How to look after your mental health during your IVF journey

Health agenda
Fertility and IVF

How to look after your mental health during your IVF journey

Published April 2023 | 6 min read
Expert contributor Melissa Stephens, senior fertility counsellor at IVFAustralia; Narelle Dickinson, clinical and health psychologist, fertility counsellor
Words by Angela Tufvesson

Fertility treatment increases your risk of mental health problems. Looking after your wellbeing can help you ride out the highs and lows of your IVF journey.

From the promise of a much longed-for baby to the loss of hope after a failed cycle, going through IVF can feel like a roller-coaster of very intense emotions.

“It's often a much more emotional process than people expect it to be,” says Melissa Stephens, a senior fertility counsellor at IVFAustralia. “At first people worry about the injections and all the physical stuff, but most patients report that the emotional part is the hardest to cope with.”

About one in six Aussie couples of reproductive age go through fertility problems, and it’s an experience that can lead to mental health issues. According to the Centre of Perinatal Excellence, it may also cause relationship and financial stress, social isolation and self-criticism.

Among couples who embark on an IVF journey, one study showed rates of stress, anxiety and depression are higher than the general population.

“There's no question that psychological distress is common,” says Narelle Dickinson, a clinical and health psychologist, fertility counsellor and board member of the Fertility Society of Australia and New Zealand. The distress can be so bad, she adds, it may become a diagnosable mental health condition.

If you have a history of anxiety or depression, she says the likelihood of experiencing mental health issues during IVF treatment is even higher.

Whether you’re beginning your IVF journey or you’re several cycles in, looking after your mental health is incredibly important. Here are some practical tips to help during some of the most stressful stages of the IVF process.

Starting your IVF journey

Beginning a process that may finally help you start or grow your family can be exciting, but for many couples it’s terrifying, says Narelle. “Perhaps there’s been fertility issues going on for a long time and all of a sudden there’s all these other people and processes involved. It can be really overwhelming, and you might worry how you’ll cope.”

She says talking to your partner and trusted friends and family – especially those who’ve also undergone IVF – about how you’re feeling can be an effective source of support. “Often when we start talking about this, we realise there are lots of people in our lives who’ve been through something similar,” says Narelle.

Most fertility clinics offer a counselling service and talking to a professional who’s trained in this area is incredibly helpful as they can help you prepare for the emotional ups and downs and provide helpful strategies that you can use.

Waiting for the pregnancy test result

The two-week period after the egg transfer when you’re waiting to find out if your treatment is a success and you’re pregnant is often fraught with worry and anxiety, Narelle says. It’s often referred to as the ‘two-week wait’.

“It's a time people feel very out of control because there isn't much you can do, particularly if there have been multiple cycles of treatment or you've been trying for a long time.”

Melissa says keeping busy is the best way to prevent your mind wandering and to keep the what-ifs at bay. “It's about trying not to think too far ahead of yourself – take it as much as you can day by day.”

Sharing your IVF journey with friends and family who will be supportive and respect your privacy is another helpful approach. “But if they’re going to think it’s great gossip, don’t tell them,” says Narelle.

Receiving a negative blood test result

Learning that the IVF cycle hasn’t worked and you’re not pregnant can be devastating.

“It’s a type of grief – the baby you were trying for, that you put your body through treatment for, that you paid for and attended all of the appointments and did everything right [for], hasn’t worked out, and often hasn’t worked out again,” Narelle says, explaining that feeling distressed, extremely sad and withdrawn is a common response.

Melissa says giving yourself space to process what’s happened can be good for your mental health. “If you need a couple of days off work, that’s alright. Look after yourself and let yourself sit with the grief and the sadness.”

Experiencing cancelled cycles

Cancelled cycles – when things go wrong, like your doctor retrieves no eggs, your eggs don’t fertilise or your embryos fail to develop normally – are unexpected (but also quite common during the IVF process) and can come as a shock.

“Particularly for the woman who’s been through the egg-stimulation cycle, [a cancelled cycle] might elicit a sense of guilt or shame, or a belief there’s something wrong with your body,” says Narelle. “It can become quite a complicated experience where you might feel a high degree of responsibility.”

She says talking to your fertility clinic or specialist to understand what happened – and so that you can understand it wasn’t your fault – is an important step in your IVF journey. “It’s incredibly important to challenge that sense of shame or guilt.”

Managing the effect on your relationship

Going through IVF can put a lot of stress on your relationship, especially if this is the first big challenge you’ve faced as a couple. Being clear with each other about the type of support you need – more talking, less talking, time together or apart – as well as setting boundaries around when you talk about your IVF journey to prevent the topic sneaking into every conversation can be effective strategies, says Melissa.

Continuing to make plans and do things you enjoy as a couple also helps to alleviate stress. “A lot of people put their life on hold – we can't make plans because we're doing treatment, we might be on cycle, we might not be on cycle,” says Melissa. “It's really important to keep planning other things in your life.”

Dealing with IVF costs

IVF in Australia is often an expensive process – even if you have health cover that covers the hospital costs, there are many non-hospital costs associated with IVF – and managing the financial strain of your treatment can add to the physical and mental burden. “You pay a lot of money for it and you don’t get a guaranteed outcome,” says Melissa.

To manage the impact on your mental health, Narelle recommends setting realistic expectations for what you can afford and identifying a realistic end point at which you’ll stop treatment.

“The financial worry can become a significant obstacle to keeping going with treatment,” she says. “Most people aren't expecting it to take a long time and they’re hopeful that it will work fairly quickly. It’s really important that as a couple you’ve made a decision about where your threshold is for treatment.”

Facing the prospect of not falling pregnant

Understanding your treatment hasn’t been successful and that you’re coming to the end of your IVF journey is a heartbreaking realisation for the couples who face this. Narelle says it’s vital to start talking about what your life would look like if you were to stop treatment.

“There is a lot of meaning in a life that doesn’t have children, but it’s going to be a different life and it’s going to take some negotiation to get to the point where you feel like it’s a life you can settle into,” she says.

Melissa says this is a time when many couples seek support from a counsellor, if they haven’t already.

“[Having a child] is a big dream and to think it’s not going to work, there’s a lot of grief to work through and a lot of sadness that people have to process,” she says. “You’re not going to have children, so what is your life going to look like? How are you going to get to the point where you’re okay with that?

“The good thing is most people are okay when they stop treatment. You get to the point where you’re comfortable with the decision.”

A helping hand with extra support

Everyone’s mental health journey through IVF is different, and you or your partner may benefit from extra support. We’ve partnered with PSYCH2U to offer HCF members easier access to mental health support through online video consultations with a psychologist. We’re offering a free telehealth HealthyMinds Check-in with a PSYCH2U psychologist for eligible members*.

We’ve got your back in good times and bad

Going to hospital can be a source of anxiety for our members. Our Preparing for Hospital IVF tool gives peace of mind to help you learn about IVF, including the process of stimulating your body to produce eggs, retrieving your eggs and transferring fertilised embryos into your uterus.

Related articles


The expense and stress of IVF can be emotional and overwhelming for couples trying to get pregnant. Find out what to expect.


Getting to know your cycle is essential when trying to have a baby, with only a small window of opportunity each month. Here’s how to better understand your fertility.


When to check in with your doctor if your baby-making isn't going to plan.


How to help a family member or friend through a mental health episode.


* 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. 

This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.