In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a lengthy process that requires so much of your time, money, effort, and emotional energy. So when IVF doesn’t result in a much desired pregnancy, it can be devastating. If you’ve experienced IVF failure, you may feel many emotions: disappointment, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, and loneliness. All of this is entirely understandable and completely normal. More than ever, this is a time to rest, recover, and reach out to loved ones for support. You may also consider scheduling a session with your therapist and finding an online or in-person support group of people who have experienced IVF failure.
It is also important to note that IVF failure is common and doesn’t have to signal the end of your fertility journey. In fact, according to the CDC’s data for 2020, even for patients under 35, only 51.1% of assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles resulted in a live birth (1). Many patients need multiple cycles to grow their family, and if this is the case for you, you are not alone.
When you're ready, meeting with your fertility care team will help you understand why your cycle might have failed and help you consider the next steps you might take. Empowered with this information, you can make decisions that are right for you and your path to parenthood.
Take time to process, rest, and ask for support - IVF is a demanding process, no matter what the outcome is. To emerge from the intensity of appointments, medications, and procedures without a pregnancy can be disorienting and deeply disappointing. More than anything, this is a time to prioritize your mental, physical, and emotional health, regardless of what your next steps will be. It’s okay to need time to process what happened and ask for support from your loved ones. This is also a good time to ask for a therapist’s or support group’s help to process the experience.
Talk to your fertility care team - It’s important to meet with your fertility care team to talk about your experience, why your cycle failed, and assess your options. Your clinician may order tests or suggest additional interventions before your next IVF cycle to help optimize your chance of success.
If and when you are ready to start your next IVF cycle, your RE can use your previous IVF experience and results to adjust your next cycle to help increase your chance of success. That may mean changing your ovarian stimulation medication protocol, using ICSI to fertilize your eggs, deciding to do a fresh or frozen embryo transfer, opting for PGT testing, taking steps to increase your endometrial receptivity, or trying a different fertility treatment.
In fact, in many ways the first IVF attempt is a trial run for how your body will respond to the process, allowing your RE to make adjustments to optimize your cycle and improve your chance of success. Interestingly, there’s evidence that IVF outcomes improve on subsequent cycles, even if you use the same ovarian stimulation protocol (meaning that you take the same doses of hormone medications as your first cycle).
Decide what next steps are right for you - There’s a lot to consider in deciding what you want to do next. You may start a new cycle as soon as your clinician thinks your body is ready to continue. Your clinician may have recommendations on steps you should take to optimize your chance of success before undergoing IVF again. You may need time to recuperate financially, emotionally, and/or physically. Or you may decide that continuing with IVF is not the right choice for you.
You may be eager to restart IVF. However, most clinicians suggest waiting 4-6 weeks before starting another round of IVF treatment, or one full menstrual cycle. You may also be experiencing inflammation from your IVF cycle, in which case your clinician may recommend that you recover before starting a new IVF cycle.
Your personal circumstances also matter a lot in deciding the right timing for your next cycle. Since IVF can be very expensive, you may need time to build the financial resources to try again. Depending on the reason why your first IVF cycle failed, your clinician may have recommendations – such as additional procedures – you may need before starting another cycle.
A failed IVF cycle is very disappointing, and when it happens more than once, it’s even more so. It's especially frustrating when this occurs with good quality embryos. If you experience three or more failed IVF cycles, also known as multiple IVF failure, you may consider some additional measures to growing your family, depending on the reason your clinician identifies for your IVF failure.
Though IVF failure is common, it is still a deeply disappointing end to your cycle. Understanding the reasons for IVF failure can help you set expectations for your IVF journey and sustain energy and hope for the process. You should not hesitate to ask for support and empathy from your loved ones, and to take advantage of the resources available to help you through this difficult time.
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