Saying "the two week wait" will be enough to send shivers down the spines of most couples who have experienced IVF. Not for the faint of heart, it's a time that can be rife with anxiety, loneliness turmoil, distraction and hope.
We spoke to Genea’s Director of Nursing Rachael Varaday and Fertility Counselling Services Manager Evelyn Zwahlen to share their tips and insights on navigating that difficult period. Here’s what they told us …
Firstly, the beginning of the IVF two-week wait means that, on the day when embryo transfer takes place, the patient goes home and two weeks later has a blood sample taken to see whether the implantation transfer has resulted in the much-hoped-for pregnancy. Can you talk us through what exactly is the two-week wait after transfer?
Rachael: Implantation can occur within the first week following embryo transfer. Waiting two weeks (the two week wait) enables us to reliably measure pregnancy hormone levels to confirm the outcome of a patient’s cycle.
Evelyn: The time between embryo transfer and pregnancy test is known in IVF circles as the 2WW or Two Week Wait as it is quite literally, the two weeks that you wait to see if your fertility treatment has been successful.
For anyone undergoing a cycle of IVF, the two week wait to find out whether the embryo transfer has resulted in a pregnancy can seem like an eternity - what have patients told you helps them get through this period and what do you tell your patients?
Evelyn: At Genea, the 2WW is usually about 11 days, starting with embryo transfer as Day 0 and assuming a blastocyst transfer. This is a notoriously difficult time for most women. We often see patients accessing counselling support during this time as they look for ways to cope with this period of “no treatment” and little contact with the clinic. There is nothing to do but wait, and regularly scan your body for signs of your imminent period, or a pregnancy, the symptoms of which can be surprisingly similar.
Obsessive research can heighten anxiety - what’s your advice here?
Evelyn: Obsessive research is inviting but usually unhelpful. No research can tell a woman what is happening in her body or predict the outcome of her cycle, all it will do is raise uncertainty. We know this is a very stressful time with no feedback on what is happening so women and couples need to do whatever they can to manage the uncertainty and anxiety, one day at a time. Keeping busy is an obvious one, but that means keeping your mind engaged so as to get away from the constant ruminating. Counselling support during this time can be helpful. There are also mindful and meditation apps to help.
Obviously, you want to keep a positive mindset - but being too positive can lead to a disappointment - what’s your approach here?
Evelyn: Choosing to manage your thinking in a hopeful way can also be helpful. I encourage patients to hope for a positive outcome, to believe it is possible, rather than to tell themselves it will or won’t work.
What are the IVF two-week wait dos and don’ts?
Rachael: Treat yourself as if you are pregnant, especially in relation to food i.e. avoiding possible sources of listeria and avoiding alcohol. We also recommend patients avoid raising their core body temperature and avoid rigorous exercise and heavy lifting – walking is fine.
Can you outline some of the sensations or changes to your body that can occur during this time to help you understand what is normal such as cramps, spotting or light bleeding, bloating, sore or swollen breasts?
Rachael: All of those symptoms are relatively normal and they can come and go. We say it a lot but that’s because it’s true – the challenge for women during the two-week wait is that early pregnancy and period symptoms can be very similar.