Difficulty conceiving comes as a shock to many people. It’s likely that for a large chunk of your life, you have been using contraception to avoid pregnancy, so the idea that you can’t, now that you want to, may feel even more frustrating.

That’s not to say that everyone has this experience. For some of you, your journey will have been different. You may have been diagnosed with fertility issues or a women’s health concern earlier in your life, you may have realised that natural conception would not be an option, due to being in a same sex relationship, or you may have undergone cancer treatment or surgery.

Regardless of your starting point, protecting your mental health during your fertility journey is important. So, how can you do this?

Signs your mental health is suffering

Acknowledging that you are struggling and that you need help is the first step. Feelings of anxiety and depression, mood swings, psychological distress, struggling to sleep, inability to focus and stress are signs that your mental health may be suffering due to your fertility diagnosis. It is important to take care of your emotional wellbeing through the fertility treatment because psychological symptoms may have a negative impact on fertility.

Mental health problems affect around 60 % of infertile patients, yet only 44 % of them seek out mental health services and support. Fertility Network UK has research which shows that an overwhelming 90 % of people who were experiencing long-term infertility have felt depressed and some have also felt suicidal.

Communicate your feelings and needs

Communication is key for protecting our mental health. There are ways that you can make sure that your needs are met, by keeping lines of communication open throughout your fertility journey. Open communication can help to prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretation, and can reduce potential depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, many people feel a stigma and taboo around discussing infertility, which makes it difficult to give them the mental health support they need.

Fertility treatment patients will often take hormone medication to improve the chances of conception through an IVF cycle. However, this same medication can leave infertility patients feeling anxious and overwhelmed and it can also cause hormone imbalances and feelings of PMS . Ask your fertility clinic if you can receive mental health support and emotional wellbeing services from them.

Communicate with your partner

You are in this together. Emotions may be running high, but rather than treading on eggshells around each other for fear of causing upset, talk about your feelings, it is much better to be open and honest about what you are experiencing. If you are aware of each other’s thoughts and feelings, you can support each other and reduce tension.

Make opportunities to have fun

Making time to do things together that you enjoy, can be a great distraction and give your mood and energy levels a boost. The psychological impact of infertility can cause people to push away from their partners, when what they need to be coming together.

Meeting friends, who understand and can distract you from thinking about infertility, can quickly boost your mood and reduce stress. Regular, gentle exercise is good for mental health and fertility. Getting involved in hobbies or interests that help you to relax and unwind is also helpful.

Talk to your fertility medical team

A fertility consultant gives you the space to ask any questions you may have. They can help you to better understand your diagnosis and fertility treatment plan. Being well-informed can reduce stress and help you to feel more in control of things that you can influence.

The team can help you to understand the infertility treatments available to you based on your infertility diagnosis. They can provide you with more information on your next steps.

Talk to a counsellor

Women undergoing infertility treatment through assisted reproductive technology may experience depressive symptoms. Having an appointment with a trained counsellor, who is experienced in working with individuals and couples going through infertility, can be very helpful. It’s useful to attend as a couple, but you may also wish to have separate appointments too.

You may be experiencing a range of emotions, including sadness, hope, despair, shock, frustration, envy, blame, anger, guilt and even loss and grief (for the family life you thought you were going to have, that doesn’t seem possible).

It can be useful to talk through your feelings with someone who is not directly involved, helping you to accept your feelings, work through them and formulate ways to help you to move forwards positively, during treatment and whatever the outcome.

Insensitivity from others

You may be met with insensitivity from strangers, family members and even close friends. Comments can range from casual enquiries about when you are going to have children, to telling you the clock is ticking and you’d better get on with it. Others may laugh about how easy it was for them to fall pregnant, or people may assume that you don’t want children.

You can save yourself more emotional upset, if you have pre-prepared responses that will reduce further questioning or thoughtless responses.

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Physical health and wellbeing

Having a well-balanced, healthy diet and being physically fit, is beneficial for conception and for mental health. Wholefoods, fruit and vegetables and other foods recommended for increasing fertility can also be beneficial for preserving your energy levels and lifting your mood.

Try complementary therapies that can work safely alongside your treatment can improve mental health and practice self-care and wellbeing techniques. Certain yoga poses and acupuncture may help to support fertility, by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and they can also aid relaxation and reduce stress. Relaxation techniques are beneficial for those undergoing fertility treatment. You should ensure that if you are doing yoga or Pilates whilst undergoing fertility treatment, that you practice fertility yoga as some yoga techniques have been linked to miscarriage.

Perinatal mental health

Perinatal mental health refers to pregnancy and the first year after pregnancy. Many women experience PMH whether they have been through infertility treatment or not. After trying so long to have child, you may then experience different feelings of fear of the unknown and become distressed this could be a sign that you are beginning to experience problems due to perinatal mental health, you may need to find someone to help with emotional support.  

For many, fertility treatments are long, invasive, expensive and exhausting. If after this emotional strain, you then go on to experience pregnancy loss it can be overwhelming. Seek fertility counselling to or go to a mental health practitioner to aid you through this difficult time.  

Ask for help

Asking for help, whether it is emotional, physical or practical support, can help to reduce pressure and stress. If you are struggling with your mental health, then speak to your GP. There are also a range of charities and organisations listed below, that you can talk to in confidence. If you need support.

Support groups include:

Fertility Friends, Samaritans, The Fertility Alliance, Mind and The IVFN.

Online support networks like The IVFN Safe Space offers an environment free from judgement. Where you can seek advice from others how have had similar experiences. We provide a range of information, through our website. Blog posts and dedicated channel of experts, to help you to make informed choices on your personal fertility journey. You are not alone.

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