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How Do You Cope With IVF Failure?

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Coping With IVF Failure

Although IVF success rates are improving all the time IVF failure can occur and it can often take a number of IVF cycles before a patient will see a successful outcome, if at all.

As someone who has experienced a failed IVF treatment cycle, as well as a cycle that ended in an early miscarriage, I know how devastating both outcomes can be.

In contrast to the minefield of information that exists on how to prepare for IVF treatment there is very little to advise patients how to deal with a cycle that is not successful, and as a result, it can be a frightening and hopeless time for many people.

After potentially agonizing over the decision to pursue treatment in the first place, months of preparation, not to mention the physical and emotional side effects, it can be very difficult to accept that there will not be a baby at the end of it all.

Unless high-quality embryos have been frozen, which can be used for a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET), many people find themselves at a complete dead end. They are frightened to pursue further treatment, yet unable to accept that this could be the end of the road.

While many people who write about IVF failure tend to describe their initial devastation and their eventual triumph over it, very few actually write about the practical things they might have done to help them through that period of their lives. Even though it is true that grief is a process that takes its own time, there are things that may help you to cope better with everyday life.

Some of the coping strategies I’ve outlined here are more relevant to those who do wish to pursue further IVF treatment, but others are applicable to everyone, regardless of the next steps.

The IVF Failure Blame Game

While some degree of anger is expected in the aftermath of a failed IVF cycle try not to let it take over or it can be destructive.

When we found out that our first cycle had failed we were completely and utterly blindsided. We had put all our faith and hope in IVF treatment and were convinced that it would work for us first time because we were young. To find out that it had failed, and knowing that we had no frozen embryos with which to attempt a follow-up cycle, was unbelievably heartbreaking.

My immediate reaction was to find someone to blame. At first, I blamed the clinic, convinced it was their negligence somewhere along the line that had caused harm to our embryos. I reflected back on every conversation I had had with them, trying to find holes in their processes and signs of their incompetence.

Then, inevitably, I turned the blame on myself, analyzing every single move I made during the cycle and wondering what it was that I did to stop my embryos from implanting. Being unable to conceive naturally had already been a harsh prospect to come to terms with, but being unable to get pregnant through IVF made me feel more inadequate and more of an IVF failure than ever before.

However, I soon realized that the anger that I was feeling was not helping the situation. In fact, it was dragging me down further and preventing me from moving on in any capacity. In the end, I had to accept that it came down to choice. I could choose to let the failure of our cycles consume me or I could choose to try and move on.

Focus on the follow-up appointment

In the first few days, and possibly weeks, following a failed cycle it can be difficult to contemplate another IVF cycle, especially a fresh one. The grief can be so overwhelming that it’s impossible to fathom putting yourself in such a situation again.

About six weeks after a failed cycle, when emotions have settled down a little, clinics will typically schedule a follow-up appointment to review the cycle and try to understand where it might have gone wrong. Try to hold out for this appointment and avoid making any definite decisions until you have talked to your doctor. You may find that there are changes that can be made to the protocols that might help your odds on a subsequent cycle. There may also be further fertility investigations that can be done or new techniques that can be tried. However, if egg quality is the suspected cause of IVF failure, it is worth preparing for the possibility that treatment options that you had previously rejected, such as using donor eggs, may now be the best chance of success.

Understand why the IVF failure occurred

Try not to leave your follow up appointment without ensuring you fully understand why your treatment may have failed. Many of the IVF patients I spoke to who experienced failed IVF cycles didn’t realise that there were signs throughout the cycle that their odds of success were low. For example, if the fertilization rates were very low, or the quality of the embryos on transfer day was poor.

On our first cycle, my husband and I had a very low fertilization rate and didn’t make it to a day-five transfer. However, we were so happy that we had an embryo to transfer that we didn’t really listen to or question what we were being told. Had we asked more questions along the way, and had realistic expectations, we may not have been so shocked by the outcome. Moreover, we didn’t really question why the treatment may have failed during our follow-up consultation, and so entered into the second cycle with exactly the same protocols.

Don’t rush into anything

When IVF fails it can feel as though you are back at square one. The backup plan has failed and it can feel like you’ve run out of options and there is no hope left. Having probably spent many years trying to get pregnant naturally prior to attempting IVF treatment, many people feel as though they need to move on without wasting more time. In order to feel as though they are doing something to get over the IVF failure many rushes into a decision about what to do next. Some will decide to close the door on IVF completely, and others leap straight into another cycle. In my experience, the immediate aftermath of a failed cycle is not the best time to make big decisions.

