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IVF – The Stress of Chasing a Baby
This article actually came from personal experience with IVF and the hundreds of couples striving to have a child through artificial means in a Chinese hospital in Shanghai. At the same time, I was asked to give psychologists a view on IVF procedures of a tele-health company with a subscription channel to thousands of parents and potential parents. The outline of the content is not about the IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) procedure but the stress of going through the process of wanting a baby to the actual birth. All the hardships and disappointments along the way to the eventual success of pregnancy leading to eventual birth or not! Also a case for psychological care of IVF patients.
IVF treatment along with other artificial ways of conceiving are becoming more and more common for couples who cannot wait for nature to take its course through normal reproductive sexuality. The Stressors come from many areas to the couple who wish to make this their chosen path to family. In most Western countries, IVF is offered to childless couples and older couples who have been trying to conceive normally for some time. However, in many other countries it is a way to ensure the birth of a boy (a cultural assertion) effectively by sexing the fertilized eggs for sex (although illegal in most countries). In China, young couples who feel under family pressure to have a child (potential grandparents not willing to wait), choose IVF as a quick method to pregnancy and fulfill their traditional roles. The one-child policy to control overpopulation was relaxed in 2017 and a two-child policy now applies. Most couples who already have one child did not want a second one because the expense of raising a child in China is huge. However, especially where the one child was a girl, the family pushed the wife to commit to the second child in order to have a boy. The birth if a second girl would be seen as shameful. It is quite amazing to attend a maternity hospital in China and see the huge amount of young couples under the age of 30 trying to have a second child. Those out there trying for their first are also trying to avoid divorce. Women who cannot produce for the family would certainly be shamed by the family and the mother-in-law on the boys’ side would be ready for divorce to find a more suitable child for her son.
Let’s look at where it all starts though – not getting pregnant normally through sexual contact. In many cases the blame game starts with who is to blame right? Men often feel that it must be the wife’s fault because they cannot face the embarrassment of knowing that they are the ones with a problem – medically or psychologically. So in the beginning it is often the wife (or partner) who goes to the doctor and has all the checks – internal – blood tests – scrapings and more – all leaving a feeling of inadequacy to the woman. If, however, everything is good and no medical or biological reason can be found for her not being pregnant then the next step is of course the male. For men given a cup and a room with some suggestive pictures on the wall and asked to ejaculate sperm is not the easiest thing. However, with a little imagination and sometimes a little help from the wife, things move forward and the cup has a spoonful of sperm and sperm to transfer into the hospital laboratory. It’s actually disheartening to watch the nurse throw away most of it (they only need a tiny sample) because you had time to produce it. A sense of humor is often the best protection against embarrassment. At this point after the agonizing wait – the results come in the form of a printout that you cannot understand and ordered to take it to the doctor for analysis. The man quietly hoping that his sperm are strong active swimmers and so he can relax.
All being well with both parties, then the procedure begins in earnest, and most females go for many (and I mean many) appointments over a period of months to go through the complex process of preparing her body, uterus and eggs for the inevitable fertilization by the males collected sperm. (Often frozen and waiting for the right moment).
Stress Along the Way:
1. Guilt – the initial which is guilt. The stress of the unknown cause of the lack of pregnancy – the need to follow complex monthly cycles that still do not seem to produce the desired results. Blame can occur at many stages of IVF mostly about the inability of the female partner to give the family the desired result.
Fear – fear of failing to produce the baby everyone is asking you to! Fear that there is something wrong with you. Fear that you might end up in divorce or separation. As well as guilt – fear is constant during the time of IVF treatment. At any moment you can be asked to start over from the beginning because something was not taken properly or a missed moment was not taken.
2. Disappointment – despite several attempts the pregnancy does not happen – the cost and economy of chasing a baby has become no longer affordable. The risk of ending – and trying again later – the cultural result of being a failed woman and a poor wife.
3. Failure – as above the moment when the doctor tells you that this will never happen and that you should think about alternatives such as adoption or childlessness. For many this is the ultimate failure and can once again lead to the blame game and the end of the marriage. This can also affect people’s self-esteem, because I am not normal – I am a failure as a woman or a man. It can also mean after a divorce for infertility that your chances of remarriage are almost nil.
4. Success – you would think that a successful implantation would be a dream come true but you are in the same position as any pregnant couple – what else can go wrong – many IVF implants can be aborted, rejected by the body and have medical problems in the womb brings other decisions about birth or abortion.
5. The baby is finally born – now parenthood begins – the stress of being a new mother of an IVF child – the stigma of secrecy – pretending everything is normal. Family pressure to start over for the second child.
6. Multiple births – the idea was one baby to start a family and even end up with twins and triplets – the financial burden alone in some countries increases the stress felt by everyone.
All the above points are a common experience of IVF couples – and even more so the younger the couples are (under 30) because older couples tend to be more realistic about the chances and outcome from the start. For every 100 couples (in a decent hospital) only 18 manage to be born the procedure. That age makes a huge difference to your success. Between the ages of 22 and 34 years, an average of 30% have a live birth, from there the statistics quickly go down from 38 to 42 around 20% after the age of 46 only 1% succeed. (1. US Division of Reproductive Health 2001)
Another aspect of IVF is the increase in multiple births for older couples – aged 38 to 40 each attempt increased the chances of multiple births for twins to 25% on average. (2. US Government Health Statistics 2001). It is very difficult to get meaningful statistics in China in any form.
The procedure is long – from 6 months for lucky first attempts, to several years and many failed attempts to succeed. To give up at some point with all the cultural and social risks involved or to continue and the inevitable financial burden of each trial and failure.
Even a successful outcome can bring its stress as being new parents of one baby or two or even three! It can also be unfair that everything seems to be going well – as in the case of the 62-year-old Irishman and his 31-year-old Chinese wife – he had a vasectomy in his late 20s and so had to have his sperm removed . his testicles (without anesthesia) and implanted 9 sperm into her eggs – 7 took and 2 where implanted – and bingo the wife is pregnant with twins – eight months later – healthy boy and girl fraternal twins are born. (3. Myler 2017) This would be a dream result for many young couples who fail again and again.
The Counseling Role:
It is important to note that not once in all the hospitals or clinics that performed IVF, did they offer any form of counseling to the couples going through the stress of the procedures. However, there is clearly a very important need for such support – understanding the doctor’s procedures can help you understand what will happen to your body and the chances of the outcome – but that cannot prepare you for the ups and downs of emotions you feel due to guilt . , failure, self-esteem problems and fear of the future – these things need a listening caring support counselor or psychologist. It is a well-known fact that stress hormones and psychological stress can greatly influence the outcome of medical procedures in all kinds of areas. Psychology should not be seen as a luxury but an essential part of all IVF procedures.
1. US Division of Reproductive Health 2001
2. US Government Health Statistics 2001
3. Myler SF (2017) Irish / Chinese Twins – A Case History
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