- A Harvard Medical School study demonstrated that the stress levels of women experiencing infertility were equivalent to those with AIDS, cancer and heart disease
- It was like running a marathon only to be told at the finish line you haven’t actually finished
- There is no right or wrong way of dealing with IVF failure because we are all unique and experience things in different ways
An unsuccessful IVF cycle can be devastating. So often I meet women who were moving towards their goal of getting pregnant with such focus and dedication, sometimes they can fail to recognise the struggle the journey can be. They don’t acknowledge how tough this can be physically and emotionally.
I’ll never forget my first fertility client. Michelle was 39 and had just completed her third IVF, which was unsuccessful. She came to see me on the recommendation of her gynaecologist. She was planning to go straight into a fourth cycle for a number of reasons, not least because the previous cycle, although unsuccessful, showed positive signs and the clinic were encouraging another try with a slight change in protocol.
In addition, at 39, in her mind she was approaching the dreaded (and made up) ‘cut off’ age of 40. She also felt an unspoken pressure from her husband and family to continue as soon as possible because they were also scared about time running out.
Most people underestimate the level of stress that this journey can create. A Harvard Medical School study demonstrated that the stress levels of women experiencing infertility were equivalent to those with AIDS, cancer and heart disease. And no one tells sufferers of those conditions to “just relax”!
Michelle had failed to recognise the emotional and physical turmoil that this journey can create. For me, it was like running a marathon only to be told at the finish line you haven’t actually finished and that you have to run another one which will be harder, even though you are exhausted.
I told Michelle I didn’t want to see her for at least six weeks. I recommended a fertility holiday. Doing so can actually rewind your biological clock and gain you time. Thankfully Michelle took what I said on board and came back a short while later in a much better psychological and physical state. We then worked together to prepare her for the fourth cycle, which was successful.
There is no right or wrong way of dealing with IVF failure because we are all unique and experience things in different ways. However, I want to share with you some things that may or may not be coming up for you.
Understanding what you are feeling
The text I get from my wife has no meaning until I give it meaning. The competitor moving in across the street means nothing, until I give it meaning. The downturn in the housing market means nothing, until I create a meaning for it, and, therefore, all these feelings that prevent me from having peace of mind and hope for the future have been caused by my thoughts, not by events or circumstances.
Events cannot cause feelings, they just don’t have that power. It’s not how our mind works. The biological computer – our mind – processes thoughts. That’s it.
Thoughts. We live in the experience of our thinking, nothing else. Our feelings don’t know anything about our circumstances and they definitely don’t know anything about the future, because the future doesn’t exist, except in our thinking.
It definitely feels like it is coming from the circumstances and you are feeling your situation, but that is the illusion of thought and feelings. In the same way it ‘feels like’ the Earth is flat and it ‘feels like’ the sun goes away at night, we misinterpret a lot until we understand how things really work. Until we understand we are only ever feeling our thinking we’ll be chasing our tail, thinking and getting more and more caught up in the emotional rollercoaster.
Pain passes because thinking moves on
The thing about feelings is that because they are created by our thoughts, and by the nature of thought they come and go, feelings cannot stay forever, although it can feel like they do.
We look at a situation through a set of thinking, a state of mind. It is like looking at a situation through a wrapping paper tube. We see a perspective. Imagine there is a vertical stack of tubes one on top of the other. We may be looking at the situation through the lowest tube, the lowest level of consciousness. We think that is ‘reality’, unaware that we have the capability of seeing the situation (and thus experiencing it) through any other level of consciousness (thinking) at any given moment. This is why sometimes things feel better than others. Our circumstances haven’t changed but the meaning we give them (our thinking) has.
Thinking comes and it goes by its nature. You couldn’t hold onto a feeling (even anger at your partner!) forever even if you wanted to. They say time heals all wounds – that is not actually correct. Time doesn’t heal anything because we are only ever feeling our thinking – it is the changes in our thinking over time that change our experience.
Predicting the future
Our thinking has a habit of telling us what something means for our future. After experiencing failed IVF it’s easy to get caught up in what that means for your future, about whether you will ever have children, or whether you will ever find true happiness and fulfilment.
The thing is, nothing can predict the future, not even your thinking. You have no idea what is going to happen in the next five minutes let alone next month or next year. Our thinking plays an imaginary movie of the future in our minds that is so plausible and believable we forget it’s a movie… that it’s made up. Any thought that is not in the present moment is pure fantasy.
Put another way, we often think of fantasy as unrealistic things, like people flying. However, any thought that is not in the present moment is pure fantasy. Come back to the here and now, because that is where you’ll find peace of mind, perspective and clarity about what is next for you.
It’s not your fault
Often after IVF failure, clients can blame themselves for it not working. They think that perhaps if they had looked after themselves better or taken more supplements or ‘this, that, the other’, things may be different. Our brain likes reasons for things. By nature it is a pattern hunter which is why it’s possible to read sentences with radom letters in the wrong order.
The truth is fertility is an art as well as a science. If it were a pure science you wouldn’t be reading this as the scientists would have it 100% cracked by now. Sometimes, on paper, a couple can identify no reason as to why things should work and they don’t. Conversely there are couples who, on paper, shouldn’t have a hope of getting pregnant yet succeed.
On each cycle and each visit, doctors will likely learn something new about your body, so there are always new recommendations for future treatment. Other than that stop looking for reasons; it doesn’t serve you as you tend to lose perspective when you go down that route.
When something like failing an IVF cycle stirs up your thinking it can be really difficult to decide what the next step should be. When it comes to complex problems you cannot think your way to clarity because it is thinking that prevents you from having clarity in the first place. The solution to any type of problem comes in moments of quiet where you can access your intuition and instinct, which is a much better guidance mechanism to life than your thinking.
The challenge can be hearing your intuition, your gut, when a brass band of thought is playing in your head.. Here are some characteristics of instinct – your wisdom – which may help you.
1. Whether you can hear it or not, wisdom is ever present
2. Wisdom is sometimes soft but it is always clear when you do hear it
3. Wisdom often comes in the times of inner quiet
4. Wisdom is always kind
5. Wisdom feels right even if it doesn’t feel good (sometimes it is calling us to come out of our comfort zone)
6. Wisdom often comes disguised as common sense
My advice would be to allow space to focus on Project You, a break from Project Baby; some space for your body and mind to heal and restore; some space to hear your inner wisdom which is wrapped in a blanket of innate wellbeing. If you can find this, you may well find the good place you are looking for.