We started our second IVF cycle barely three months after finding out that our first had failed. On reflection, this was far too soon. I hadn’t allowed nearly enough time for my head, my heart, or my body to heal properly. I wanted to stop the pain, the anger, and the feelings of despair, and the only solution I could see was to get pregnant as soon as possible. In hindsight, there is no question in my mind that we should have taken a long break to ensure that we were both in optimum condition, both physically and mentally, to withstand another cycle, but we were desperate to do something to alleviate the anguish and get out of that dreadful limbo. The second cycle was easier in some respects since we were no longer dealing with the unknown. However, we both found it more physically demanding, possibly because we were still so exhausted from the first cycle. Sadly, this cycle was also unsuccessful and ended in an early miscarriage.

Try to focus on what did go well

Even if the ultimate outcome is negative, there will probably be plenty of aspects of the cycle that did go well. Try to focus on these as much as possible, especially if considering another IVF cycle in future.

Following our second cycle, I was continuously told by family and friends that I should focus on the fact that at least I could get pregnant. Initially, these comments infuriated me, as it felt as though no one really understood just how much we had invested to make it as far as a positive pregnancy test.

Acknowledging the short-lived pregnancy as a positive thing seemed futile. I couldn’t even contemplate the thought of trying IVF ever again – the pain was just too unbearable.

However, over time I started to realize that those people were right – there were positives to focus on, and I tried to gain strength from them. My body had overreacted to the stimulation medication, which may have compromised the egg quality, but this could be adjusted in a subsequent cycle, and although we had suffered a miscarriage one in four pregnancies ends this way, regardless of whether IVF was used or not. As bleak as things were, we had to acknowledge that there was still hope.

Take time out

In the aftermath of a failed cycle, it is important to try and take as much time out to grieve and heal as you possibly can. If you haven’t taken time off work during treatment then you should try and take some time out afterwards. Many people I have spoken to found that, although they had felt unable to talk to their employer about treatment while they were going through it when a cycle failed they found that they had no choice; going to work and putting on a brave face was impossible. They were grieving and needed time to mourn and come to terms with their loss before attempting to resume a normal life.

Find a new distraction

After months of researching treatment options and preparing body and mind, not to mention constant appointments and tests at a fertility clinic, IVF may have started to feel like a full-time job. When it is over many people find themselves at a loose end. Without the joy of a pregnancy on which to focus, life can seem very empty all of a sudden, thus exacerbating the pain. If you feel up to it, try to find something entirely unrelated with which to distract yourself, such as a new activity or hobby.

What really helped me was to make a list of all the things I wanted to achieve in my life, whether I had children or not. It was essentially a bucket list that included all manner of activities, both big and small. I started by ticking off the small things: eating in a restaurant I had always wanted to try and go to a museum I wanted to visit. The act of achieving a goal, no matter how small, and being able to tick something off my list made me feel stronger and more empowered.

Consider all your options

Before plunging ahead with a similar treatment plan, convincing yourself it was just bad luck that the first one failed, or before rejecting a new treatment plan that may seem extreme, spend time researching as much as you can. Many people make uninformed decisions about treatment only to regret it afterwards. Talking openly to your doctors and to other patients who have been in your shoes can provide a new perspective. I have talked to many people who eventually became parents through a treatment option that they had initially rejected, so try not to close any doors before you have fully considered the options.

Counselling

Just as counselling can offer invaluable help to ART patients before and during treatment, it can also offer support when it fails. A number of people who have experienced IVF failure told me that they gained huge strength from attending counselling sessions. Counselling will be particularly helpful for those who are unsure of whether to pursue further treatment or not.

Look after your relationship

A failed IVF cycle can take a huge toll on those who are in relationships. Like all forms of grief the way each individual deals with the loss may be very different; this can lead to tension and even feelings of resentment between a couple. Having gone through three IVF treatment cycles I can understand why so many relationships do not survive IVF failure. Day-to-day living whilst going through the process becomes extremely strained and the relationship itself can become less important than the goal of having a baby. Difficult as it may be, try to spend time talking and understanding each other’s grief, and continue to make time for yourselves as a couple.

The above extract is taken from Five Million Born – An IVF Companion Guide by Anne-Marie Scully. It is available to buy now for Amazon Kindle for a special promotional price of just $1.99.

