Difficult parts of IVF/ICSI treatment

Couples sometimes find that dealing with infertility and its treatment is both physically and emotionally demanding. While they were often very grateful for their treatment, many also felt frustration, resentment and sadness at needing to have medical treatment to get pregnant. Some of the couples we talked to said that they felt they had failed at something that should be so natural and easy. 
Belinda was shocked by how clinical the treatment was, and felt the romance of trying to conceive had completely gone. Clare felt that something so special and romantic had been “destroyed” by IVF.
Several women felt that each cycle got harder, as they grew more familiar with the highs and lows.
Sandra, and others, said they wished they had known how physically and emotionally hard it could be to go through treatment. Liz described her ICSI treatment as highly traumatic, almost comparable to a terminal illness because of the nature of the, “Be all and end all outcomes”.
People were also often surprised to discover what was involved in treatment – for example not everyone knew in advance that egg collection involved an operation. One woman said that she had imagined it might be like a ‘”glorified smear test”; another thought it might involve a spatula.
While some people described unpleasant side effects from the drugs, such as mood swings and tiredness, the main unpleasant physical side-effects of treatment was associated with egg collection. Clare (above) and others did not find egg collection painful or upsetting, but others found it very unpleasant or even “horrible” as Fiona described it. She had opted to remain awake for her first egg collection and found it very painful. The next time, her mother lent her the £100 she needed to have a general anaesthetic. 
Sarah found her egg collection incredibly painful, and described it as, “Without a doubt the worst experience of my life…just so awful….so traumatising.” Egg collection was also described as a difficult experience by the men who witnessed their wives or partners going through it (see ‘Men’s experiences of fertility treatment’).
Some women also experienced hyperstimulation (OHSS) as a result of the drugs. This can vary from mild to severe. It was uncomfortable and frightening, and for some women this meant that they had to stop their cycle until the bloating had gone down. 
Emotional Impact
Many women (and men) found the emotional impact of fertility treatment the hardest thing to cope with. Women described the treatment and uncertainty of whether it would work or not as hitting them on many different levels. Sarah said that she found it a shock to be one of those people going through the “tragedy” of fertility treatment. 
People we talked to often said that the most difficult part of the cycle of fertility treatment – be it IUI, IVF or ICSI – was the waiting. There was the waiting for appointments to arrive and the treatment to start. Several described the isolation of this period – one called it a “black hole of waiting”, another, “its all just one long wait”. But the hardest was often the two-week wait after embryo transfer or IUI to find out whether or not the treatment had worked. Women had different ways of coping with these weeks. Some took time off work and either rested at home or took a short break away. Others tried to forget about it as much as possible by keeping busy.
The emotional journey of fertility treatment is often described as a rollercoaster, a continuing cycle of potential highs and lows at subsequent stages of the treatment. Nigel said the various failed treatments he and his wife had were a “massive emotional rollercoaster”. 
Women sometimes described the emotional aspects of treatment as affecting them in every part of their lives. Mary said IVF was a “harrowing process” to go through, hitting you on a physical, emotional and social level. Frances found her treatment “emotionally wearing”. Women sometimes felt as though their lives had been on hold, but also found it hard to turn off the desire to be a parent. The fact that references and pictures of pregnancy and babies seem to be everywhere (in the street, on the TV, in the supermarket) was sometimes really hard to bear.
The uncertainty of whether their treatment was going to work and a sense of being out of control, or powerlessness, was very difficult for people to cope with. Women sometimes described their infertility as being a real knock to their self-confidence. Some thought that other people did not always understand how difficult it was, or lacked sympathy when it came to using NHS resources for fertility treatment.

​Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated July 2017.


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