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Infertility burnout; the physical and emotional consequence of a long journey trying to conceive.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as an `occupational phenomenon’ a state of physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from long-term stress. In today’s world, burnout is a common topic of discussion, especially when it comes to demanding careers like doctors, CEOs, lawyers, nurses, caregivers, and individuals who have a full daily schedule of one-to-one clients.


Burnout can also be a factor for couples who have experienced long-term infertility challenges and failed IVF procedures. Any practitioner taking on a new client who has been trying to conceive for more than 12 months should assess them for infertility burnout.


What is infertility burnout?


Infertility burnout is where you feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted from the stress of trying to conceive. As a result, you may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Infertility burnout is something to be aware of if you have been experiencing infertility and recurring miscarriage for a long time.


We are designed to cope with the little stressors of our daily lives, and when we resolve them, we go back to a state of homeostasis, which is a natural state of balance.  `homeostasis is defined as a self-regulating process by which a living organism can maintain internal stability while adjusting to changing internal conditions. Homeostasis is not static or unvarying, it is a dynamic process that can change internal conditions as required to survive external challenges’ (1)


We can only deal with these constant stressors for so long and when we reach our limit, that is when burnout tends to occur.



With infertility, the stressors are constant. Each cycle that you are trying to conceive you start off the two weeks before ovulation with a sense of hope and optimism and if you don’t conceive that cycle, you then feel crushed and disappointed. Now imagine experiencing that month after month for years. It was 10 years in my case.


As well as the monthly stressors of managing your cycle, making sure you don’t miss your fertility window, dealing with the impatience of the two weeks wait, and the stress of taking a pregnancy test, there are also for many couple a few major stressors thrown in as well. These are stressors such as IVF procedures and injections, miscarriages, D and C procedures, frequent blood tests and appointments, all of which take their toll after a while.


The problem is that when we reach the stage of burnout, it will have serious implications for our fertility, especially our hormones. Burnout makes it a very challenging internal environment for conception, so becomes a vicious cycle.


After 10 years of trying to conceive my second child, I felt that after a while my body developed a coping mechanism that blocked my emotion whenever I suffered an early pregnancy loss. After several years of experiencing multiple chemical pregnancies, I felt numb each time one occurred. I just thought “oh well, that was that then” and just got on with it. I always poured myself a glass of wine and tucked into some food that I had been avoiding as comfort, but I couldn’t cry. I just felt numb.


When you reach the point of infertility burnout, here is how you might feel:


  •  Exhausted on all levels, mentally, emotionally, physically

  •  That you want to hide away and be alone

  •  Social avoidance, not wanting to see or talk to people

  •  A lack of interest in daily activities

  • A lack of motivation and get up and go

  •  Anger and jealousy at others, especially if there are new baby announcements

  •  Wanting to sleep but struggling to

  •  Anxiety, sadness, and depression 

  •  Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope

  •  Blaming self, seeing self as a failure

  •  Pretending to be fine to others when you are not

 

Steps to help yourself


If you are offered a fertility counsellor through your fertility clinic, take it up. Talking things out with a professional can really help and good counsellors are hard to find.


Take a month off trying to conceive and plan a month of fun non fertility related activities you enjoy. For example, going to the movies, walking in nature, getting a facial or massage to pamper yourself, read a good book, go to exercise classes, take up a creative hobby, go out for drinks or dinner with friends. Anything non fertility related that is going to make you smile.


My list of non fertility related activities included: Les Mills classes at the gym, yoga, meditation, making new recipes, going for walks, reading my Outlander book collection and studying nutrition. During the first few years of my fertility journey, I was studying nutritional science, which occupied my mind, so I didn’t consistently think about getting pregnant.


If you have been trying to conceive for a while and you are starting to show signs of burnout, think about taking an extended break of around three months to reset. I know it is hard to do, especially when you are over 40 and you don’t want to waste any time, but it might be exactly what you need. It is a chance to refresh, reset, heal, and deal with any imbalances or health issues. After a break, you can resume trying to conceive with a renewed sense of energy and optimism.


Take a digital detox. If you have just received bad news, take at least a week off social media. Comparisonitis can be a common feeling when you are experiencing infertility. The constant bombardment of pregnancy and baby announcements and cute photos on social media makes it difficult to stay positive. Taking a week or more off all social media platforms protects you from all the negative news you don’t want to hear. Without the distractions on social media, you develop the strength to continue.    


Find a support group of like-minded people going through the same thing as you, not your friends to family, as they won’t truly understand what you are going to. Look for online fertility forums and Facebook groups.   


Consider introducing the stress management such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation and bathing in Epsom salts. For other stress management tips, check out my blog post "Is stress or adrenal dysfunction affecting your ability to conceive?"


References

Mas Bagüés C, Geoscience, a unifying view on aging as a risk factor. In Aging, 2023 – sourced from www.sciencedirect.com (25/11/23   

 

 

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