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Coping with Fertility Changes and COVID-19

Many women’s plans for IVF have been affected by the global pandemic. How have they been coping?

January 29, 2021
Charlotte Pearse

The coronavirus outbreak has had an enormous impact across the entire world, changing life as we know it for everyone. The pandemic has been ongoing for nearly a year, and schools and businesses alike are still varying in terms of functionality. Lots of events in peoples’ lives have been put on hold— education, traveling, celebrations —but for some problems, the solution cannot be just to wait. As the months of sheltering in place go by, the “biological clock” of fertility doesn’t just stop ticking, even if IVF clinics may be closed.

IVF Clinics Closed

Following the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic in March 2020, businesses everywhere shut down as people were encouraged to quarantine and stay at home for the safety of themselves and their communities. Some of the most hard-hit by the pandemic have been medical health professionals, and while hospitals accepted countless COVID-19 patients, less “essential” medical procedures have been postponed until the safety of those involved can be ensured.

IVF clinics, for example, were in a state of widespread shut-down when the pandemic began. Fertility treatments often require a lot of in-person interaction, sometimes even on a daily basis, with many different medical professionals. So, entering into an IVF course at the start of the pandemic was rendered virtually impossible. Now, some have opened with altered policies and others have remained closed, but has the damage from nearly a year ago now been done?

An image of gloved hands holding a petri dish with liquid and a sponge in it.
IVF, or In Vitro Fertilization, is a medical procedure in which the egg is fertilized by the sperm outside the body, and then the fertilized egg is reinserted. Many women who have difficulty conceiving choose to do this.

Other Options?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many feasible alternatives to IVF treatment in the current state of the world, either. Most couples who pursue IVF have already tried for children, and for single women who want to have children in the new future, the pandemic has rendered meeting new people incredibly difficult. Delays to IVF treatment can be incredibly stressful because the treatment’s likelihood to result in pregnancy decreases with age.

In addition, if IVF clinics aren’t open in your area, traveling to another location is hardly possible. And for some, due to the massive loss of jobs and/or income resulting from the pandemic, what was a possible expense in March may no longer be within reach.

One possible alternative would be freezing one’s eggs, which would preserve them, but presumably the same issues of clinics being closed would be met when pursuing this option. No evidence has been found that being exposed to COVID-19 will have negative effects on someone who is already pregnant, and a short delay to IVF treatment should not have a negative impact on fertility. However, the delay for some has been very long, and the resulting stress is a real issue.

Mental Health Impact

Many women have reported worrying that they’ll never have children as a result of the pandemic, especially if they aren’t in a relationship or if they were already pursuing IVF prior to the outbreak. 

One woman named Kara has been trying to have children with her husband for five years, and she has suffered five miscarriages. Kara had been taking oestrogen and progesterone to increase her fertility to prepare for IVF, only for her treatment to be canceled in March along with everything else. To Kara, taking such strong hormones without a pregnancy had horrible effects on both her physical and mental health.

An image of a woman sitting curled up in bed, looking unhappy.
The impact of delayed IVF treatment has been, for many women, devastating. The resulting high stress levels and feelings of loneliness were only fueled by the state of the world that was the cause for their treatment being canceled in the first place.

The hormones aren’t the only thing causing increased stress. A study on the psychological impact of suspended fertility treatment, conducted by Jennifer L. Gordon and Ashley A. Balsom, found that 52% of the 92 women recruited for questionnaires had clinical levels of depression. These women also suffered from an overall decrease in mental health and quality of life.

Coping

Lowering these increased levels of stress is very important, as lower levels of stress mean that IVF treatment is more likely to be successful. The study conducted found that the depressive symptoms could be improved if they tried to maintain a more optimistic outlook, accepted rather than avoided reminders of their infertility, and maintained a strong social support system. 

Surrounding oneself with friends and family can be essential to getting through any difficult situation, and postponed IVF treatment is no exception to this. While physically going out and seeing loved ones may not be possible at the moment, talking to the people you care about — over the phone, or on a video call — about a difficult time can do wonders in cheering you up.

Many other more common, every-day practices can also be helpful to lowering stress levels. Including, but not limited to aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation, and healthier eating. Healthier physical health can be conducive to better mental health, and relaxing activities also help to achieve this.

An image of two pregnant women in athletic wear doing the same yoga pose.
Yoga is an activity that is often brought up to help with relaxation and mental health. Coincidentally, it is also often recommended to pregnant women to deal with the high levels of hormones and stress they may be experiencing.

Distracting oneself from the constant stream of negative news updates and taking time for oneself can also be very important in order to have a positive outlook as well. Silver linings can be difficult to find sometimes., but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just look for them

For women whose IVF treatment has been postponed, there don’t seem to be a lot of options other than to wait and hope their treatment will be successful once it becomes available to them once more. The situation is out of everyone’s hands, and it has had a devastating negative impact on the mental health of these women. Fortunately, there are options available to help with this aspect of the problem.


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