It doesn’t matter who you are – if your IVF cycle is unsuccessful, you will undoubtedly feel that you personally have failed and will look for reasons why. Even though some women find it hard to think positively and may not expect their IVF to succeed, the realisation that it hasn’t worked still always comes as a shock.
Each of you will react in your own way and go through an array of emotions, depending on whether this is your first or subsequent attempt at IVF. It will take a while to get over the disappointment and to accept the loss, and then to move on and look ahead. You can’t compare yourself to other people and their reaction when their IVF cycle doesn’t work.
The blame game
Many women blame themselves for their IVF cycle not working and this is a huge psychological setback. They are often unable to look forward at this point or believe that motherhood is still a possibility. So many of the women I speak to say they feel they have done something wrong for it not to have worked, but they have no idea what. Understandably, the question they ask themselves is ‘Why didn’t it happen for me?’ The tyranny of the ‘shoulds’ then come into play: “I should have rested more,” “I shouldn’t have had that extra cup of tea,” “I shouldn’t have argued with my partner.” Trust me (and you know it really) these are not the reasons why an IVF cycle didn’t work.
You are likely to feel hurt, let down and betrayed. You will inevitably look for someone or something to blame. You may feel the need to lash out or punish in some way, or you may experience over-whelming feelings of jealousy that someone else’s IVF worked. Some women shut down emotionally and can’t be reached at this point. They remain silent and contain their feelings of anger, frustration and despair. So many women don’t like who they have become and feel like a shadow of their former selves.
Much of my work and the work of my team involves supporting couples who have had an unsuccessful IVF attempt. I work with them to come up with a plan, making small changes to their lifestyle, helping with their emotional well-being and relationship, or finding them a clinic that is more suitable for their needs. I also help couples to move on to other options. I sit in the consulting room day after day and hear the most tragic stories. However, I am usually able to help couples feel more optimistic because there really are things that can be done to help them achieve their goal. Sometimes it will depend on how far they want to go to achieve it.
Should you try again?
Many couples want to know if they should try again. This depends on their circumstances. Is their relationship solid? Can they afford to pay for another cycle of treatment? Are they emotionally and mentally strong enough? Some couples re-evaluate their situation and decide they simply cannot go through the possibility of another disappointment.
Some couples give themselves a cut-off point in terms of how many cycles they are going to do, but many women want to continue treatment at all costs. Women, more so than men, sometimes feel that if they throw everything at the process then it will eventually work. My inclination is that something has to change – that might be to do with mindset, nutrition or lifestyle. It might be worth seeing if there is anything that can be done to improve the sperm, considering moving to another clinic or even taking a break from the whole process. For some, it will mean moving on to egg donation, surrogacy, adoption, or moving on completely and coming to terms with childlessness.
Making a decision
To help you decide whether or not to try again, work through the following plan, adapting it to your particular needs:
- It is important to make an appointment back at your clinic as soon as possible, so that you can discuss the cycle, what happened, what were you happy and positive about, what were the negatives, any further tests that need to be done and what would you do differently next time.
- Wait at least two or three weeks before making your decision. This will give you some time to re-evaluate your emotions. Everybody reacts differently: some women want to start again right away while others can’t face another cycle and need a break. How long you leave it between cycles is up to you and the clinic treating you, but being strong emotionally, psychologically and mentally is all key to that decision.
- Practise ways of changing your mindset to enable you to feel positive. Daily meditation or relaxation and visualisation will help you to feel more optimistic – this is very important at this point. Get emotional help and support if you need it.
- Don’t punish yourself – build treats into your lives. I have said so many times that many of the couples I see put their lives on hold. They focus exclusively on IVF and forget to have fun. I sometimes think you just need a complete break from everything – eating whatever you like, drinking moderately – just to get a bit more fun back into your life.
- So many women say to me “I am a failure” and that is just not logical. You are not a failure as a person. Try listing your achievements and positive attributes – get you partner or a good friend to help you – to help get you back in balance.
- Look at areas of your lifestyle where you can make improvements.
- Don’t give up on sex after IVF. I have seen so many women get pregnant the month after IVF. I don’t know why, but it can and does happen.
Don’t miss out on life
Before you decide on your plan of action, get some normality back into your lives. For weeks now your lives have been a whirlwind of appointments and preparing yourself for IVF. It is easy to lose your sense of self and feel you are no longer the person you were. Many women ask me whether they can exercise again. I say, just go off and do the things you have always enjoyed, including exercise; have a drink if you want; put recent events behind you and let go before you decide what to do next.