Your Failed IVF
Updated: Feb 13
A failed IVF is devastating. When I see women in my Asheville counseling practice after a failed IVF they feel aimless and hopeless. The sadness and disappointment they express are exactly the same emotions I see after a woman endures a pregnancy loss at any stage. I think women have a hard time validating their own emotions around a failed IVF. They know they feel horrible, but for some reason “failed IVF” in our culture does not equal “miscarriage”. It's hard to compare because women getting pregnant without IVF do not know if an egg will be fertilized, but a woman who’s had IVF has already had healthy embryos transferred into her uterus. The two week wait for the woman with IVF is to see if she stayed pregnant, for others it is to see if she was pregnant at all. So technically she was pregnant! And to make matters worse she can feel teased by actual pregnancy symptoms like nausea. Needless to say you just can’t compare a failed IVF to a failed attempt to TTC a home. A woman who has a failed IVF gets to feel exactly however she feels.
If this has happened to you,I want to validate this pain for you. When you have IVF there is a lot at stake. For most it’s the money, which isn’t often covered by insurance, and can cost $12,000-$15,000 depending on the location and medications needed. After that you have to receive progesterone injections which can cause uncomfortable side effects and must be done twice daily from the day the eggs are harvested up until the blood test for pregnancy. Thirdly, you have probably had to take several days off of work which may include making up excuses at work if you can’t be honest about the process to your coworkers. That may also mean taking unpaid time off. By the time you get a negative pregnancy test you’ve committed so much time, money, and emotional energy that you’re bound to feel devastated. There is no way not to be hopeful when you begin the process. In fact I often talk to women about how there’s really no protecting yourself from the pain of failure. The pain is the worst when we want something the most.
So what do you do after a failed IVF? You grieve. I give the same advice to someone who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. You lost a pregnancy. You lost a presumed future. This is not something to move on from right away. Do not look to others for advice about this, because they probably don’t understand the gravity of IVF. Friends and family might say “You can always try again.” or “You can always adopt.” Not helpful. They have no idea what you’ve been through, only you and your partner can understand that right now.
How do you grieve? Think about what you might do if you found out about a death in your family. Take some days off work if you can. Spend some time taking care of yourself. That might include sleeping, eating well, going for a walk, journaling, being with your partner, watching a movie. If you have to be at work, find ways to escape during the day by taking a walk, going away from the workplace for lunch and reading a book. Give yourself a break from internet searches on fertility for a few days. Allow your feelings of sadness to take up the space they need.
You’ll probably have an appointment with your reproductive endocrinologist in the upcoming weeks to discuss what happened and where to go next. Until then you might find it helpful to shift your attention to something you feel in control of that brings you some joy. I’ve known women to engage in projects like quilting, knitting, painting, or spend time playing an instrument. You can garden, learn about a topic that interests you that is unrelated to children or fertility. Think about your career or find ways to reengage at work. Make plans with a childless friend. Nothing will feel good at first. It’s important to do things that are important to you, and give your brain and body a break from TTC for the time being. Most of all, let yourself feel the feelings you have without letting anyone invalidate them. Grieving is healing, and when you give adequate time and space for it, you will then be better able to make your next move.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist in the Asheville area. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact her to start feeling better.