A woman is considered to be a failure if she cannot be a mother and a man is considered ‘not man enough’ if he is infertile and can’t be a father and these stigmas have a growing impact on a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Research has found that undergoing the process of assisted reproduction or in vitro fertilization is linked to increased levels of anxiety, depression and stress hence, IVF can be mentally and financially draining and can lead to complex emotions like grief and guilt.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Richa Vashista, Chief Mental Health Expert at AtEase, advised, “During IVF it is important to focus on yourself and take a mental break. After all, your hormones play a huge role in how you feel, and self-care can help deal with mood swings. Practicing mindfulness, taking up meditation, or finding something that helps you stay relaxed and grounded can be beneficial. While you tackle this journey, it is crucial to understand that you’re not alone. Reading about, talking to, connecting with and understanding mothers and their experiences can help you keep calm and patient throughout.”
Highlighting that IVF treatment can be grinding for all genders, Richa Vashista suggested it is vital to take care of your relationship with your partner. She said, “Try to make time to emotionally check-in with one another. Find ways to keep the spark alive, and remember your journey to parenthood is shared with your partner. Blaming them or holding them responsible, arguing with them, having frequent outbursts will not help the relationship. If you feel like you are struggling with communicating with your partner, or y’all are unable to understand each other, then speaking to a couples counselor can be of help.”
She added, “It is also important to maintain your relationship with other loved ones who are trying to support you. Make time for your friends and family. Talk to them about what is happening in their life, and be a part of their joys and sorrows. At the same time, set and maintain boundaries and avoid toxic or negative people who aim to bring you down. Taking care of your physical health by maintaining a healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise is also important during this period. It can also help alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Consider seeking assistance from a counselor if you are feeling “stuck” and need to overcome persistent dullness, stress, loneliness, grief, guilt, depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges.”
Infertility treatment is gradually becoming quite popular in India with centers operating even in smaller cities and as per World Health Organization, the total rate of primary infertility in India is estimated to be between 3.9 and 16.8 percent. Studies have also indicated a higher proportion of infertile women at the risk of mental health problems compared to those with fertile controls with low mood, interpersonal sensitivity and phobic anxiety commonly found among these groups.
Dr Preeti Parakh, Psychiatrist and Head at Kolkata’s Mpower – The Centre, pointed out, “The emotional burden has had a debilitating effect on millions of couples waiting to conceive. According to reports, the inability to procreate can give rise to mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression in women and men alike. Usually, couples opting for IVF or In-Vitro Fertilization already face issues like stress, guilt and lack of confidence in themselves. Often they feel like failures and having to undergo a time taking treatment like IVF adds to the burden.”
She explained, “There are usually two major reasons for emotional stress during IVF. It might be due to hormonal changes and medications given during the IVF treatment, which could increase the risk of anxiety and depression for many women. In addition, the process is time taking and there is a risk of failure, making IVF a mentally draining experience. Non-pharmacological therapies like counseling and relaxation exercises are preferred for patients who are going through IVF or are already pregnant. When these therapies aren’t helpful, there is the option of starting medicines. Yoga and meditation can also help make people feel better.”