If you’ve struggled to conceive naturally, seeing that empty white test stick will be nothing new for you. I had seen that white nothingness many, many times before on my natural cycles, but seeing it after completing a cycle of IVF really kicks hard to the stomach.
This one feels like a real statement. It says ‘even when you turn to medical experts you still can’t manage it’. It left me panicking and thinking, ‘what now?’
However, two failed cycles of IVF equipped me with all kinds of coping strategies. By the third time I did IVF I knew I had the tools to cope if it, too, failed. Luckily – very luckily – I didn’t need them but here are some tips on how to cope when IVF doesn’t work.
The first time I did IVF and that damned white stick stayed stubbornly blank, my first thought was ‘what did I do wrong?’ The answer is of course: nothing. This is just biology and the ’embryo transfer’ stage is the last stage of a medical process. The clinic will have done all they can to select the healthiest embryo to implant into your womb and then it’s just down to things beyond anyone’s control and there is nothing – really nothing – you could have done to influence an embryo implanting successfully.
2. Don’t tell the whole world
The day after that failed first attempt, I realised I’d have to get up and tell everyone I’d foolishly told that IVF hadn’t worked. So, before my second and third attempts at IVF, I was much more selective about who I told and limited it to just very close family and friends. And even with those who knew I was doing IVF, I tried not to tell them exactly when I was doing the pregnancy test. I knew that loads of persistent, concerned texts would probably tip me over the edge.
3. Remember it’s just nature doing its job
The second time IVF failed was even harder than the first because this time I did have a positive pregnancy test, for the first time in my entire life. I’d seen a heartbeat of my baby (well, a 7-week old version of it) on an ultrasound screen but then at the next scan, a few weeks later, there was nothing. I had miscarried at about 8 weeks. Devastating, but my kind sonographer explained that a healthy embryo needs all the requisite ‘jigsaw pieces’ of DNA and for them to fit together in the correct way. With this embryo, she explained, one of the key pieces was missing and this was a baby that couldn’t ever be born. It was effectively nature at work, which really helped me to understand why it had happened.
4. Make a plan
After my failed first IVF attempt, my default position was to get on the internet and start looking up what to do next. I devoured the IVF forums and started investigating new clinics we could try. We had been lucky to get that first round on the NHS but now, if we were to try again, we’d be looking at paying for a private clinic and a bill of around £5,000–£7,000. For me, planning the next cycle was a good coping technique, but Richard wanted to let the dust settle before manically jumping into IVF again. In hindsight, we should have had a conversation about what we would do if it failed, so there were no surprises when I was feeling slightly panicked.
5. Heal yourself
You’ve been through an emotional and physical ordeal so it’s important to give yourself time to grieve and heal. Take some time off and give yourself some dressing-gown days to recover. It can take weeks for your cycle to get back to normal following an IVF cycle, which can be very depressing. I was fairly lucky and my cycle returned relatively quickly but some people wait months. That first period, when it comes, is bittersweet. At least it means you are back to ‘normal’ and can start to try again – either with IVF or naturally – but of course it is also the definitive sign that you’re definitely not pregnant. I found that a course of acupuncture really helped to regulate things and get my cycle back to normal.
6. Talk to people who’ve had a similar experience
It’s a cliché but it is true that only people who have been through infertility and IVF really know what it feels like. I always felt very ‘alone’ during and after my IVF attempts. But you are definitely not alone. Around 1 in 7 couples in the UK has difficulty conceiving. It is also something which, fortunately, more and more people are now talking about. So, if you think it will help, join one of the online discussions, like those on Fertility Friends or Netmums, or find fellow ‘cycle buddies’ on Instagram. It helps to talk about what a strange mix of emotions it all is – anger, resentment, jealousy, exhaustion, fear, etc. They’re all valid emotions and the more we talk about IVF the less of a taboo it becomes.
7. Do the things you couldn’t do if IVF had worked
The fact is you’re not pregnant (yet). So, get drunk, eat soft cheese, do some hardcore trampolining. Stay out late being silly with friends. Go on a self-indulgent holiday. Having seen both sides – the years of infertility and then finally being a mum – I’d urge you to relish those late nights, lie-ins and lazy holidays. Do it. Spoil yourself. You deserve it.