by Sandra Hewett, fertility counsellor
We have had so many emails from readers this week who are all feeling so lost and confused right now.
With the world on lockdown and people fighting to stay healthy, plans to have a baby have been put on hold and pushed to the back of the priority list for many
However, although the practical side of you says holding off is the right thing to do, it feels almost impossible for your heart and soul to cope with the reality. Time has never felt so against you.
We sent one reader’s email to the wonderful Sandra Hewett, fertility counsellor from The Fertility Partnership for some much needed support and guidance
“I am overwhelmed. I am shocked. I am upset. I am angry. I am frustrated. This was supposed to be MY time to get pregnant but I’m scared the coronavirus is going to ruin my chances of ever becoming a mother.
Me and my husband have been married for 5 years. A year after we got married we decided we wanted to start a family, but nothing happened. We tried everything, but still nothing happened.
However this was going to be our year. We have a start date for our first ivf cycle. We are meant to start mid April, just as the damn virus is expected to really escalate. We haven’t officially been told yet that our cycle has been postponed, but I know deep down that it is the right thing to do. With our jobs now in a worryingly fragile state, we need to make sure we keep our money close. The money that was meant to help me become a mother, will now have to be used to pay the mortgage.
My heart is so heavy, that I am finding it hard to breathe. I keep asking myself why we are being punished like this.
We feel like we have been punched hard in the face. We feel like someone has pressed the pause button on our lives and thrown away the remote!
We are not quite sure what to do, or say. We can’t even go to the pub to drown our sorrows as they are closed indefinitely.
We can’t even go round to see our parents or friends for comfort. We are prisoners in our own homes as we ‘self isolate’.
We don’t know what to say to each other. We don’t know what to do. I can feel a panic starting to set in and I’m not sure how to stop it spiraling out of control. No one really knows how bad this virus is going to get so where does that leave us?
It was hard enough before, not knowing when I was ever going to get pregnant, but having the IVF start date gave us hope.
How do I get my head out of this panicked state? Can you help me? Thank you. Ellie”
“Hello Ellie. Sandra here. This is such a painful situation and you describe the range and depth of your emotions so well. But let’s look at how you can reduce this anguish.
Firstly, you are right about treatment. All new IVF patients coming in to NHS treatment are being told they have to wait.
Those who have started their cycles can continue, at least to freeze all embryos, but if you planned to have a frozen transfer or start another cycle these too will be put on hold. The private clinics are mostly following suit. This is because of potential staffing and drug shortages. If you have to stop in mid-cycle due to illness The Fertility Partnership will refund the cost of used drugs.
There’s no current evidence that pregnant women are vulnerable but they are being advised to self-isolate
All your emotions – upset, anger, frustration – are valid. You both have finally got to this point of starting IVF, which in itself has been a difficult journey, only to have the door slammed in your faces. Added to which you have all the uncertainty and isolation of the social measures that everyone has to endure.
So recognise this as grief, which often has anger and disbelief mixed in. Don’t expect to shake off these emotions quickly, as hard as it is to carry them round with you. Normally I would suggest some days off work but you may be working from home or you may be a front line worker who can’t take time off. But if you can, allow yourself some space to mourn this event.
You talk about panic and finding it hard to breathe. Heightened anxiety is caused by fear, and the amygdala (sometimes called the caveman brain) doesn’t take any prisoners. It goes into fight or flight mode – neither of which you can do in the circumstances – and tries to block any rational thought.
Here’s some tools that could help
1. Slow your breathing and count: in for three, hold for four, out for five. This takes your focus on to your breathing and calms the symptoms of panic.
2. Reflect on the fears: your chances of becoming a mother will be ruined, you might lose your jobs, your money will be gone. Writing these down can also help to clarify your thought processes.
3. Find some soothing responses to these fears: I can’t tell you that none of the above won’t happen, but they are currently thoughts, not facts. And you can balance the negative thoughts with maybes. ‘We might be back on track in a few weeks.’ “We can probably seek financial help.” Keep telling yourself these thoughts. And by the way, you can request a mortgage holiday if you do lose your job.
4. Any calming and focusing activity is helpful: Mindfulness or meditation, relaxation and exercise such as yoga can help. You’ll have to follow DVDs or YouTube videos now, assuming classes are cancelled.
5. You are entitled to feel that you are being punished, and punched in the face, so have a good yell or scream about it. Then try to put these ideas away – write them down in big red letters, then throw the paper away. These thoughts will drag you down, so let them go. Visualise a cloud floating past and pop them on the cloud. Remind yourselves that many others are in the same situation over IVF, and everyone is in the COVID-19 trap.
6. Talking of visualising, there’s nothing wrong with a daydream. Imagine yourself in a few months’ time, getting back to treatment, feeling fit and excited. Visualise yourselves with a new baby. As long as you don’t spend hours doing this, you’ll re-wire your brain into a more positive state than continuing to think angry and negative thoughts.
7. Support and look after each other. Try to avoid pointless arguments, and be gentle. Find pleasurable – even fun – things to do. You can still take walks, do hobbies or crafts, get out board or card games as well as box sets. This is actually downtime to do things you possibly haven’t done in a long time.
8. Gratitude and kindness are known to help when we feel low or anxious. Every day remind yourselves of one thing you are grateful for and one kind act that you did, or was done to you.
Thank you so much to Sandra for this wonderful guidance and do visit here for more guidance from The Fertility Partnership
If you are struggling right now, please be assured we are here for you and will be keeping you up to date on the latest Coronavirus news and its impact fertility as it happens. Please do share your concerns with us. It is always good to talk. Drop us an email at email@example.com. Huge love to everyone, and stay safe.