How have women coped with
infertility treatment, emotionally?
IVF triggers stress in multiple ways; first of all, the treatment itself is known to be the significant stressor that leads to anxiety. Second, the uncertainty of the treatment outcome is more likely to provoke depression.
IVF treatment can be emotionally demanding for women trying to start a family. How have these strong individuals been coping with the emotional challenges associated with IVF, as well as infertility-induces stress?
A comprehensive clinical review has analyzed the emotional response to IVF by measuring anxiety, depression, and stress levels. It includes peer-reviewed studies made over the past 25 years, 706 articles, and emphasizes the following key aspects:
The phases of the treatment and its process
Particular risk and protective factors that are related to the emotional adjustment to IVF
The good news is that, in general, most women proved to adjust well to unsuccessful IVF.
When IVF resulted in pregnancy, the negative emotions disappeared, indicating that treatment-induced stress is considerably related to threats of failure - which itself is of considerable clinical relevance.
However, a considerable group showed subclinical emotional problems, which deserves close attention.
Negative emotional responses proved to be strongly related to the outcome of the treatment, i.e. to the threat of definitive childlessness. Accordingly, psychological support should be specifically targeted to help the woman adjust to the possibility of treatment failure and eventual childlessness rather than to help her to cope with the impact of the treatment itself.
From the start, additional psychosocial care should be dedicated to change the meaning of childlessness. Such psychosocial education, e.g. explaining to the couple in advance that enhanced distress is a natural reaction to unsuccessful treatment, might enhance their control over their emotional response to treatment failure. In most cases, the knowledge will reassure the couple that what they are experiencing is part of a normal reaction and not an indication of dysfunctional adjustment. As the majority of women and their partners seem to adjust well to the considerable stress of successive unsuccessful treatment cycles, standard psychological interventions for all patients are not indicated.
In summary, there is a need for clinics to identify women before IVF treatment who might benefit from psychological intervention, i.e. those at risk of developing emotional problems as the result of unsuccessful treatment. Every patient deserves close attention.
Again, because permanent infertility and eventual childlessness constitute the most important stressor in IVF treatment, any psychological intervention should be aimed at the couple’s acceptance of their fertility problems and adjustment to the likelihood of childlessness.
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