Coping during the COVID-19 pandemic: messages for patients
Presented by ASRM and the MHPG, the below document, developed by the Mental Health Professional Group, provides timely and practical information you may find useful in communicating with your patients.
Janet Jaffe, Ph.D., Kristen Chambliss, Ph.D., Alison Fagan, Ph.D., Jennifer Riley, MSW, LSW, and Deb Levy, MA, LPC, on behalf of the Mental Health Professional Group, American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Fertility patients are unsurprisingly anxious and panicked about COVID-19, fearful about what the future holds, and may be prone to catastrophic thinking. Will having a family ever happen for me? What can I do if my treatment is put on hold? What should I do if I am pregnant now? Fertility issues were never a part of what we imagined it would be like to create a family; add to that the threat of this virus, and all expectations of “normal” are off.
While staying at home and sequestering oneself from others is essential to protect one’s physical health, it can lead to increased anxiety, distress and/or depression.
- Keep in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, Zoom, emails or other platforms.
- Take advantage of the many free classes being offered online, from exercise groups to academic courses. Friends are using online group meetings to have virtual happy hours or dinners together.
- Using social media to stay in touch can be enormously helpful, but make sure you use credible and reliable news sources to get information. Limit your intake of the news, as large doses. as well as misinformation, can trigger negative emotional reactions.
Clearly everyone’s life has been turned topsy-turvy. A new normal needs to be established.
Create some structure for yourself and your family. You may be working from home with a partner also working from home. You may also have children home from school requiring your attention. Both can be a great distraction from the news, but may keep you from your normal routine. Establishing some kind of schedule for work, play, exercise, meditation or other self-care can be helpful. Maybe now is the time to have a spa day at home! Nurture yourself and do things that bring joy, such as taking a walk, cooking, taking a class on line, listening to music, creating art and/or journaling. Build in breaks, get some fresh air if possible, and focus on what is good and positive in the world (the flowers are still blooming!) Try to find something to laugh about.
This is not the way it was supposed to be: Dealing with grief, loss, anger, and the need for support.
Support at this time is essential, as plans for fertility treatment have been put on pause. Having an outlet to share concerns about yet another loss is important. You may want to talk about your feelings with a partner or close friend, but remember that they too are going through their own trauma and anxiety. Reaching out to a therapist who is providing telemedicine at this time allows you to receive support, and vent feelings of anger and frustration. It is therapeutic to share these feelings in a non-judgmental, safe environment.
Don’t be surprised if marital discord arises or worsens. Remember, EVERYONE is stressed right now. Remind yourself to cut each other some slack; try to have empathy for your partner’s feelings as well. You are spending much more time together than usual; creating quiet time and space for each other can help.
Don’t Lose Hope
It may feel as if all the time and money you have spent pursuing fertility treatment will be lost. You may want to continue treatment at this time, in spite of what medical experts and ASRM are recommending. If you are younger than 35 and have good ovarian reserve, taking a break for a few months will not affect your fertility greatly. However, for many, it can feel like it’s now or never, and that you are running out of time. Although it is devastating to think that your plans may need to change once again, allowing yourself to consider other options in family building, such as using a donor, surrogacy, embryo donation, or adoption, may help. Shifting one’s focus to using other technology, especially when it necessitates the loss of a genetic connection, needs to be thoroughly worked through and grieved. Although these other options allow one the ultimate goal of parenting, it may be difficult to accept. Seeking professional counseling is essential. It’s important to remember that nothing about this pandemic is normal or predictable. We are all in this together and trying to figure out how to manage the best we can. Out of pain and trauma, growth can occur in ways we could never imagine. Take comfort in that, and take good care of yourself.