From personal experience I recognise just how stressful fertility treatment can be and with this in mind I believe support should be available to every couple or individual undergoing investigations and/or treatment.
Infertility can give rise to all sorts of feelings and affects people in all sorts of different ways, some may feel anger, shame or guilt. Others may feel isolated, lonely and despairing. Relationships with friends and family may come under considerable strain, it is virtually impossible to understand the feelings of infertility unless you have experienced it. Couples may be dealing with the situation very differently - one person may want to talk about the situation, the other may clam up and prefer not to speak about it. What is clear is almost all people suffering from infertility could do with specialist support.
Before starting treatment
This can be a very useful way for to prepare for treatment – a way for someone to think through possibilities and plan practical strategies to make the cycle as manageable as possible, resulting in it being the best it can be. This can be as simple as validating how emotional it can undoubtedly be or considering for instance that it’s fine to ask for a bosses understanding at this time. It may involve looking at best and worst case scenarios. Most clients benefit hugely from having a backup plan in place for if things don’t go well – this can take the pressure off immensely, even if it’s a very loose plan or a plan you never have to use. You will be surprised how few clients think of doing this! Support at this point can be a very practical time, when we look of ways to take the pressure off, relieve stress and enable the client to feel an element of control at a time when they probably feel very out of control, it is possible to be proactive.
Without doubt, research tells us the most stressful time during treatment is the two week wait – its seems having a plan can help. So often a support session during treatment is used to plan the two week wait!! The client may think its good to have time off work during this time but if so it's important to consider what they will do if they are not a work. Otherwise it's very possible to end up feeling like every minute is an hour etc....Having a plan is great! This makes a huge difference to a treatment cycle! It may be they are worrying continually through all the cycle about how stress will affect the outcome – they may be surrounded by well meaning people telling them to “just relax”, so again if this is an issue (which it is for about 90% of clients) support can look at practical strategies for reducing stress.
This session tends to be when clients have received bad news....it can be a time when they are failing completely to communicate with their partner – it’s not often a couple face a traumatic event at the same time, usually the event is worse for one partner and they gain support from the other. Infertility affects them both at the same time. Bad news can be a time when one person wants to to go over and over what has happened – analysing the whole cycle, processing what has happened and then starting again and re-analysing and working towards a way forward, whatever that may entail, the other partner may alternatively want to talk about it once or not all and then move on, shut it away in a box!
Obviously this is can be difficult to cope with as a couple, there is no wrong or right, just different – and support can be a great relief. They may need someone to see together at this stage, it may be as simple as they can’t see the way forward and need help to clarify their thoughts and feelings or as complex as they can’t agree on a way forward. What is certain is they will be going through a grieving process, most likely with very little understanding from those around them. Alternatively it may be they have received a positive test and are shocked at how emotional and scared they now feel, they had thought this would be the answer to all their prayers but actually they are just terrified something will go wrong - again specialist support can help.
Before starting treatment in which a couple are using or donating gametes they will be offered implications counselling, this is a vital session where they are given specialist help to explore the issues surrounding this. They will have the space to consider all sorts of issues specific to this route, such as how it feels to be going down this avenue, help to consider if, how and when they may tell the child how they were conceived. They will have time to consider the implications of legal parenthood and so many more issues surrounding using a donor or donating.
Counselling through this very challenging time can totally change a clients view of the cycle. There is such conflating emotions when one goes through treatment - it can tremendously isolating and very unexpected counselling can be a way to explore thoughts, feeling and unconditional support.
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