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Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations

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Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations

Hi future mama,

We are coming up on the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. and though many of you are tuning in from all over the world and may not be celebrating this holiday; it’s still a good time to take stock of the things we are thankful for.

Unfortunately it’s our innate human survival response to focus on what’s going wrong versus what’s going right. The fight-or-flight response in our brains want to make sure we stay alive and so it is on heightened alert when we worry about the magical, “what if?”

What if it’s too late?
What if there’s something wrong with me?
What if we don’t have enough money?
What if I can’t heal my …. ?
What if IVF doesn’t work?
What if I can’t “figure it out?”

If you’ve been on this journey for any length of time, I’m sure you’re not a stranger to some of these thoughts. It sucks because they’re involuntary. Obviously we don’t WANT to think them, but we do.

Oddly enough if we worry it feels like we are doing something active; but of course from a Law of Attraction perspective, worrying only brings a match to more worrying. It’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole of worry and project our deepest fears into a future that hasn’t happened yet.

We aren’t really taught to focus on things going right. It feels irresponsible to the fight-or-flight part of the brain because- what if something falls through the cracks and we miss our chance? Or we just plain forget that there are things in our lives that ARE going right, because we are so consumed with the fear of ‘what if’.

The problem is that we can be looped in a cycle of fear and it can be really hard to pull yourself out of it. The more we try to force our way out of the loop, the more forcing it brings- and we can’t get out of it.

What does this mean for our bodies from a physiological perspective?

Thanks to the Law of Psychophysical Response, every positive thought creates a positive physical/chemical reaction in the body, and every negative thought creates a negative physical/chemical response in the body. So every time we replay a fear or past trauma, the body can’t tell if the trauma is happening in real time or is just being replayed mentally so the body responds as if it’s happening now. This keeps our fight or flight switch on because the brain perceives danger, and if the switch is on, the uterus is off. Not only is it not good for your mental state to keep replaying these fears and traumas, but it’s literally affecting your body too. This is not for you to go crazy being fearful that every thought you think is messing up your chances, it’s to bring awareness to your thoughts- awareness that despite what it feels like there is choice in what you think and what you become a match to. So just as with every negative thought, there’s a negative reaction in the body; so too with every positive thought there’s a positive reaction in the body. So your power is in choosing thoughts that feel better and being compassionate with your brain as it is rewired to think this way. It’s going to take time for it to be consistent, and we can’t go from gloom and doom to euphoria because we aren’t an energetic match to that.

A good way to begin to turn the tide and become more of a vibrational match to the energy and outcome you want is to establish some sort of gratitude practice.

Now let me be clear– being grateful for what IS going right now, is by no means a resignation that this is your life forever, that you don’t get to have your dream and you’re just going to have to deal with the scraps you feel life has given you.

On the contrary!

We cannot be in gratitude and fear at the same time. The energetic vibrations are too far apart. So being in gratitude at least momentarily lets us spend some time away from fear and feeling more peaceful.

Many of us think, “I’ll be so grateful when I get pregnant.” It sounds like a positive thought on the surface, but remember the universe doesn’t care what you’re saying– it’s hearing the energy that you’re putting out. So how that statement actually reads energetically is, “I’m not okay and I can’t be grateful until I’m pregnant, and I’m not pregnant so I can’t be grateful.”

When we are truly in the energy of gratitude for what is going right, we become an energetic match to being more grateful for more things going right. And truly, more things will start to go right- hence more gratitude!

When we are so consumed with Mission Baby, it’s hard to feel like anything is going right, but SO much is! From the epic, to the mundane, we all have things in our every day lives to be grateful for like:

  • supportive spouse
  • still getting a cycle
  • have a place to live
  • ate today
  • supportive family
  • have a job
  • it was nice out today

It’s so important for us to direct energy and awareness to what is going right so that we literally become a match to receiving more of it. Focusing on what you DON’T have, brings more of a match to you not having it. Focus on what you DO have and watch things change.

So what kind of gratitude practice are we talking about here?

