The Emotional Factor
This week I have been organising the Home Office and stumbled across some old family photographs. Whilst we all had fun laughing at the clothes we wore and how crazy our hairstyles were, it was a cathartic experience to have a good clean out. Tidying up my office, not only brought about a cleaner work space, it made me think about what other areas of my life could do with a good clean out. Getting your finances in order for tax time, clearing out the garage, it is not quite spring cleaning (we are in winter) but it prompted me to think about the emotional clearing out, how often are people doing this, it is just as vital as the physical ones.
So back to The Emotional Factor. It is an important discussion to dive into as so often when clients are receiving fertility treatment, the focus is not on this aspect.
To begin we will have to cover the basics, so anyone joining us here will have a sound understanding of stimulated cycles. When women are undergoing a stimulated cycle they are receiving hormone injections daily (at a particular time in their monitored cycle) this increases the development of follicles and hopefully eggs contained within them. These injections are either done at the clinic or at home, to achieve the maximum number of eggs for collection at the time of pick up.
In a regular menstrual cycle a woman would normally have the natural recruitment of one dominant follicle which will go on to mature and produce just one egg per monthly cycle in theory.
I should mention here that not every follicle will contain an egg as often times the follicle will develop much like a cyst and fill with fluid, still contributing to the estrogen levels but not containing an egg.
The hormonal overload that the body is placed under for IVF treatment is significant and the increase in hormones injected does have an incredible emotional response. To get an idea of how hormones effect our bodies we need to look a little closer at the neuroscience.
Estrogen and progesterone are linked to both energy levels and our moods in our bodies and brains.
They counter balance each other, whilst estrogen has a stimulating effect, progesterone works in a counter way having a calming effect.
Too much estrogen will result in the following conditions in our bodies –
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Ovarian Cyst
- Abdominal weight
- Anxiety, Irritability
- Water Retention
- Increased Triglyceride Levels
When you consider that in a normal unstimulated cycle a females estrogen level will be approximately 1000-2000IU when measured by a blood test, this can rise significantly to up to 10,000 – 20,000IU in a stimulated cycle. It is no wonder then that emotions are running extremely high.
Progesterone has many different functions throughout the body and especially when maintaining the uterine lining for pregnancy. However in the brain progesterone levels are found to be 20 times higher than in the blood. When you consider the imbalance created when estrogen levels rise excessively for fertility treatment, you can start to imagine the hormonal turmoil that is raging in body at this time.
Some other functions of Progesterone within the body that help with general well being are –
- enhancing the action of thyroid hormones
- alleviating depression and reducing anxiety
- promoting normal sleep patterns
- preventing cyclical migraines
- restoring cell oxygen levels
Women undergoing back to back cycles (that is one cycle after another) often find themselves completed wrecked emotionally as they have not had the chance to emotionally regulate in between those cycles. They report having a sense of urgency to race from one cycle to another, with their biological clock ticking loudly and this is not healthy.
I met a friend of my partner’s at a 50th Birthday Party last year in Bowral. My partner had told her before we got to the party that I was an IVF Scientist and she advised him that she had many failed IVF cycles and that it was a really tough subject and one I should avoid discussing.
Sometime after I arrived at the party she approached me and told me a little about her experience.
The time when she was having IVF treatment was the worst time of her life emotionally and physically she shared. She spoke of the deep hurt of not achieving pregnancy and specifically how the hormones had created permanent changes in her body, in particular she explained that she experiences dry skin and brittle hair which she never did prior to IVF treatment. It was quite clear that she was in considerable pain over this difficult time in her life and had not sought any help to deal with the negative emotions.
Estrogen and Progesterone have an effect on the neurons (cells in our brains) when they attach to receptors which are specific for that particular hormone. Hormone receptors together with the hormone are like a lock and key function, fitting together perfectly.
Most important to note is that estrogen receptors are found throughout our brains and particularly in the following areas –
Hypothalamus and Pituitary – areas for Reproduction
Cerebral Cortex – area for Cognition and Thinking
Hippocampus and Amygdala – areas for Emotions
Due to the vast distribution of estrogen receptors in our brains, this would indicate that hormones play a significant role in how we think, feel and behave. Studies have shown that emotional regulation is extremely sensitive to estrogen levels and this is where fertility treatment causes disruption.
When we are feeling stressed and anxious our levels of the hormone Cortisol rise. The rise in this hormone is extremely quick and changes in levels can be detected in people within minutes.
We know that stress and anxiety alter our behaviour and this coupled with the hormonal saturation of fertility treatment, causes significant emotional responses.
A recent article published in Victoria highlighted the Governments concerns for patients undergoing fertility treatment, the emotional cost and the chances of success not being entirely clear and upfront. Many patients felt that they were given false hope.
One client I spoke to recently had 15 cycles of IVF and she was still committed to having more treatment. Her next plan was to go overseas for a donor egg cycle, she was 45 years old. The emotional fugue of this client was palpable, she was determined to keep going until the clinics refused to treat her due to her age. It was difficult to listen to the pain that she had endured over the many years of unsuccessful treatment. Money problems, relationship breakdowns and feelings of hopelessness.
Treatment overseas is a topic we will cover in upcoming blogs and can be extremely controversial due to the different laws and regulations internationally.
Whether your IVF treatment is successful or not, it is important to know that anyone who experiences fertility treatment is on this emotional roller coaster. I have coached many clients during and after their cycles who have struggled with the negative emotions and strain from the fertility treatment.
Many of my male clients particularly report feeling stressed financially. When they have taken out second mortgages on their homes, have maxed out their credit cards and felt exponential financial pressure to fund the ongoing expenses of treatment.
It is important to remember that when one member of the family is experiencing the fertility treatment, the whole family feels the ripple effect, not just the partners.
One of my clients had an older daughter from a previous marriage who was in high school and particularly feeling the pain and isolation from the treatment her mother and step father were undergoing. She felt pain as all the focus and attention was on the treatment and she was feeling a sense of grief and loss for the previous close relationship that she shared with her mother.
Getting assistance with the emotional journey with a Coach can be an important circuit breaker when having fertility treatment. We know that many clients stop telling their family about their treatment after they have had an unsuccessful cycle. We know that men in particular are not comfortable speaking about their emotions and often do not reach out to their male friends to discuss their fears and concerns.
Clearing out the negative emotions, having a healthy diet and lifestyle and getting some exercise are all essential for fertility treatment.
Finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety by doing the things you love, and maintaining your social connections are valuable tools that you can use to reduce the emotional strain.
If you would like any further information or would like to send me any questions please head to my website –
www.ivfcoachingclinic.com.au or my Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/ivfcoachingclinic/ or you can follow me on Instagram
@sophiabaseotto or @ivfcoachingclinic
Kind Regards, Sophia