Monday, March 2, 2009

Stress and IVF

At yesterday's ultrasound, the RE saw me working feverishly on my dissertation data. (Again. Last time he saw me, I was also doing this.) As he was leaving the room, he said, "Try not to stress about getting your dissertation done."

Which made me start to think about stress and IVF, and the possibility that stress might inhibit egg development or increase chromosomal abnormalities or make my womb an (even more) inhospitable home.

And then I started to feel more stressed.

So then I thought, "Well, now I am really stressed. So I must really be jeopardizing my chances." I could feel my heart beating faster, and that tightness in my stomach. Which I then noticed, and started to think "Oh, no! These are physical signs of stress, surely impacting my cortisol levels and adrenal functioning, which have got to impact reproductive functioning, don't they?!" which made me feel stressed, which made me think...

You can see where this is going.

It's such a catch-22. I want to (need to?) keep my life going as normally as possible. And my life at this juncture of my training happens to be very strenuous. I'm on a clinical internship at a major NYC med center, which is more than a full-time job, completing my dissertation, applying for and interviewing for fellowships. And doing IVF. It is what it is. But, um, stress-free it is not.

Recently, I grappled with whether to apply for a grant (even though it would be a more stressful route), and I ended up doing so to keep future options as open as possible for a potential clinical research career. And now it is looking as though I will likely be funded, but that if my dissertation isn't done very soon, I will have to forfeit the grant. And I have a supervisor at the hospital who minces into my office and says things like, "The whole department has put themselves on the line for you. I would hate for them to be disappointed." Uh, Thanks. Hence, STRESS!

Sometimes I fantasize about just slowing down next year and doing something part-time. But then I wonder how I will feel if I do that just to increase my chances of having a baby, and then I still don't have a baby. Then I would have downregulated my career (which I have spent years and years training for) with nothing to show for it.

And then on the other hand, if we do succeed at some point, then that's when I will really want to take a step back and slow things down to smell the roses (or the baby's toes...well, you know what I mean). And wouldn't it be nice to have a rigorous career to return to someday (should I want it), or to kick back into full-gear.

So my question for you today is how do you you approach this dilemma? Ever feel a pull between the quest to have a family and your career? Ever feel that the stress of your life may be impeding your success? And how do you work around this?


p.s. It's snowing! I'm taking a "vacation" day to work on my dissertation (vacation, my ass), and the fire escape stairs outside my living room window are covered in pillows of snow. It's coming down at a good clip. Love it! I may have to take a walk later.

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  1. To be honest I don't know how you are doing it. My dissertation alone almost killed me. Do you have all your data in and are crunching it or are you still trying to squeeze in lab work? I was in the lab up until 2 days before my defense.

    Everyone told me to calm down and not stress out but my job is very stressful. I manuevered myself into a new position which was with a manager that understood me better but was higher profile. Somehow that helped a little. All I can say is you've got to feel whatever it is you need to in order to get through. Don't discount those stims causing issues too... I am a weepy basketcase on stims. I would have to go hide in our cleanroom where I knew people would be too lazy to suit up to find me just to cry and I wouldn't even know why I was crying.

    Is there anything nice you could do for yourself? I am a big fan of massages but you must have something? When I was writing my dissertation I took up quilting and when I hit some writers block I would take 30mins to sew and try to get my brain working on something else and it really helped to me to gain better focus on my writing and data crunching.

    good luck.

  2. Nepsi,

    Data is collected. I am running results and writing it up. Then need to write the discussion section.

    You're right that I need to think of something nice to do for myself. That's a good idea. That and small breaks. I just hope to stop churning about it all. Hope to get to the place where I can work hard but then let let the rest go. Do all I can do but not agonize the rest of the time.

    Thanks for your lengthy response.


  3. Mo-
    I'm avoiding some data crunching myself today :) Ok A LOT of data crunching since I am working from home. Are you at least using Latex to write your dissertation and not (shudder) Word! Oh and make sure you back up a lot. I lost my HD 4 days before it was due to for my defense and though I only lost one day's work (16 hours really) I totally lost it and thought it was all over. I seriously flipped out. We were able to get it recovered because my DH is amazing but wow. So back up back up back up!!!

    You just strike a cord with me... writing a dissertation and IVF which are two things I've spent my whole life on in the last 3 years.

