During the course of fertility treatment, many patients experience burn out and emotional exhaustion. However, according to Dr. Alice Domar, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Domar Centre for Mind/Body Health, if patients stay in treatment longer, they have a much better chance of getting pregnant. Numerous studies that characterize chances to conceive underscore this fact: namely, that there is a higher chance to conceive with a higher number of attempts.  For example, Luke et al, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed a very large national database to report that about 60-80% of patients will achieve a pregnancy after seven consecutive attempts of embryo transfer.

So how do some patients overcome the stress and disappointment of a failed cycle or cycles and have the strength to try again? We asked some of TRIO’s experts to share their thoughts and advice.

Based on observations of patients that persevere through failures to eventually reach the success of a live birth, “Resilience is achieved when there is a sense of control, and more specifically, a degree of internal control,” says Dr. Sony Sierra, the Deputy Medical Director at TRIO. “This control comes with the belief that knowledge and action can lead to a better outcome, that is, a healthy baby. And this knowledge comes from education about the process, a realistic expectation about the outcome, as well as taking action by taking control of what is controllable, that is, habits and behaviors that can be adjusted to create a better sense of health and wellbeing.” Headshot Dr. Sony Sierra

TRIO recommends a number of basic lifestyle approaches that patients can do on their own to take back some control and become active participants in the treatment process. These include a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy oils and proteins; getting regular, moderate exercise; getting enough sleep every night; and avoiding things like environmental toxins, smoking, excessive drinking, and recreational drug use. Studies suggest that smoking, a poor diet, and stress may have a negative impact on the quality of both eggs and sperm. On the positive side, however, changes in lifestyle and exposure can show in the quality of men’s sperm within a few months. And for women, preliminary studies indicate that certain antioxidants, such as taking Coenzyme Q10, may improve egg quality.

Additionally, embracing certain natural health interventions, such as fertility yoga, and acupuncture given pre and post IVF transfer, may increase success rates of fertility treatments. Both yoga and acupuncture lower stress levels, while acupuncture can promote blood flow to the uterus to support implantation. According to Drs Tracy Malone ND and Jennifer Fitzgerald ND, the Medical and Clinical Directors of Conceive Health, you can plan for fertility success. As their website states, “At Conceive Health, we believe that taking the right steps to boost your health prior to undergoing fertility treatment can make a big difference, especially in the critical 100 days before conception. Your health dictates your fertility. That’s why we focus on providing preconception care  through diet and lifestyle modification, nutraceutical support, fertility acupuncture and more.”

 

 “We’ve got to learn to be like young trees and bend in the wind,” says fertility counsellor Reina Zatylny, MSW, RSW. “That’s what I try to teach my clients: effective ways to prepare emotionally for the sometimes long journey to getting pregnant,” she continued.

“People come back to me after a failed cycle and ask ‘should we go forward’? That’s when we take a look at what’s going on, both with the fertility treatment and in their lives, to see what I can do to help. Let’s look at your emotional health after each cycle: How are you doing individually? In your relationship? What tools can I give you to help bolster you if you would like to attempt another cycle.  Infertility does not happen in a vacuum. It’s only one element in your life, including work, finances, family, stress, COVID. Let’s have a look at your life at the moment and try and figure this out through the counselling; let’s do some problem solving together and find out how we can re-energize you to work through the stress in your life, including the stress of infertility treatment,“ says Reina.

Headshot Counsellor Reina Zatylny
Headshot Dr. Dan Nayot “Resilience in the context of fertility treatment is loosely defined as continuing to try,” says Dr. Dan Nayot, a fertility specialist at TRIO. “In theory that works well, but in reality, everyone has a limit to their resources — whether financial, emotional, or physical. The key is to understand your personal situation and make logical, informed decisions moving forward,” he continued.

“If patients are given a realistic picture of their chances of success per cycle, they’re more likely to be prepared for multiple attempts in order to succeed. Some examples: a patient may not return after an unsuccessful first embryo transfer because they thought that was the best embryo in the cohort and therefore future transfers will fail as well. Or, they may stop further treatment after a cycle because they lose hope. Or, success may seem like an impossible end goal for them and therefore further treatment feels futile. However, each of these examples are really more about an anxiety or fear or stress response and not reflective of the true clinical picture. I view fertility treatments as a marathon, and you are far more likely to cross the finish line if you study the route ahead of time, pace yourself, and stop to hydrate along the way,” continued Dr. Nayot.

Many infertility patients say this is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Learning all you can about the treatment process including talking to your doctor and creating a plan for each cycle, making lifestyle modifications, learning healthy coping skills through counselling, and getting an accurate clinical picture of your particular chances of success can help build resilience for your journey.

Because we believe this is such an important subject, our experts will be writing follow up articles with more detailed information about developing resilience. This includes articles about patients who had very long and difficult journeys but persevered for a good result in the end. Their stories are inspiring and important. Please keep an eye on our website/blog as well as our social media for more about resilience during fertility treatment.