts concerning fertility and become hyper sensitive to every natural fluctuation of their health.
These deep unsettled fears and worries are understandable – after all when you are struggling with fertility you are of course facing huge questions about your future. Are you prepared for IVF? Is your relationship strong enough to weather the ups and downs of unsuccessful IVF and of course the big one – what happens if you can't have a baby at all, what does that mean for you both?
The first thing we say to patients worried about not having a baby is that research shows that when IVF is used over several rounds 70-90% of couples will have a healthy pregnancy within 8 rounds assuming that you keep going. So even if you need a little help to conceive, the likelihood is if you keep going IVF will work. There are other issues to worry about – having the financial resources to continue beyond the NHS funded rounds for example being pretty important but overall most women who want to get pregnant, providing they are not over 40 when they start trying to conceive will actually give birth. This is very important to remember. When we ask our patients who conceive perhaps on their 4th or 5th IVF round what they would say to themselves on the first round the answer is always the same; 'keep going' and 'don't give up'.
Managing anxiety throughout this IVF journey is the difficult part! Now a 2011 study showed no difference in pregnancy outcomes in IVF patients who reporting experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress in the run up to IVF. This is good news. Every IVF patient we see is anxious to some degree – and we don't see a difference either. Now if the anxiety is affecting the quality of your life, then taking steps to reduce your anxiety is a good step forward – just if it means day to day life becomes a bit more enjoyable and easy to live for you. All our therapists work with anxiety and have different approaches. We are all big fans of Yoga, meditation and mindfulness as these techniques are excellent at making space in between your busy chaotic thoughts and can give you a little breathing space and choice whether to follow certain repetitive thoughts.
Can anxiety affect you when trying to conceive naturally? The theory is certainly there – stress hormones affecting ovulation but it has been difficult to ascertain to what degree. One study in 2010 measured two stress hormones in women trying conceive naturally and found lower levels in women who did conceive though these figures were not statistically significant enough to say with certainty that this applies across the board to all women. More studies are needed to establish the true effect of anxiety and stress on fertility. Aside from your reproductive hormones, anxiety can affect your fertility indirectly – it affects the quality of your relationships, affect your intimacy and it can consume your daily life so completely that you struggle to do the things that we know are good for our fertility.
This month we have asked our therapists at The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership to share their experiences of anxiety and how they help our patients who are struggling. We hope you enjoy reading their blogs and if you'd like help with managing your anxiety please contact us for a chat about your personal situation.