  4. Hi Mo! It's snowing here too, so school was closed. I really loathe that I'll be teaching practically into July!

    Although my career is very different from yours (I'm a 5th grade Reading & Writing teacher), I still wonder often about the stress it has on my fertility. I'm always on the go, have time to pee like once a day, and am asked anywhere from 200-800 questions a day. Most days it feels like I'm busy raising other people's children. By the time I get home, make dinner, and get into my comfy clothes, I'm ready for bed. My poor DH! I don't give him the patience and quality time that he deserves. Throw into that my new friends in the blogosphere and I'm overworked and stressed out!!! I do think it takes a toll on us, emotionally and physically. But, quitting to make a baby isn't an option that I'd want to pursue for the exact reason you mentioned. What if it still didn't work? We've got to keep something for just us, you know?

    I also agree with nepsi - massages are terrific. So are facials and pedicures. I can't stand feet, but somehow I suck it up for the ped. It's totally worth it! I'm also going for acupuncture treatments 2x a week and that has been helping me to relax. Do you read? And I mean for fun, not for your dissertation? :) I find that reading Jane Austen novels takes me out of my own head and into a calm state. Who knows?

    A part of me thinks that my stress will never be gone completely until I've succeeded at becoming a mother. That is my one dream and since it has yet to be fulfilled, stress is gonna be around. Let me know if you get any good ideas from other bloggers!

  5. Hey Mo, just thought you might want to see this study. Basically it says that anxiety and depression don't have any negative impact on IVF results (well, OK, the study specifically looked at first IVFs only, but still).

    Hope this helps you at least not stress about being stressed!

  6. Re: slowing down or not, I just kept going about my normal business and my career. I'm glad I did -- it paid off, and if I'd slowed down when we first started TTCing I would have missed out on a lot of cool experiences, both personal and professional. But everyone needs to make their own decision on what's right for them.

    I honestly don't feel like stress has a material affect on fertility, except inasmuch as stressed out people might not have sex, take their fertility meds on time, etc. I mean, people get PG in wartime, during famine, in all kinds of terrible situations, you know? Just my .02

  7. I agree with nutmeg - I dont think stress plays a role in your success. Being a doctor, I see women pregnant while shooting heroin, women with healthy babies despite receiving chemotherapy DURING their pregnancies.... whats a little extra cortisol gonna do? probably not much. (atleast this is what I try to tell myself).

  8. nutmeg,

    I like that. People get pregnant in wartime, famine...that may become my mantra!

    Thank you!


  9. Here's the thing on this:
    Before our final CCRM cycle, my parttime research job came to an end, so all I had going was my parttime clinical job. So that's all I did, for several months prior to the cycle. You know, so no one could accuse me of being too stressed out. And I'll admit, it was very nice being so low key, getting to indulge in hobbies, etc etc. But in the end, it didn't make a difference in my outcome. I still got a BFN. I was still quite stressed during the actual cycle. And then I started thinking of all that income I had forfeited to remain "stress free." So just follow your heart and don't stress about it :)

  10. Although we work in different disciplines (I'm humanities-based), I share your dilemma. Writing up a dissertation is hard. Dealing with infertility is hard. Trying to do both simultaneously is doubly hard (and don't even get me started on the difficulties of trying to make longer-term career plans).

    So, no advice from me. Just empathy.

    Wishing you all the very best with this cycle.

  11. Well, I just always remember that the women I knew who lived in a homeless shelter, and were stressed about staying alive and losing their children and all sorts of otehr stuff, got pregnant ratehr easily.
    I think stress really screws up your experience of things. I'm quite wary, at this point, of thinking that I can sabotage anything with my reactions. Last cycle I was rather zen, crap eggs. First cycle, I was a wreck, wondering if anyting would work, and studying for my licensing exam. Got pregnant. I can say that my husband and I were more able to pull together when I was less stressed,but the IVF tanked anyway. I guess, I really should believe more in teh mid body connection,but at some point my philosopy became: if you are fertile, you are fertile, if you aren't you aren't, and there is not a whole lot you can do to change that fact. It seems impossible to me that egg quality can be effected by state of mind. I know. I'm a heratic. It's not as if I think stress is irrelevant, but it can also be another way to shred ourselves and feel as if we lack the 'control' to make ourselves pregnant. I'm all in favor of mellowing out during IVF, but using it as anotehr way to beat myself up, thus getting more stressed, is not so helpful for me anymore.


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