Infertility Meets COVID-19
Justifiably, most of us living in this time of pandemic live with some degree of fear about ourselves or a loved one becoming ill. For those struggling with infertility, COVID-19 presents the additional threat of impacting long-held dreams of having a child. Early in the course of the pandemic, fertility treatment was abruptly halted with no stated timeframe for resuming, and there was little to no data on the impact of the virus on pregnant women and their unborn babies. For most fertility patients, pursuing fertility treatment was never a part of what they imagined it would take to create a family, let alone doing so in the midst of a time with so many extra unknowns and uncertainty.
Even under “normal” circumstances, not having a sense of control over such an important life goal as starting a family is a major source of anxiety for many fertility patients. The rapid and unexpected changes to nearly all aspects of our lives brought on by the pandemic only adds to that. Then there’s loss, which can lead to depression. People experiencing fertility challenges are already coping with many losses—not being able to conceive a child through a shared act of love and closeness with one’s partner, no longer feeling one’s body to be capable and healthy, the loss of ease or closeness in relationships with others who are pregnant or have children. The pandemic has caused even more losses—the loss of social connections with friends and family, the loss of participation in shared traditions and events, the loss of day-to-day pleasures and freedoms, the loss of a physical sense of community, the loss of recreational opportunities, the loss of financial security…the list goes on.
Adapting to these changes and losses has required us to modify how we do nearly everything. Not only do we have to juggle new and increased demands, but there’s also the constant need to appraise and navigate threats to our health and safety. And chances are you are dealing with these additional demands with less in-person support than ever before. It’s truly exhausting!
Last spring when the virus first emerged, we all went on “high alert,” buying supplies, “hunkering down,” and isolating ourselves at home “for a few months” (or so we thought), so that we could “flatten the curve.” Thankfully, after a few months, infection rates did go down and restrictions did slowly ease up. Summer’s warmer weather and longer days allowed us to spend time outdoors more easily and comfortably, making life during the pandemic a little easier to bear. But now, here we are with post-holiday infection rates surging and the days colder, wetter, and darker. If you feel like you’ve had enough, you’re not alone in experiencing “Pandemic Fatigue.”
Fatigue and Fertility Treatment
Even without a pandemic, fatigue can be a problem for many patients undergoing fertility treatment. One of the primary causes is heightened levels of progesterone, a hormone given to patients undergoing IVF to prepare the body for pregnancy and to support and sustain a healthy pregnancy. Fatigue caused by hormonal changes can also be exacerbated by the stress and anxiety that may develop over time in response to difficulty conceiving. Even under ordinary circumstances, infertility is stressful! Research shows that patients undergoing fertility treatment experience levels of stress, anxiety, and depression similar to individuals dealing with divorce, loss of a loved one, or the diagnosis of a serious illness. Now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, navigating fertility challenges can be exponentially more stressful!
How Stress Contributes to Fatigue on a Physiological Level
Your body secretes cortisol when you experience stress, a steroid hormone that increases alertness. Cortisol impacts the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep, making it more difficult to fall and remain asleep. Lack of sleep coupled with high levels of stress can prompt cravings for high sugar/high carbohydrate foods that provide a brief burst of energy but that ultimately lead to a “crash” in energy levels, leaving one feeling just as tired and depleted as before.
General Strategies for Relieving Fatigue
First and foremost, take care of yourself! Try to get plenty of sleep at night, allowing for the possibility that you may need more during this time. If you find yourself feeling tired during the day, make room for naps—even a short 20-30 minute nap can be restorative. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated and include nutrient-dense foods in your diet. Engage in physical activity that is in within your doctor’s guidelines and that you find energizing. It is also important to be flexible with your self-expectations. Let go of or minimize unnecessary stressors or obligations. If possible, ask others to help out with tasks, chores, or errands. Give yourself permission to prioritize your health and well-being, physically and emotionally.
Tips for Self Care
- Make time in your day to do something that nurtures you or brings you joy, such as taking a walk, spending time with a pet, listening to music, cooking, dancing, gardening, creating art, journaling, taking a virtual tour of a museum or cultural attraction, or watching a virtual visual arts performance, uplifting movie, or comedy.
- Try to get outside, get some fresh air, and engage in movement each and every day if possible.
- Take time to notice and “soak in” good and positive things in the world around you, like spring flowers starting to come up, a beautiful sunset, or an inspiring story about an obstacle overcome or an act of kindness
Maintain Social Connections
While limiting contact with others outside your household and social distancing is important to protect your physical health, social isolation can take a toll emotionally and psychologically. It is important to find safe avenues for connection and support.
- Keep in touch with friends and family virtually by Zoom, Facetime, or other video platforms. Actually “seeing” the faces of loved ones can really add to a sense of connection even if you can’t be together in-person. Be creative—virtual book clubs, trivia game nights, or dinners together can offer opportunities for connection and fun.
- Explore free classes being offered online, including fitness classes, crafting workshops, art lessons, and academic courses.
- Join the Netflix Party: With the new Netflix Party plugin, you can watch movies and TV shows with your friends and share your takes in a group chat. A close second to a binge-watching session with your best friend on your couch!
- Instead of meeting a friend for an indoor meal or coffee, consider connecting with a friend during the day for a walk. Walking with a mask while social distancing is considerably safer than sharing a meal indoors where masks will need to be removed for eating and drinking.
- Look into support resources offered through RESOLVE, Parents Via Egg Donation, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Single Mothers by Choice, or Men Having Babies
- Participate in a virtual support group. ORM Fertility offers a professionally-led free monthly virtual support group for anyone in the community facing fertility challenges. For more information or to register, go to the ORM Fertility website and click on the “Events” tab.
Avoid Putting the Pressure to be Productive on Yourself
There’s been a lot of talk about using this time during the Pandemic to be productive, develop new skills or talents, and complete all those back-burner projects. But it’s important to be true to yourself. If that’s what works for you—great! But that approach doesn’t always work for everyone and it can create its own pressure to “use this time productively and wisely (whatever that means).” It’s perfectly fine if the best thing for you is to acknowledge that it might simply be a time to rest, to meditate, to be still. To just appreciate the breath that we have, just to breathe.
If you’re struggling with infertility and looking for support, join us at our monthly, professionally-led support group open to anyone struggling with infertility.