It’s said that fertility issues affect up to of American couples. For those struggling with infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can offer another option for becoming pregnant.
During this process, eggs are taken from a person’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm. The resulting embryo can then either be frozen or implanted in the person’s uterus.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, almost one million babies were conceived through IVF as of 2014. But the process can be taxing. The average IVF cycle alone costs more than $12,000.
In addition to the financial strain, the person undergoing treatment is left to deal with the physical and mental stress that can accompany IVF.
Whether you’re about to begin your IVF journey or are currently in the middle of an IVF cycle, self-care can provide a great way to cope with what can be an emotionally draining experience.
To help you figure out how to incorporate self-care into your daily routine, we’ve asked five women to offer their own self-care tips during IVF. Here’s what they had to say.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What does self-care mean to you, and why is it so important during IVF?
Valerie Bouchand: In preparing for IVF cycles, self-care for me involved a ton of research on what exactly IVF was, how the body best responds to medications, and how I could maximize my chances of success. I learned what components of caring for myself would contribute to the highest rate of success and what would contribute to failure.
Jessica Hepburn: Self-care means proactively looking after your physical and mental health and recognizing how important it is to do that both for yourself and the people around you. It’s absolutely essential during IVF because it’s one of the toughest things you’ll go through in your life.
Amy Belasen Draheim: Self-care means de-stressing, decompressing, and finding ways to cope with emotions and doubts that creep in, especially during times of stress and uncertainty.
Self-care was so important during IVF because an infertility diagnosis can be emotionally taxing. It can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows.
It can be physically demanding and mentally draining, and committing to self-care is one of the most important things you can do for yourself at any time, but especially during IVF.
What are some things you did for self-care during IVF?
Lisa Newton: The most important thing I did for self-care during IVF was to clear my schedule. During my first cycle, I tried to keep everything normal and it just didn’t work.
When the cycle failed, I had no room to grieve and recoup. For my subsequent cycles, I cleared my calendar of anything nonessential.
This allowed me the space I needed to go to appointments without rushing or scheduling conflicts. It gave me room to do things that relaxed and uplifted me and allowed me to process and grieve when our second cycle failed.
Jennifer Palumbo: I did little things that made me feel “in control.” Being diagnosed with infertility, and whether or not I’d ever get pregnant, were all out of my control.
But there were certain things I did that I could control and made me feel better: having a fun folder to keep all of my IVF cycle paperwork in — I chose a Wonder Woman folder of course; making an inspiring music playlist to listen to while going to and from the clinic; and, believe it or not, naming each cycle with a fun thematic name.
Amy: During IVF, and in the year prior, I visited my acupuncturist weekly, ate fertility-friendly foods, tapered down my hot yoga habit and began practicing yoga at home, walked my dog daily, and practiced meditation before bed.
I took weekly baths (not too hot), gardened, and found time to travel with my husband despite our busy schedules.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone currently in the process or about to begin the process of IVF?
Jennifer: Do whatever you need to do to buy yourself five minutes of happiness during the process. Seriously. Buy a lollipop, get a manicure, don’t pick up the phone if you don’t want to, take that nap, watch your favorite show.
If you need to put yourself first while going through an IVF cycle to get through it, that’s okay. And you don’t need to feel bad about it. You’re still fabulous, and this is about staying sane under hormonal circumstances.
Lisa: My best piece of self-care advice would be to figure out what you need to do in order to “fill your cup.” For me, it was clearing my schedule.
For some people, it might be spending time with friends or adding more fun commitments like girls’ nights out or more date nights. It will probably be different for each person.
Amy: Don’t be afraid to let people in. Talk to a professional. My acupuncturist was that person. She laughed with me and cried with me. She saw me through it all — for a full year before the IVF transfer and throughout my pregnancy after the transfer.
She was a sounding board every step of the way, and she became my therapist and my friend. But talk to your family, too. For years, I didn’t share my struggle with my parents and siblings. When I finally let them in, their support was exactly what I needed.
Jessica: Don’t give up “Project You” for “Project Baby.” IVF is a miracle science that has given many people the families they dream of, but it doesn’t work every time for everyone, and the journey can be long and hard.
So, whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the other things you want for your life and that make you feel happy about being alive.
I discovered open water swimming and went on to swim the English Channel, which you can read about in my new book, “21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood.” It was the best self-care I ever did and changed my whole life for the better!
Jessica Timmons has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. Following the birth of her first son, she left her advertising job to begin freelancing. Today, she writes, edits, and consults for a great group of steady and growing clients as a work-at-home mom of four, squeezing in a side gig as a fitness co-director for a martial arts academy. Between her busy home life and mix of clients from varied industries — like stand-up paddleboarding, energy bars, industrial real estate, and more — Jessica never gets bored.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is a freelance writer; infertility/women’s rights advocate; former stand-up comic; author of the blog, ‘The 2 Week Wait”; and proud IVF mom. Her articles have been featured on the Huffington Post, ScaryMommy, Time Magazine, Self, Babble, and XOJane. She has also been interviewed on news outlets such as CNN, NPR, and BBC, where she has demonstrated her ability to make even reproductive issues fun and educational. She also volunteers for various organizations including the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, Resolve, the National Infertility Association, March of Dimes, and Gilda’s Club. You can follow her “infertility humor” on Twitter.
Lisa Newton blogs about infertility at AmateurNester.com. She is the author of “Preparing for IVF: Approaching Your IVF with Confidence and Courage.” Her first daughter was born after three cycles of IVF, and her second daughter was a surprise natural conception. She lives with her husband and their daughters on the central California coast.
Valerie Bouchand is a North Carolina native, actress, commercial print model, award-winning film producer, published author, and philanthropist. She studied at Howard University and Fordham University and is the former national spokesperson for ObesityHelp and MakeItALifestyle. She also runs the blog, Plan B Chronicles.
Amy Belasen Draheim is a published author, travel and lifestyle blogger, and hospitality marketing expert. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband, dog, and newborn son. She has written about her journey to motherhood.
Jessica Hepburn is the author of “21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood” and “The Pursuit of Motherhood.” She is also the founder of Fertility Fest, the world’s first arts festival dedicated to the science of making babies.