A failed IVF or abandoned cycle is devastating. Your pin all your hopes on it working, so when it doesn’t you don’t know what to do next. We look for explanations as to why it failed to help us process it.
Finding out our first cycle was unsuccessful and the days following were the worst part of my fertility journey. On those days I wasn’t sure how I would get through it and believe that one day we would get our longed for baby. The day of our results was also our 5th wedding anniversary, so I naively believed it was fate that the result would be positive, which definitely set me up for a bigger fall.
We went for the blood test in the morning and then began the agonising 4 hour wait for the results. I was so on edge all morning, I was dreading every time I went to the toilet in case I started bleeding, and I felt sick about making the call to the unit. Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace, but it was finally 12 pm and time to make the call.
The first time I called it was engaged, someone else making that call to find out if their life was about to change.
When I finally got through to the unit, I had to give my name and wait what felt like forever for them to find my results and deliver the heartbreaking news. What an awful or amazing job for the nurses. Just luck of the draw which calls they answer. I felt my heartbreak as they told me the result was negative. I was so convinced that it would work, I felt like my whole life was riding on this result. The rest of the call was a bit of a blur, and I remember finishing it and not knowing what to do next.
We hadn’t told many people we were going through IVF ? just close friends and family, and we hadn’t told anyone we were getting the results that day. It did mean that we had to tell them that it hadn’t worked, which was really difficult, but fairly obvious given my tear-stained face. We went to see my mum first so we could tell her in person and so I could sob on her shoulder.
Luckily our result day was a Friday so I didn’t have to go to work the next day. I spent the weekend struggling to hold it together, everything was a reminder and every reminder broke my heart again. I really struggled in the week after my results – it felt like I had experienced a loss that I kept suddenly remembering and feeling the pain of.
I was also having to hide it from everyone at work as they didn’t know what I was going through.
I found it quite difficult that after we got our results it was like an IVF cold turkey. You are at the unit every day in the run-up to the transfer, then during the two week wait you are clinging on to the hope that the embryo is making itself comfortable.
But after your result, you feel very alone. The negative result signifies the loss of hope in that round and I felt a loss of hope in it ever working.
A negative result can leave you with lots of questions around why it didn’t work, is there anything I could have done differently, what are the next steps, when can I start again, what can we do differently. Unfortunately, the assisted conception units are busy, and it can often seem like forever until you can have a follow up appointment to get answers.
I felt lost and that there wasn’t any form of support after the result – no one else seemed to understand why I was so upset, I was grieving the loss of my embryo and the future life it had represented. It took a long time to get over it.
Eventually, I picked myself up and did what I could to move forward, so I wanted to share some ideas that may help you in the same situation.
Coping after a failed IVF or abandoned cycle
- Allow yourself time to grieve. It’s ok to feel sad, it’s perfectly normal so don’t fight it if you do. Fertility counsellors are always available to offer you additional support during this time and through treatment, If you are struggling it is worth speaking to them about how you are feeling.
- Take care of yourself. Take some time out to look after yourself emotionally and physically. Do something that you enjoy that will help you relax and feel nice. Don’t see it as a luxury, look at it as a necessity. Plan in some things over the following week, it doesn’t need to be anything big, just something where you can focus on you.
- Take some time out with your partner to talk about how you are both feeling after the result. What you would like to do next and what you would like to find out. Use the time to connect and support each other. Also plan in some time where you don’t talk about treatment, talk about what you used to love doing together and remember yourselves as a couple.• Plan in some nice things to do with your close circle – your partner, your family, your close friends. This will give you something to look forward to, and means you get to spend quality time with those people that you love.
- Attend support group meetings. You will be supported by other lovely people that know exactly what you are going through. There are lots of online and face to face meetings on various social media, you can ask questions, share your thoughts and get advice on coping.
- Ask questions. Get answers to all your questions so you can feel fully informed and able to make decisions about your next steps – whether that be another round of IVF, some time out from the intensity of fertility treatment or investigating other routes to parenthood.
If we get an answer, it often makes us feel better psychologically because, if we know the reason it failed, we can make changes next time.
On the medical side, there may be changes that can be made based on learnings from this cycle, but there are also questions you can ask yourself to help you recover and move forward.
Questions to ask yourself after an failed IVF cycle
- What am I pleased that I did during this round – It could be healthy eating, extra sleep, add on treatments, emotional support, going to a support group, acupuncture, time off – think about what it is that helped you feel better going through the treatment, either physically or emotionally, so you can replicate the good things if/when you have another cycle. There is limited research on the proven benefits of some of these things, but if they made you feel better, more relaxed and more positive throughout your treatment then that is a huge benefit in itself and will have a positive effect on how you feel.
- What will help me recover from the failed cycle? Look at how you have previously recovered from a great loss or upset, there may be something you have done previously, that helped you cope, that you could use now – seeing friends, time out to yourself, journaling, planning your next steps. Lean on your support network and do what you need to do to get through this difficult time.
- What can we learn from this failed cycle? Once you know this information you can think about ‘what can we do differently the next time to increase our chances of success?’ Make sure you go to your follow up appointment armed with questions so you can find out what you could do differently next time to improve the chances of success (different medication, higher dosage, different protocol). After a first cycle, your consultant will have more information to work with based on how your body responded. Talk through your questions with your consultant who will be able to advise based on your specific circumstances.
- Do I need/want to take a break from treatment? It can be tempting to want to get straight back in to your next cycle (I was the same!) as it feels like every month counts, but it is important to allow yourself time to recover so you can be fully prepared emotionally and physically for your next cycle, to increase your chances of a positive result.
Be kind to yourself during this time, the most important thing is to look after yourself emotionally. You don’t need to rush into making any decisions, just take time out, accept how you are feeling and use all your support to get you smiling again.
The HFEA website has some great resources on failed IVF.