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Navigating Mental Health During Fertility Treatment

Alice Almeida, founder of The Amber Network, joined Drop recently to share her story through fertility treatment and the motivation she found to create a place where couples and singles on a fertility journey could find support along the way.

“I just remember thinking at the time, I feel like this is my calling, this is what I want to do, I want to help others.  I hate the thought that there’s people out there that are feeling as broken, helpless, lost and isolated as I am.” – Amber Almeida of The Amber Network.

Alice’s advice on caring for your mental health during fertility treatment

Here are some of the questions our community put to Alice, and the advice she so generously shared:

Should couples seek support individually or together? And what’s available for men in terms of support?

Seeking support is really important for both members of a couple.  I do believe that you should get support together and separately.  

I know that complicates things, but I think the most important thing to do, if you go together as a couple for marriage counselling, they can cover all the different factors.  But at the end of the day, sometimes you just need to have one on one time and support, and to be able to talk about exactly how you’re feeling.  I think it’s much easier if you can do that one on one.  

During our fertility journey my husband also had a little breaking moment when we went through it, but I couldn’t support him because I was broken.  I remember saying to him at one point, I can’t support you right now, you need to go to someone else for support.  It’s really important that you both have your own individual outlets.  

What kind of support do IVF clinics offer when it comes to mental health throughout that process?

I found it quite limited when I went, in fact the fertility clinic that I signed up with only gave one free session with a counsellor.  I’ve been speaking with some incredible psychologists, and they said a single session gives you nothing.  One session includes hearing where the person’s at, building a bit of a relationship with the patient, and that’s it.  

My biggest advice is go and talk to somebody, whether it’s a counsellor or a psychologist.  Or you know what, if you can’t afford that because it’s really expensive and does all add up, think about whether there is someone in your life that you can talk to, that you can 100% open up to.  

The funny thing when I went through it, was that it wasn’t people that I thought it would be that would be my go to person, it was completely random people.

Find that person that you can be comfortable opening up with and make sure you do open up.  I can’t push this message hard enough, what you’re feeling and experiencing, you can’t go through it on your own. Don’t be harsh on yourself by forcing yourself to deal with it on your own.

Are there any mental health providers who specialise in fertility support?

Psychologists won’t ‘specialise’ in fertility per se, but look for a psychologist who has an interest in fertility or infertility issues.  We actually have some incredible psychologists on board at The Amber Network who are psychologists that now have an interest in fertility. One of them was working in a clinic as a psychologist and she just noticed the increase of women coming into the clinic for fertility reasons that just didn’t feel supported or nurtured, or they felt like they weren’t coping.  She’s now focused in that area, it turns out she’s going through IVF herself, so she really gets it.  

We have a directory of services which lists quite a few psychologists that have an interest in this area.  The problem with a psychologist is that sometimes it is trial and error, sometimes you’ll see one and you won’t click with them, but there is a lot of support out there it’s just a matter of knowing where to go and where to find it.

What’s your advice for finding a supportive fertility specialist?  What questions can you ask?

Trust your gut, trust your first instinct.  After the first appointment I had with my first fertility specialist, I walked out of there and I was like, woah, and my husband and I kind of laughed.  It was like the doctor vomited a whole lot of words at us, every time I would try to ask a question, he wouldn’t let me talk, if I was lucky enough to ask a question he was, yes, no, and then moved on.  We walked out of there thinking that was like we were standing in the middle of a cyclone, and it was uncontrollable.  

At that point in time I probably should have gone, let’s get a second opinion, but I’d also been told that he was one of the best.  I was warned that he didn’t have a great bedside manner, understatement, but he was one of the best.  That blurred my judgement, but I should have gone on my gut then and there and gone, I need somebody who has a good bedside manner because that’s what I need, that is what I want.  

So, trust your gut, trust your instinct, know that first appointment that you have is not the one that you have to go with, you can get a second opinion, and you can see multiple specialists before deciding.

How can you best support a friend or family member who’s going through the IVF process?

This is a little bit trickier to answer, but my first bit of advice would be to go to the person who’s going through the fertility treatment and say, “how do you want me to support you?”.  

Don’t say, “I’m here for you if you need me”, because that then requires the person going through the treatment to then reach out, and a lot of the time we won’t because then we have to admit we’re not coping or we’re struggling.  

So, if you really want to support somebody, then my advice is to go to this person and say, ok, I want to be here for you, I want to hold your hand on this journey, how do you want me to support you.  

Ask their advice.  

And just be mindful that what the person is going through is really challenging and also a little abnormal, so just know that if you get a short response, or if you get a snappy response, that it’s not really the person talking, it’s the whole situation.  That’s probably the advice I’d give.

Watch the webinar about Mental Health: the missing piece in fertility treatment to hear Alice’s story and her eight recommendations for navigating the fertility journey.

For support along your journey, join our private Facebook Group 'The Wellbeing Group' to ask your questions and connect with like-minded individuals.

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