IVF Failure

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Coping with IVF Failure

Dealing with a failed IVF cycle can be devastating, particularly since many women and couples go through the grief alone. Here are the top reasons why IVF fails and how to cope with it.

The procedure of in vitro fertilization involves cutting-edge medical technology and the latest in scientific research. Unfortunately, its average success rate hovers around 40 percent — not 100%. Dealing with a failed IVF cycle can be devastating, particularly since many women, and couples, go through the grief alone. Here are some tips to help keep the faith when IVF fails.

Options After Failed IVF

Just six days after my second frozen embryo transfer, I knew that it didn’t work. This time I didn’t wait for the blood pregnancy test to determine the negative outcome. Instead, I took a pregnancy test every single morning post transfer, and slowly watched the faint pink line from the hCG booster fade to stark white – never to turn pink again. A few days later, we had our “WTF” conversation with Dr. M. The below is a summary of what we learned:

4 Reasons for IVF Failure And What You Can Do

  1. Despite the high success rates that we were quoted, reoccurring transfer failures are “not uncommon” and they see it often.
  2.  We can’t make an overall judgement call regarding our fertility at this time. Our doctor had reviewed our case with another colleague and they both agreed that this could still be “bad luck.”
  3. The important thing is to try something different with each transfer so that you continue to rule out possible errors. Therefore, we will try our third (and final) transfer doing a “medicated cycle” so that we can control for timing.The medicated cycle (often called a “programmed cycle) will control for timing, ensuring that they are transferring the embryo during my precise fertile window. Thus far we’ve controlled for the following:
    1. Procedural error, with different doctors performing the transfer in two different ways (one “blind” transfer and one ultrasound guided transfer);
    2. Embryo quality, since we’ve transferred a highly-graded PGD/PGS tested blastocyst each time
    3. Uterine issue, since I passed the SIS test and nothing shows on my ultrasounds.
  4. A “medicated/programmed” cycle will use hormone medications and injections to commandeer my cycle and ensure that the timing is exactly correct.

Yay. More hormone medications and injections…just. what. I. need. 🙁

Dr. M. also suggested that I do a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) test, which is an X-ray test that looks at the inside of the uterus and the fallopian tubes. Known for being extremely painful, this test is one of my worst fears and I’ve been dreading it ever since.

Dealing with Life During IVF Failure

The rest of the week was awful: I was grieving, I was worrying, I was just floating through life, completely unhinged. Because this is how a Type A person becomes when they spend months obsessing over “the plan,” meticulously following “the plan,” expertly executing “the plan”…and then the plan doesn’t work.

And then, just when I thought I was at a low point…it got lower.

In between contemplating my possible infertility issues and whether or not I should subject myself to the pain and anxiety of an HSG, my best friend called to tell me that she is in fact pregnant. One month of trying and she is pregnant. One month of being off birth control and she has conceived. No tracking, no fertility apps, not even an ovulation predictor kit and they are pregnant. Obviously I’m happy for them but: What. The. Hell.

How and why is everyone around me suddenly pregnant?

And. I. Mean. Everyone.

Exactly one week after that news, my other best friend texted me that she was late with her period. I casually told her to take a pregnancy test and didn’t think once more about it because a few weeks prior she was told by her fertility specialist that she may have problems conceiving and was encouraged to do an IUI at the end of the month. Welp. She is now pregnant too!*

Dealing with Stress of IVF Failure

So now all of a sudden it’s just me in this game. The girl that’s handed her body over to science for nine months remains caught in the claws of this awful cycle while the ones that have enjoyed “relaxed intercourse” with their spouses are carrying little embryos of life and joy! I can feel all of my confidence and hope rushing from my body in one giant wave. And I’m left empty.

The grief makes it feel like stones are attached to my feet; a heaviness that won’t go away; an anxiety that appears everywhere. We went out to dinner last night and a young couple was seated next to us with their infant baby boy. I tried to ignore them but their joy was simply radiant. Seated across the restaurant was another couple who was celebrating their engagement with their entire family, ordering bottles of champagne and hugging each other over long toasts. I watched them with tears in my eyes: Will we ever have anything to celebrate again? It simply doesn’t feel that way. I know there will be tons of exciting life events, birthdays and milestones in the future, but nothing will ever take the place of the happiness and daily celebration of having our own child. And I honestly don’t know if that is a possibility for us.

Staying Positive After IVF Fail

But, despite all of this, I continue to keep going. It’s the only thing I know how to do. I’ve already begun my protocol for the upcoming medicated transfer and I’ve also decided to pair it with a special diet and weekly acupuncture (more on this later).

Dealing-with-Stress-and-IVF-Failures

I also spent the week getting poked and prodded with more needles. I did my thrombophilia panel (which requires nine vials of blood – crazy!) to rule out any blood clotting issues. I also made an appointment for a general physical since I decided to use this small window of “down time” to make sure nothing else is medically going on with my body. Given my recent luck, I wouldn’t be surprised if they told me I had six-months to live! (kidding, but not). I’ll get those results next week.

But mostly, I’m just trying to remain positive, despite ALL of it. As a testament to my resiliency, and perhaps to challenge nature just a little bit more, we went and bought a lemon tree this weekend at the Brooklyn nursery. The woman who sold it to us cautioned us that these trees are “not meant for apartment living” as they require 12-hours of direct sunlight a day.

Coping with Stress of IVF Failure
Coping with IVF Failure: Cultivating a positive outlook

“I really don’t think you’ll be able to get it to bear any fruit,” she said. My husband and I just smiled. While controlling our own ability to “bear fruit” is another issue, we do know that our apartment, and its amazing floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the space with light, is the perfect incubator for this little plant to flourish.

While controlling our own ability to “bear fruit” is another issue, we do know that our apartment is the perfect incubator for this little plant to flourish.

“Thank you, we’ll take it!” we said. Then we came home and potted it, watered it, and lovingly tended to it all week. And to our excitement, it has already started to form small lemon buds and new growth. Although insignificant, these tiny affirmations propel me forward and keep me grounded, serving as a daily reminder to just breathe.

Dealing with Stress and IVF Failure

*DISCLAIMER: I’m insanely happy for both of my best friends, and cannot imagine them not being pregnant now. But grief and despair temporarily rob you of the room to reserve space for others, which includes celebrating their good fortune. Fortunately, and like all things, grief passes and joy for yourself and for others flows in again.

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