Getting Pregnant

IVF Doesn't Always Work And This Is What It Feels Like To Fail

by Lauren Fen
Originally Published: 
A depressed woman crying on the floor
Milkos / Getty

Our IVF failed. It’s over. And we weren’t ready for it to be.

We didn’t get to experience the sense of completion that follows an embryo transfer or the closure that comes with a negative test result. We simply didn’t get that far in the process. Our only two embryos stopped growing after just three precious days and didn’t survive for long enough to feel the warm welcome of my eager uterus. All we had to show for our efforts over the past few weeks was one bloated, bruised tummy and two very fragile hearts.

I wouldn’t say I went into this process naive – I knew the odds and I truly didn’t expect IVF to work the first time, but I never really considered that we wouldn’t get the chance to at least pretend that it might. It’s hard for me, right here and now, not to feel as though having an embryo transfer – however hopeless – would’ve seemed like a better outcome… I don’t want to imagine which route to a failed cycle is more painful but I’m sure someone reading this knows the answer, if that someone is you – I’m so sorry.

When I was told both our embryos had stopped growing, I wish I could say that my reaction was as per the pre-IVF pep talk I gave myself several weeks earlier – a philosophical perspective with an acceptance of Mother Nature’s criteria…but, of course, that’s not how it went down. I cried, I blamed myself, I felt angry and bitter and devastated all in the space of a single morning.

Later on, I managed to venture out to the supermarket and saw very pregnant women in BROAD DAYLIGHT parading around their perfect bumps for everyone to see and I honestly thought to myself, how dare you. How dare you be so wonderfully pregnant in my line of vision on today of all days. To nobody’s astonishment but my own, the world hadn’t stopped to mourn the loss of our two little cellular blobs and pregnant women were not taking a leave of absence until the news had sunk in.

I’m aware much of this sounds dramatic and unfair – callous even – and I promise I don’t have some kind of vendetta against pregnant women. I’m just pumped full of hormones and realizing that despite an approaching milestone marking three years trying to conceive, months of lifestyle changes waiting for the treatment to begin, and several weeks of invasive medical procedures, we’re still no further forward in our quest to start a family: no transfer, no embryos, no happy ending to our first round of IVF. Today, I simply don’t have the energy to reframe my scolding face into anything pleasant at the sight of someone carrying what we so desperately tried to create ourselves.

Over the next few hours, my mind drifted to my job and the sad truth that I would eventually have to return to work and not, as I’d hoped, with a growing baby on board. I’d have to fabricate some story about why I’d been off, engage in conversations in the break room about other peoples’ children and how “lucky” I was to still have my “freedom” and I’d have to give up my seat on the train for those who were actually carrying something inside them other than the sad remains of a few battered follicles. I’d have to go back to my normal routine, but this time, minus the hopeful anticipation that I’d left with a couple of weeks previous.

As I’ve said before, I do recognize that far, FAR worse things happen every single day – even in the world of infertility – and this is not meant to be a pity party…. but it is shitty and although I tried to think of it as an important piece of our puzzle…… (or another feeble metaphor attempting to cast some meaning over all this) I needed to allow myself some time to feel super sad about it.

Eventually, I was forced to accept the silver linings that came out of this cycle – because there were some:

– I’m cool with needles.

– I’m cool with any number of messy pessaries administered via almost any entrance.

– My husband learned to cook lentil ragu.

– I did (albeit unconventionally) respond to the stimulation drugs.

– I have the ability to function without caffeine and alcohol.

– I didn’t soil myself whilst under general anesthetic.

– All 3 of the eggs collected were mature and normal.

– My husband’s – ahem – “sample” was his best work yet and delivered in record time (which I suspect is due to the fact that the car was parked on a meter).

– Two out of three eggs fertalized and went on to become multiple cell embryos.

– I found a clinic and team that I have complete faith in and who now have a much more informed picture of the way my body responds to the medication

– And I learned the real value of being so open about all this in the form of one incredibly inspiring, supportive online community and my “in real life” friends and family.

I’ve thought lots about the people who don’t share this stuff and go through things I’m fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – multiple rounds of IVF, miscarriage, loss and any number of other devastating complications – without telling a soul, choosing instead, for whatever reason, to deal with it privately. Despite my apparent inability to do anything these days without posting a video, I do understand them and for a good couple of years, I did exactly the same. Actually, one of the main reasons I wanted to write about infertility in the first place was for these people – to spread awareness about a deeply personal issue that isn’t always spoken about.

So to anyone whose heart hurts when Margaret from Accounting asks why, after five years of marriage, there’s still no baby in the baby carriage; to anyone who has to suppress the part of themselves that wants to weep at pregnancy announcements; to anyone who’s looked in the mirror and imagined what they’d look like with a blossoming baby bump, or who can’t even allow themselves to think of baby names, or nursery decor or absolutely any plans for the future that don’t involve fertility treatment; to anyone who wonders how Mrs-down-the-road-with-6-kids got so damn lucky and to anyone who shouts “oh f*ck off” at the TV when the storyline shows two newlyweds welcoming a baby nine months after exiting the chapel – I know you, I understand you…I am you.

And to these people (and myself) I want to say this: one day, you will have your own child – be it through natural conception, IVF, adoption, donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogacy or some other route I don’t even know about yet – and when you look into the eyes of that child, you’ll know that the only reason that exact child, that exact combination of DNA and those exact eyes are staring right back at you, is because of every single thing you already went through to get there. And that’s something seriously special.

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