Why counselling is important during fertility treatment

There is no doubt that undergoing fertility treatment is highly stressful – and it is a process that involves a number of unique stresses. Managing these unique stresses through specialised counselling that provides relevant and specific coping mechanisms will not only help you deal with the challenges and hurdles during the course of your fertility treatment, but can also improve the outcome of the treatments you receive.

The unique stresses of fertility treatments

Mandy Rodrigues, our resident clinical psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic in Sandton, Johannesburg, explains that fertility patients go through very unique stresses, which are briefly discussed below.

Physical demands – Undergoing fertility treatment is often a physically challenging journey. Infertility is a medical condition and, in many cases, requires treatment that involves undergoing medical procedures and receiving or self-administering medications over extended periods of time. The strain of the physical side of fertility treatment can be exacerbated if patients are nervous about medical interventions and procedures.

Emotional “rollercoaster” – Most women and men expect to become of parents one day and, for this reason, a diagnosis of infertility is an unexpected and shocking blow emotionally, leaving both partners subject to a range of intense emotions such as uncertainty and trepidation, and swinging from hope to fear, and from joy to disappointment.

Financial stress – Fertility treatments can be expensive and often more than one treatment cycle is required. The financial stress that can be part of fertility treatment is often further compounded by the fact that fertility treatments such as IVF are not usually covered by most open medical aids in South Africa.

Lack of control – The physical demands, emotional ups and downs and financial strain of the infertility experience can impact life at home, at work and with family, leaving couples feeling out of control.

Higher incidence of depression – The emotional rollercoaster associated with infertility often makes people feel helpless. Couples may dread the actual medical process, but waiting for results is often the most trying part of treatment. Days seem to pass very slowly and it can be a time of acute vulnerability and sensitivity, making it difficult to concentrate on ordinary life.

Higher incidence of PTSD – Infertility counsellors are beginning to view infertility treatment and coping process in line with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The experience of infertility is literally the death of a dream. It can be a painful and difficult state.

Sense of isolation – Many couples feel stigmatised by their infertility, and feel unable to share their experience with family or friends.

Independent coping – Compounding the sense of isolation is independent coping, in which each partner copes alone, instead of seeking the support of their partner. Men and women deal with the stress of fertility at different levels and this can place the relationship under a great deal of stress. Partners may feel estranged in the relationship and helpless in the face of their partner’s distress. They may become angry and intolerant towards their spouses, or avoid each other for fear of saying the wrong thing or upsetting the other.

High-level decision-making – During your fertility journey, you will need to make many decisions and what you decide can have an impact on you, your partner, and your future child. Decision-making can be tough when you are feeling emotional. Expert counselling can help you to make informed and rational decisions from a good place.

Specialised counselling provides relevant coping mechanisms

Coping with these unique stresses around a fertility journey requires specialised counselling that provides relevant and proven coping mechanisms.

Speaking to a counsellor that understands the unique stresses of fertility treatments is vital, as are coping mechanisms that are relevant to fertility patients and proven effective in fertility journeys.

Coping mechanisms that are both relevant and practical enable fertility patients to exercise a measure of control over their fertility journey. It provides a focus point for their attention and a way to contribute to a successful outcome. It is empowering in the face of a situation that often seems helpless, contributes significantly to managing the process of infertility treatment better and also creates a better chance of conceiving.

At Medfem, our counselling focusses on helping fertility patients to become aware of the unique stresses they face and to recognise the triggers or hooks that generate typical stress reactions, which become stress cycles.

A hook refers to any situation, event, circumstance, or occurrence that triggers a negative reaction. These may be unpredictable, but they are mostly predictable, for example, traffic jams or attending someone else’s baby shower. These hooks may also be real (for example, an accident) but are most often self-induced, such as leaving late in the morning and therefore getting stuck in traffic.

At Medfem, our counselling helps people recognise their typical four reactions to these hooks: their physical reaction; their self talk; their thinking; and their behaviour.

Medfem’s fertility patients learn how to avoid the hooks or triggers that they find upsetting where possible, and also to realise that their power lies in their ability to control their reactions, and so to break their stress cycles.

Other coping mechanisms our patients find very helpful are relaxation techniques, assertiveness training and cognitive reconstruction. At Medfem, we also address a specific stress called Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress (TUPS). TUPS is common among people who are perfectionists, constantly chasing deadlines and experiencing exceptionally high levels of stress. The higher the TUPS, the more difficulty fertility patients have in coping, the lower their resilience and the higher the chances of post-natal depression.

Counselling can improve clinical outcomes

Of course, facing the unique stresses of fertility treatments doesn’t mean you won’t fall pregnant, but what we know for certain from studies and experience is that you have a better chance of conceiving if you manage these stresses well.

International studies have now proven that stress does affect fertility and has an impact on the ability to conceive. In addition, recent literature – as well as studies conducted under the auspices of Medfem Fertility Clinic – has shown that the reduction of stress can account for higher pregnancy rates. The conclusion is that the right counselling can help you to manage the stress of fertility treatment and give you a better than average chance of falling pregnant.

Infertility – and its treatment – is a journey that most couples simply did not anticipate or envisage and, while there is much reason for hope, the treatment process can also be very challenging. Successfully managing the unique stresses through relevant fertility counselling will not only increase pregnancy rates, but will also improve your ability to make important decisions, provide a sense of control over your fertility journey and improve your overall long-term quality of life.

For this reason, counselling and support is part of the fertility treatment package at Medfem. The overall well-being of our patients is a crucial aspect of fertility treatment, and we encourage our patients to take advantage of the many resources we have developed to address the emotional needs they may have as a part of their fertility journey.

If you would like to know more about counselling for fertility or infertility counselling, or to meet our experienced fertility counsellor, Dr Mandy Rodrigues, we invite you to connect with us by simply clicking here or contacting us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

We look forward to meeting you at Medfem Fertility Clinic!

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