It’s no secret that an infertility diagnosis is deeply distressing for anyone going through it. Immediately afterward, there is often relief that maybe some questions will be answered as to why family-building has been so difficult thus far. There is often grief, too. Depending on what the diagnosis is, an individual or couple may be required to shift the vision and expectations of how they will have a child. Then there is the multitude of decisions to be made, including the direction of treatment and the financial planning to accommodate the high cost of fertility treatment. Needless to say, this usually sets off a roller coaster of emotions, which can be difficult to slow down and sort through. 

Through the emotional highs and lows of fertility treatment, whether it’s at home - utilizing a variety of measures to ensure ovulation and timed intercourse - or if it’s more complex and requiring treatment at a fertility clinic, the emotional gut-punch of it all can be hard to manage.

Tips For Surviving and Thriving Through Infertility

1. Audit your coping skills.

When navigating the ups and downs of infertility, it can be beneficial to take an inventory of how you already cope well with the hard things in life (outside of infertility). 

Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Are you naturally more prone to problem-solving, multi-tasking, or planning ahead?

  • Are you really good at reaching out for help?

  • Are you good at taking a sick day from work when you need it, or giving your body rest? 

Fertility treatment isn’t a test of strength and will; it is about endurance, and in order to have the endurance needed to get to the finish line, it is important that you are relying on the parts of yourself that already know how to be successful in times of adversity. The parts that know how to take care of you, and set you up for the best outcome - the parts of yourself that don’t get in your own way. 

So instead of working harder to keep yourself distracted from the emotional pain, it may be more beneficial to attempt to attend to the things your body may need. Learning how to lean into the things you’re already good at, whether these skills were cultivated by your intuition or from previous hard seasons of life, it’s time to put those into practice.  

2. Build strategies around your skillset. 

For example, if you like to keep things organized and predictable, create a cycle calendar or organize your fertility medication area if that helps keep you calm and focused. If you like to make sure your body is feeling strong and ready, lean into your desire to exercise, sleep, fuel it with good food, or find ways to give it some extra care. If you need to talk things out, prepare the people around you for a few more phone calls, or coach them on how to offer you support on days that might be particularly hard.  

3. Set an intention for your next cycle.

Any fertility treatment can be difficult, but IVF is a notable challenge. Over the years of working with fertility patients, I’ve developed the practice of helping patients create their own unique intention for their IVF cycle. The idea of an intention helps to lessen the mental load of an already highly emotional process. I find that patients (for good reason) become hyper-focused on the result of the cycle, and often lose sight of everything else outside of their IVF cycle for those 4-6 weeks during treatment. Creating an intention for the cycle helps ground the patient in the here-and-now, and helps them come back to the current landscape of their everyday life. It helps them to find control in the life around them, and it allows them to wait with purpose instead of fear.  

The ultimate intention of any IVF cycle is a baby, of course. However, when an IVF cycle is not successful, the loss is devastating. Creating an intention does not take away the feeling of devastation, but it works to mediate it, to lessen it, to make sure it isn’t the ONLY feeling being felt in those moments. 

4. Borrow an intention, if you’re having a hard time finding your own.

Examples of intentions patients have created over the years include: implementing small morning routines to make sure their mindset is positive and ready for the day. Others use their intention to be more open with those around them by sharing their struggle with infertility and gaining more support. In some cases, people use this intentional time to learn how to better share their feelings and needs with their partner. Another example can be making small changes to get more sleep, increasing water intake, moving one’s body, listening to their body, learning how to love their body again, or finding ways to focus on all the ways their body can do things versus what it cannot do. 

The purpose of setting an intention is to set a smaller, more attainable goal or hope for the cycle along with the greater intention of having a baby. That greater intention will always be the ultimate goal. However, what if along the way instead of suffering and feeling paralyzed by worry, patients can feel empowered and still find some small feelings of control? If this occurs,  regardless of the treatment outcome, the patient may still feel like something was accomplished - maybe a new habit, routine, or a feeling of gratefulness or strength. It allows for something new to emerge.  

Sometimes when people go through difficult seasons of life, feelings get so big that individuals lose their ability to turn inward and rely on what they already know. Often, all it takes is a simple reminder that you already have the power within you to navigate those big feelings; you have the tools to help you sort through them. There may be times when the ups and downs feel too big and you need another professional to help support you through the process, and that’s okay too. Trust yourself to know when that time is. In the meantime, lean into the skills that have carried you through tough times in the past, and listen to the new skills that are likely emerging during this time, too.

Dr. Kristy Koser earned her BS in psychology and MA in counseling from Eastern Mennonite University. She holds a PhD in Counseling and Supervision from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Dr. Koser specializes in fertility counseling, helping couples navigate complex decisions while maintaining their relationship after a diagnosis of infertility and during fertility treatment. She has authored a number of chapters on fertility counseling, written professional peer-reviewed articles, authored fertility patient courses, and has presented on the topic by invitation at many venues around the country. Dr. Koser is a member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and is licensed to practice in OH, VA, and PA.