Psychological Experience in the IVF Clinic

Written by Vassiliki Simoglou on 03/07/2011. Posted in Articles

Intervention at the APPAC Convention, Athens – Hilton, 6.5.2010

Assisted reproduction techniques, with their sophistication and significant success rates, have re-established hope in infertile couples, providing solutions where there were none or very few. However, the various therapy stages and the acknowledgement of not being able to have a child the natural way, tend to increase couples’ levels of stress, equally challenging their marital relationship. Infertility is almost always accompanied by feelings of anxiety, disappointment and frustration towards a pressing desire that is not fulfilled, which in turn, may negatively affect the evolution of treatment.

Individuals who undergo IVF treatments have usually gone through a long, painful journey: they feel angry towards their disobedient or dysfunctional body, a body unwilling or unable to perform the most natural task: to procreate; they feel remorseful for past life choices, overtly or unconsciously guilty for prioritizing their professional life over their personal life; guilty for rejecting past sexual partners, waiting too long for the “right one” and thus getting married when they would be older; guilty for having a history of abortion(s) or prolonged oral contraception, for not wanting to have a child earlier in their marriage and enjoying their time as a couple, and many other similar reasons.

At the same time, the infertile couple’s relationship is severely disrupted, emotionally, sexually, even financially: they have gone through intense moments of agony for the results of repetitive pregnancy tests, they have mechanized their sex life, counting fertile days and hours, they have become hypersensitive and irritable, often arguing over trivial issues; they have cut down on expenses and activities they used to indulge in, saving money for their treatments, they have endured several forms of social deprecation and isolation for not having a child, etc.

The way a couple experiences the IVF procedure depends on various parameters, pertaining to individual as much as couple’s characteristics. Among these, the solidity of each individual’s psychic apparatus holds a significant place: for example, going under serious stress, mourning a beloved person, work changes and others, can be serious stressors interfering with IVF treatments. Their subjective experience of IVF procedures equally depends on the existence of support systems in their environment: what are they willing to share with close friends or relatives? How often are they being criticised for not having a child? Does their social or family circle practically support them while they undergo treatments?

Their subjective experience also depends on the number of IVF attempts that have been carried out: indeed, the more the attempts, the more the feelings of despair: the sense of unaccomplishment and frustration is not something a couple can get used to. Frustration provoked by successive negative results, if not adequately dealt with, is over-added, resulting in never-ending, undisclosed mournings and thus, a propensity for depression… Such phenomena are sometimes reinforced by a medical “pressure” to repeat the procedure within a short time interval, unconsciously pushing couples to repress the negative feelings by engaging in a fresh, hopeful attempt. Even though such “pressure” allows couples to project positive images onto the future by launching a new dynamic in the process – instead of lamenting the ravages of the past, it leaves us wondering what defences (negation and sublimation, surely), are being at work here, both for patients as much as for doctors…

The way a couple experiences IVF procedures also depends on the solidity of their relationship: when their relationship is built on authentic desire to be with the other person, then it can overcome difficult times. Indeed, IVF puts couples’ communication skills, the quality of their bonding and their desire to be together, to the test.  Should they manage to pass this test, their relationship can be stronger than ever.

All these psychological demands ought to be recognized by the IVF clinic and taken care of; couples and individuals need to be provided with scientific psychological services that will allow them to accomplish the serious task of acceptance: such services will encourage them, first, to elaborate the intense emotional situations they experience and accept their condition, escaping denial and self-accusations and second, to adapt to the circumstances of treatment, responding to its challenges with realistic optimism. In this respect, the IVF psychologist also plays an important informative role: ensuring that couples are aware of the existence of success rates and that they are prepared and able to confront the unpleasant event of an absence of pregnancy.

Psychological support divisions in infertility clinics are efficient only when they take place in an understanding and confidential setting. Through a personalized approach individually assessing each couple’s needs, personal, couple’s and/or group sessions can be provided throughout the procedures, and especially during hormonal treatment, before egg collection, before embryo transfer and after the announcement of the result, as much as during pregnancy.

Indeed, our experience in the Center has shown the psychological support program considerable benefits. By systematically participating in psychological support sessions, individuals have been able to renew their self-confidence, think more positively, and at the same time, to achieve better stress coping strategies; couples have also been able to reinvest their intimate as well as their emotional relationship, and they have become keener to commonly engage in fulfilling activities they had lost interest in; they have been able to communicate more genuinely by remembering what brought them together in the first place, rather than neglecting each other by focusing on the parental project…

Combining leading-edge reproductive technologies to patient-centered care, the IVF procedure can be transmuted into a life-changing experience that expands a family, by reinforcing the individuals, as well as their relationship.


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Vassiliki Simoglou

Τα κείμενα που δημοσιεύονται στον παρόντα ιστότοπο εκφράζουν τις απόψεις του συντάκτη τους. Κατά το Ν. 2121/1993 και κατά τη Διεθνή Σύμβαση της Βέρνης (που έχει κυρωθεί με το Ν. 100/1975) απαγορεύεται η αναδημοσίευση και γενικά η αναπαραγωγή των κειμένων, με οποιονδήποτε τρόπο, τμηματικά ή περιληπτικά, στο πρωτότυπο ή σε μετάφραση ή άλλη διασκευή, χωρίς γραπτή άδεια του συντάκτη τους. Παραπομπές στα κείμενα θα πρέπει να γίνονται ως ακολούθως: Σίμογλου, Β. Ν., 2011, [Τίτλος κειμένου], προσβάσιμο στις [Ημερομηνία], από [URL].

The Ego is not master in its own house.

S. Freud


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