By Kate Henson, ORM Fertility Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist
The Initial Blow
It’s likely you went through a great deal on your fertility journey and it’s normal to experience disappointment and feelings of loss when you don’t become pregnant. Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) are both very involved processes, physically and emotionally. Research from assisted reproductive cycles suggests that even individuals who are pursuing fertility care in the lowest age category, under 35, have less than a 50% chance of becoming pregnant. Despite the numbers, knowing fertility treatment might result in pregnancy makes it incredibly difficult to resist hoping the odds will work in your favor. Whether it’s your first cycle or your fifth, receiving a negative pregnancy test is often remarkably disheartening.
When your fertility treatment cycle doesn’t result in pregnancy, it’s normal to feel sadness, discouragement, anger, jealousy, and frustration. It’s easy to start placing blame on yourself or others but it’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come your way and be gentle with yourself. Feeling bad about feeling bad will only make you feel worse. Try to remember that feelings and thoughts are not facts. It may feel like you are being punished or don’t deserve to get pregnant but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Everyone copes with disappointments differently. You may urgently want to jump back into another cycle or you might feel the need to take some time to grieve and wait until you feel physically and mentally ready before taking on another cycle. Grief is like a beach ball in water, we can push it under the surface but it has a tendency to pop back up unexpectedly. There is no standard timeline for grief and there is no right way to grieve, so it’s important to honor your grief and give yourself the time you need before moving forward.
Resiliency in Fertility
When fertility treatment doesn’t result in pregnancy, it can take a great deal of courage to pursue additional cycles and it’s normal to feel scared or anxious about moving forward. Practicing resiliency is a great way to cope with these uncertainties. Resiliency can be a learned behavior and something we can get better at with time. The more you use it, the more resilient you become.
In order to cope with setbacks, one thing you can try is not to personalize events. For instance, an unsuccessful IVF cycle does not equate to personal failure. It wasn’t the walk you took, the cup of coffee you had, or the bath you soaked in. It’s a scientifically based fact that IVF isn’t successful every time. Every cycle is an opportunity for you and your doctor to learn more about your body and what might be needed to achieve pregnancy. Medication adjustments, treatment timeline changes or further testing may be required but none of this means that pregnancy is impossible.
It’s important to stay focused on your goal. The goal with fertility treatment is to grow your family, but remember that it’s impossible to set an exact time frame. Each journey is unique and achieving your goal might take you down a path you didn’t expect.
Additionally, resilient people work to accept the reality of their situation. For instance, the reality is that you might require IVF or an additional cycle to become pregnant. Although this may be unexpected, chances are it’s the path you are meant to be on in your unique journey.
Having the ability to adapt to unexpected outcomes and knowing that there are only so many things you can control in your treatment cycle can help ease some of the stress during the process.
Lastly, resilient people tend to make meaning out of their circumstances. For example, knowing that you may not have a baby as soon as you had hoped, understanding that IVF is one of the many things you are doing on your unique path to parenthood, and reminding yourself that every round of treatment is giving you more information about what might be the next steps in achieving your goal.
If you receive a negative pregnancy test, you may feel lost and want to connect with your physician as soon as possible. If you are waiting to speak to your doctor, here are a few things to tide you over until you are able to connect about what the next steps in your journey are:
- Your doctor might ask you to take some time off before starting a new cycle. This allows both your body and your mind to heal and prepare for the next step.
- Taking a month or two off of treatment is not expected to significantly decrease your chances of becoming pregnant.
- Doctors can gather new information from each cycle and this information can be extremely valuable when planning for future treatment cycles.
- Depending on the outcome of your cycle, additional testing may be necessary and your protocol might change.
- During your time off, it’s helpful to engage in self-care strategies such as:
- Enjoy some “me” time, such as planning activities you enjoy
- Seek to check off other healthcare appointments, such as your yearly OB/GYN
- Create time for wellness and stress reduction
- Explore integrative medicine, such as approved complementary/alternative fertility supports
- Connect with a fertility community for support in your journey
- Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional to help manage stress, anxiety, grief, or other concerns
What if I’m Having a Hard Time Moving Forward?
The primary reason why people stop pursuing fertility treatment is due to intense grief, discouragement, depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges. If this is the case for you, please reach out to our psychology staff at ORM or a qualified mental health professional in your area to help you through this time and make a decision about moving forward that is best for you.
And remember, you are strong, you are courageous, and you are resilient, no matter where your journey takes you.