IVF can feel like a beacon of hope when you've spent years trying for a baby. So how do you manage when that hope is dashed once more – this time after a gruelling series of scans, blood tests and haphazard hormones?
Here are some tips, based on my own three years in The Infertility Club:
Don’t blame yourself
“I should have cut back on caffeine.”
“I’m such an idiot for refusing to spend fifty quid on supplements.”
“WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME ABOUT PINEAPPLE???”
When fertility treatment fails, the self-blame starts immediately. We look back at all the things we did or didn’t do over the past few months (or years) and decide those are the reasons we’re not currently pregnant.
Truth is, if a particular round of treatment is unsuccessful, it won’t be because you forgot to go on a pomegranate bender, or that you decided to forego the full-fat milk on your cereal, or that you didn’t lie still for two days after embryo transfer. Self-blame isn’t the way to go: your actions had no impact on the outcome of your treatment, and you’re punishing yourself for nothing.
Give yourself time to grieve
A survey by Fertility Network UK outlined just how distressing fertility treatment can be – particularly for those who’ve experienced failed cycles. Other research by Cardiff University notes the “intense grief”, “profound pain” and “feelings of loss, sadness and emptiness” that come from failed treatment.
And you have every right to feel devastated. You’ve just been through an almighty ordeal: weeks and weeks of jabs, scans, various medical procedures and – finally – the transfer of your very own embryo. When it doesn’t work, it’s a reason to grieve – and don’t let anyone tell you or your partner otherwise.
Make the most of not being pregnant
Throw a salami party. Go on a brie binge. Find out when your nearest booze cruise departs. You’re not pregnant yet, so you may as well do all the things you (hopefully) won’t be able to do soon.
What’s more, for the next few weeks you’re free from all those pesky IVF-related appointments and injections. You don’t need to listen out for the receptionist to call your name while replying to work emails – and you don’t need to plan your outfits according to how quickly they can be removed for a dildocam.
Make the most of it all. Wear a catsuit to work, perhaps. Or spend your lunch break in the pub rather than the waiting room.
Try to find out why your treatment didn’t work
If you’re under 35, you have a 29% chance of a live birth per treatment cycle (which goes down to 23% if you’re between 35 and 37) – so you’re far from alone. Bear in mind that only about 30% of young and perfectly fertile couples who aren't doing IVF get pregnant during a single month.
When treatment fails after an embryo transfer, it’s usually because the embryo has failed to develop in the uterus. This happens for a variety of reasons, and your doctor should be able to provide some insight – as well as some suggestions for what to try/change next time (if you want there to be a next time).
Before you meet with your doctor, check out this leaflet from the British Fertility Society called “Why did our IVF treatment not work?” It might help to clarify a few things and will enable you to go to the appointment with a list of thoughts and questions.
Keep reading… there's more below.
Have a Plan B
Having a Plan B isn’t about being despondent and expecting the worst. It’s about being both positive and pragmatic. The ultimate best attitude to have is one where you can think, “We have every hope and intention for this treatment to work, and we’re going to be delighted when it does. But we want to be ready – both practically and emotionally – for all outcomes. So we’re going to figure out our next steps in case it doesn’t work out as we expect.”
Do you persevere for as many years (and as much money) as it takes? Do you budget for another cycle? (This article provides information on ways to save money on IVF.) And what do you do after your cut-off point has been reached – do you try other forms of fertility treatment, or do you try to adopt, or do you find a surrogate? Or do you decide to be happily child-free instead?
It’s perfectly possible that you and your partner decide on your Plan B and want to chuck it out the window the moment you’re expected to implement it. But that’s why it’s even more important to at least discuss a Plan B in advance: if you reach the point where you’ve used up your rounds of IVF or spent all the money you agreed to spend on it, or whatever other “if” scenario you reach, you can look back to decisions you made while you were in a more level-headed, less emotional place.
You can remind yourselves what you said back then. For example:
“We were so excited about the possibility of adoption as a Plan B! In fact, we even wondered if we should scrap the idea of IVF and try for adoption instead.”
Or: “We agreed that our lives are fulfilling and enjoyable with or without a baby and that we’d go back to being happily baby-free if three cycles didn’t work.”
Or: “We said we’d do one cycle of private treatment if the NHS-funded cycle didn’t work out. And we restricted ourselves to one cycle because we can’t add financial strain to all the emotional stress we’ve been going through.”
And so on.
You can then compare those decisions you made at the start to how you’re feeling now, and that might help you figure out what’s really best to do next. Yes: Plan B can (and probably will) change – but it’s still useful to have for this reason.
If you’re struggling and need support from someone who isn’t your partner, parent or friend, all private clinics have specialist fertility counsellors. Some are free while others charge a fee. You can also have counselling on the NHS.
Alternatively, The British Infertility Counselling Association has a directory of accredited therapists – some of whom offer telephone/Skype counselling.