    1. A gratitude journal. Get a cool looking journal that speaks to you (mine is leather with a Celtic tree of life embossed on it). Have it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Each day write three things you’re grateful for/ or that went right today. It’s okay to have the same things on the list for several days, but really dig deep to some of the little or forgotten reasons. We all have so many. Commit to doing it for at least a month (preferably three months). Daily attention to gratitude and acknowledging support from the universe makes you a match to receiving more of it.
    2. If your spouse/partner is open to it, have a peak & valley discussion every night over dinner of before you go to bed. The valley is where you let your brain vent the thing that upsets you, and then the peak is the high point of your day. What happened that made you feel good today. It’s okay to start with things like – it was nice outside today, someone gave me their seat on the subway, I found a parking spot right away, a stranger complimented me, I had a really good sandwich for lunch, etc. Sometimes we have to start here first. That’s okay. The important thing is that we remind our brains that there are things going right all around us. Sometimes it helps our accountability to do this with our partner. If they’re not open, find a friend who you can text your peak and valley to- and maybe they’ll join you.
    3. A mini gratitude meditation. This is much simpler than it sounds and there’s no wrong way to do it. For example, you may want to sit with your eyes closed burning some sage or listen to soothing music. Take a few deep breaths, put one hand on your heart and begin to visualise one thing you’re grateful for. Deep inhale as you think of the thing you’re grateful for, and exhale as you say in out loud. Say each thing three times. Then sit in the feeling of gratitude (versus thinking gratitude), thank whatever your higher power is, and you’re done. This is something that can be done every day and doesn’t take more than five minutes but can be instrumental in shifting your energy.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it and even if it’s not that holiday where you are in the world, take some time to sit in gratitude for the abundance and blessings you do have. There are so many. It’s a necessary step to move forward. Lots of love!

A’ndrea is a Reiki Master and Holistic Fertility Specialist and more information can be found on her website fusionfertility.com

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Rainbow Babies: Tips To Move Through The Joys, Fears And Tears Of Pregnancy After Loss

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Rainbow Babies

Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Everyone around you is excited except, perhaps, for you. Last time this happened and/or the time before that and/or the time before that, the pregnancy didn’t continue. You may have had a miscarriage, a stillbirth or a neonatal loss. You may have felt isolation, grief, anger.

In fact, you may have thought this pregnancy would resolve these feelings when, in fact, you’ve been noticing lately that they’re all still lurking in the background. To make matters worse, you may now be feeling petrified you’ll lose this baby too. Worry, fear and uncertainty are very commonly felt by pregnant people who’ve experienced a loss.

Here are some suggestions to help you move through the challenges and enjoy pregnancy again.

1) It was not your fault
Whatever happened last time, it was not your fault. Not all pregnancies are perfect. Not all births end up in live babies. You did your best. Shitty things happen. It was not your fault.

2) Choose the right health care provider
It’s normal to be emotionally vulnerable. It’s normal to feel anxiety. It’s normal to want a million extra appointments but then simultaneously feel like that high after your fourth ultrasound was too short-lived. It’s also normal to be happy.

Research suggests that pregnant people following a loss do better with care providers that respect their unique experiences. Most often, this can be found in a care provider that provides strong continuity. For some this is someone they’ve worked with in a previous pregnancy. Others prefer to start afresh. Good, consistent professional support that honours your individual experiences is not only important for your personal wellbeing but it also improves pregnancy outcomes.

3) Ask for what you need
After a loss, many people find the need for more personalised care to support them through their pregnancy and birth. If you think you need a more frequent schedule of visits for your own wellbeing, ask. If you want to know how to get reassurance in the middle of the night, ask. If you need them to start the appointment with a fetal heart rate check, ask. If you want an additional ultrasound for reassurance, ask. Take an active role in planning your pregnancy and birth. If you’re not finding your care providers responsive, ask to change to someone else. Research suggests that feeling a sense of control in your journey can help you enjoy your pregnancy again.

4) Build your community
After experiencing loss, it’s not uncommon to delay emotional involvement in a subsequent pregnancy and that’s okay. This is your pregnancy and your baby. You get to decide when you announce your pregnancy to the world. You get to decide how you feel about your baby. However, sometimes this valuable protective mechanism also deprives us of seeking necessary support. Many woman do not get adequate emotional and psychological support to deal with their feelings.

While you may be turning to your partner, he or she may also be processing the pregnancy differently, particularly at triggering times, for they are on their own journey of isolation, grief, anger. Bring those into your community who will be there for you when things are tough. Ask your care provider to connect you with someone who’s experienced loss. Consider seeing if there are any support groups in your area for folks who’ve had similar experiences to your own. Research suggests group support helps diminish feelings of isolation and allows for stronger relationships between partners moving forward.

