mental health; fertility; IVF

Fertility, Unfiltered: The Mental Olympics of IVF

Photo Credit: @kye.intimates

Welcome to our series Fertility, Unfiltered. Here, we share the unspoken stories of fertility, a topic all too often off-limits in a society that likes a happy ending. But often, the path to parenthood isn't a straight line. And we want to talk about the twist and turns—or hey, the loops—that come up along the way. From egg freezing to IVF, no topic is off-limits. Today's check-in: Katrina Symonds Hellman. The LA-based creative sharing her ongoing fertility journey as it unfolds in her own words. Follow her journey below and on social @katrinasymonds.

June marks the start of Global Infertility Awareness Month. I don't know how aware I was of infertility when I began my journey. My husband and I got married and were scared to start "trying" right away because we weren't ready. We believed it would be instant, but infertility affects about one in 4 women, which means there is still a lot that isn't being discussed when the statistics are that high, and the conversations are so quiet. My goal is to be open about my journey in order to destigmatize the taboo nature of the topic. It might not affect you, but it may affect your best friend, sister, or daughter. The more we can be open and share our stories, the more we can help spread awareness. I hope every month I am able to do just that.

"The more we can be open and share our stories, the more we can help spread awareness." 

I'm having a bit of a down month with fertility activities, which has made me even more conscious of the mental olympics I do in order to get into IVF shape. I thought I'd write a bit about that this month. This is not a guidebook of what to do; it's simply what's worked for me.

One thing everyone tells you is that IVF requires resilience. It's the luck of the draw and though some people get through it quickly, many don't. Those who don't go through it quickly but still have successful outcomes, tend to share that it requires tenacity, resilience and positivity. Positivity is hard, because I do believe in such a thing as toxic positivity. Nobody can be positive 24/7—feelings happen. Tenacity and resilience are key. Doctors don't necessarily sell IVF as hard, but it is. And for me, it's hardest on the mind. Beyond the injections, body changes, ultrasounds, mood shifts, and monitoring, it is the mind and my mental health that remains. There is no off-switch. And my brain doesn't get to take a break in an off-cycle.

For me, my mental health is what has suffered, and what I need the most. I have suffered from bouts of severe depression in my life and these past periods have been debilitating. Over the years, I learned to manage my depression by taking medicine, not drinking, and not using drugs or psychedelics. This combination was working well for me, but about a year ago, I had to increase my antidepressants because of IVF.

I was in Paris on a work trip (I'm also quite high functioning so I'm never not working.), and I found myself crying at 3 am, helpless and frozen. Then, my calendar reminded me that I had a video call with my psychiatrist in LA. I called him and in my heap of blubbering he explained that my base levels had dropped, and there was no shame in managing them however I could. I resisted and increased them slightly, but within a few months it was clear it was okay to double them. My weight gain may have meant they were absorbing differently, too. Who knows? All I know is—it helped. It's okay to not be okay and to ask for help.

"It's okay to not be okay and to ask for help."

I have seen a therapist for many years, and I have stayed as close as possible to my recurring sessions with her throughout this whole process. For about two years now, our meetings have been exclusively fertility-driven, and she has earned a degree alongside me as a pseudo-fertility expert. I am so lucky to have a safe, trusted space where I can connect, let go, and discuss my hopes and fears.

In addition to therapy and caring for my mental health, I practice movement and mindfulness. When IVF protocol allows (Oftentimes during transfers you aren't able to exercise.), I practice yoga, trampoline, hiking, and cycling. I meditate almost daily, practice the skills I learned from DBT therapy, accumulate positive experiences, and see an Ayurvedic doctor in New Zealand over FaceTime. We chant and discuss the power of mental wellness, the role of oxygen in the body, and how blood needs to flow. We do a lot of visualization—dare I say we manifest? It's a new relationship, about 8-months-old, and she has been a lifeline. It's more woo-woo and less therapy, and it has opened my world up to many new possibilities. I was desperate enough to text her for a session when a friend encouraged me too, and I am so glad I did. I also do Acupuncture weekly. I'm still not completely sold on it, but I'm sold enough to keep going...

All of this is what works for me. These are the things I do: my ongoing "training sessions." They keep me sane and connected. They help me gather the strength to sit in a doctor's office where I've heard the worst news of my life, and they keep me open to hearing the best, too.

Unfortunately, the clock doesn't stop for most during IVF treatments. If anything, the pressure builds. So, this month, for me, is about the training that continues during the off periods, too. It's not discussed as much as it should be, because people tend to only discuss the positive outcomes at the end. But for me, all these tools are imperative. Having the vulnerability to accept help in order to gain strength is crucial. If I'm not my best self to myself, I can't show up for anything or anyone else...but back to my training I go.

Are you currently TTC? Join our community, Village by Perelel, to connect and find support from women going through the same and follow Katrina on social for more Fertility, Unfiltered content like this. Plus, shop OB/GYN-founded vitamins specifically formulated for fertility now.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.