How you can support your partner through IVF

Posted on 16 September 2014

Lizanne van Waart is a psychologist based at Wijnland Fertility in Stellenbosch who helps couples along their journey with fertility treatment. She shares her tips for couples navigating the emotional side of IVF.

What advice do you give people who are supporting their partners through the IVF journey?
It’s vital to understand what happens emotionally to women/men/couples as a consequence of a diagnosis of infertility. I explain the meaning of infertility to the couple and also try to interpret what infertility means to them as a couple – to clarify their own thinking around the issue.

We tend to highlight that the couple will, most likely, have to go through the grieving process, so I tell them what to expect when this happens and explain how the different genders deal with grieving in their own way.

For example, men are problem solvers and try to fix situations – but infertility is a much more complex issue due to the medical and psychological aspects involved. The cause of the couple’s infertility changes the way that both the individual and the unit respond to the diagnosis. Displaying understanding is supportive behaviour and being an active part of the treatment/plan is equally as important.

It’s vital that the man is available – it’s sometime as simple as that. This can be hugely difficult for men because of the hormone-influencing nature of fertility treatment, which can cause them to feel like their wife has changed dramatically and is out of control. We try to teach/coach them to rather concentrate on infertility as an illness with symptoms, and not as something that changes the person they love.

How can men keep their partners in a more positive mindset during these procedures by being ‘Team Us’ rather than ‘You’?
In our clinic, I see couples before treatment as part of an information session where we concentrate on infertility as couple-based conception process rather than a woman coming in to have a baby. We also explain how women see a diagnosis of infertility as a narcissistic wound, meaning they tend to dwell on their inability to conceive.

To manage their expectation of the process, we encourage the couple to concentrate on the meaning of hope and meaning of despair, differentiating between realistic hopes and unrealistic ones, and an optimal outcome. Realistic hope is that we just need one good egg and sperm to fertilise at the right time. A negative outcome does not mean you’re unsuccessful; it can also be positive in the sense that we’re able to get a better diagnosis during treatment, more answers and personal growth. The coping process we teach encourages the couple to concentrate on the now – the only aspect of the treatment plan that they can control to a degree.

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Published in Pregnancy

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