5) Prepare for your rainbow baby
The vast majority of people who’ve experienced losses do go on to have healthy babies. We call them rainbow babies. For, they are the beautiful babies we welcome into the world after the storm that is loss. Just think: you’re pregnant with your rainbow baby! Find ways for you and your support people to celebrate milestones, even when you’re feeling fears to the contrary. Find ways to do the things that normalise, even if a bit of adaptation is necessary.

If you think you’d feel isolated attending a regular childbirth education class, sign up for a private one instead. Read positive books about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Do the silly things you always imagined you’d do. Be determined to maintain hope: your rainbow baby is on the horizon!

If you want to find more support you can contact Rishma via her website www.rishmawalji.com

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Mental Health

We Asked A Former IVF Patient What Is It Really Like To Go Through IVF?

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What's it really like to go through IVF

“What Is It Really Like To Go Through IVF…?” As a former IVF patient, it’s a question I have been asked frequently.

It’s a loaded question. Almost everyone knows that it can be a dark place for some, and a miracle for others. For me, there is no straightforward answer. So I decided to write my journey down in a metaphoric story as a way of explaining it…

Imagine you’re standing at the foot of a huge snowy mountain. The kind with jagged rocks and impenetrable inclines that makes you feel queasy looking up. It will take you months to climb and if you make it, the duration will take you through the seasons, changing you as a person along the way.

You’re prepared for the journey, it’s all you’ve thought about for months. You hold your personalised three-month plan in your hand. It’s oddly exciting. Milestones will have to be met along the way and you will need to pass all of them in order to progress. It’s all about you now, everyone who knows seems still, waiting for news.

Your positivity gets you going. You feel all zen-like with motherly instincts kicking in already. There’s baggage you have to carry uphill – let’s call it a 15-kilo backpack representing the weight of your parents’ dreams to become grandparents. You are weighted down by drugs too, brown paper bags filled with hormone pills, vitamins and vails for injections.

You crack on, shield up, sword outwards prepared to battle anyone who tries to knock you off the baby path to utopia. Thousands of woman have walked this trail before, and they made it just fine.

Let’s think about that utopia for a moment; imagine on the other side of this mountain is a life with a family. You catch a glimpse of another you. In this imaginary place, you are holding a tiny delicate version of yourself. You become someone else entirely responsible and in the process form a love that only real mothers can understand.

You have a mild sense of that, but it’s only imaginable at this stage. You aren’t quite there yet…

The climb begins and you stop for breaks, telling yourself that you are still strong, healthy, in control and age doesn’t mean a thing – even at 40 you feel 29. A routine begins to form and as you make progress you begin to allow yourself small treats of wonderings. You have a photocopy in your back pocket of the blastocyst – your baby in its most primitive form. What might my future look like if this works? Boy or girl?

The mountain gets snowy, some days it seems impassable. You wonder why you have to go to such lengths when others don’t have to. It’s unfair.

Climb, climb, climb…stab with needles.

Weariness takes over and your mood changes. You want to be alone. You don’t want to be alone. But you are alone. You fight yourself and enter into a new kind of torture, the torture of hope.

The control you thought you had is now out of your hands.

You are more than halfway there and have reached a critical stage. You feel like you’re winning. Everything is on schedule, you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. But it has become all-consuming and it’s taking its toll on your body.

Months pass by as you climb, climb, climb. “It will be worth it” is a mantra you find yourself saying over and over again the rockier it gets.

The path evens out, and even the weather casts a bright ray of sunshine on you. The top is nearing and it seems that unwavering positivity is driving you to the top. Mummy club here I come. You congratulate yourself and sit on a smooth rock to look at the utopia below before descending.

In an instant, you are cast from that sunny rock to your bathroom toilet peering at the pregnancy stick you just peed on. Three months to get to here.

It feels like all your efforts have been for nothing and with it, you tumble backwards, down the mountain. All the energy and drugs it has taken for your body to get this far has been wasted. You are a shell of who you were and as you tumble backwards your heart detaches from your chest.

At the bottom you sit bruised and exhausted, you feel you are a complete and utter failure. The grieving process for an embryo that never fully formed, begins. Why did my embryo not stick? Did I do something wrong? How do I tell the others?

This pilgrimage can only truly be understood by those who have hiked this mountain. When I meet other IVF couples there’s a silence that says it all. We’ve been there, our own silent war. But for some, the end goal is still worth persisting, no matter what it takes.

Personally – I have endured this journey five times and each time, I never made it even close to my utopia. The reality is that IVF is a lottery – almost impossible to win. I just hope that the next girl going up there is going to make it back down the other side.

Written by G.C.P

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