Number Envy in IVF: It’s Not Just You

 Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

In the journey of IVF, the concept of “number envy” can become a significant emotional hurdle. This occurs when undergoing fertility treatments that you compare your results to others’, feeling envious or inadequate when your numbers—like egg count, embryo quality, uterine thickness or hormone levels—don’t seem to measure up.

Understanding Number Envy

IVF is laden with numerical benchmarks at every step. From follicle counts during ultrasounds to embryo grades post-retrieval, these numbers can create a hyper-focus on quantitative measures of success. This intense focus often leads to “number envy,” where you consciously or unconsciously compare your IVF outcomes with others and feel a sense of inadequacy if your numbers are lower​.

Compare and Despair: A Vicious Cycle

The “compare and despair” cycle is closely related to number envy. When you constantly compare your IVF results to others, you may experience despair and a sense of failure. This comparison can be particularly damaging because it perpetuates feelings of insufficiency, loneliness and hopelessness, making the already challenging IVF process even more difficult​ (MindBodyWise)​.

Emotional Impact

The impact of number envy and the compare and despair cycle on mental health is profound. It can amplify feelings of self-blame, anxiety, and depression. When faced with suboptimal numbers, it’s easy to internalize feelings of failure, exacerbating the emotional toll of the IVF process.

Strategies to Combat Number Envy and Compare and Despair

  1. Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: Practicing mindfulness can help mitigate the effects of number envy. Techniques such as loving-kindness meditation can cultivate self-compassion, allowing you to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend​.
  2. Challenging Negative Thoughts: It’s crucial to challenge the automatic negative thoughts that arise from comparing numbers. Techniques like body scanning can help identify and interrupt these thoughts, replacing them with more balanced perspectives​.
  3. Seeking Support: Connecting with a fertility-competent therapist or fertility support group that understands the nuances of the IVF journey can provide invaluable emotional support. This network can help normalize your experiences and validate your feelings, reducing the isolation often accompanying fertility struggles​.
  4. Focusing on Self-Care: Engaging in self-care practices like gentle yoga and mindfulness rituals can ground you in the present moment, alleviating stress and fostering a sense of well-being.
  5. Embracing Individual Journeys: Recognizing that each body has different responses to ART and that the IVF journey is unique can help shift the focus from comparison to self-acceptance. Your worth is not defined by numbers, even though numbers can be such a focal point of the IVF experience.
  6. Enhancing Resiliency: By now, you’ve already made it through some really tough stuff in your life. Mentally marking these past moments of overcoming challenges can help you build your resilience (also called your ability to ‘bounce back’). Leverage the memories of overcoming hardship as a way to build your self-esteem and to release the “compare and despair” mindset.

Assisted reproduction is one of the most vulnerable processes anyone can choose to undergo. It takes a lot of endurance and self-regulation to manage the fertility journey. Try not to be too hard on yourself.

Rachel Shanken, Somatic Fertility Therapist in New York City