When fertility treatment fails

After the highs and lows of an IUI, IVF or ICSI cycle, receiving the news that the cycle has not worked can be a devastating blow. Here we discuss how people reacted to a failed cycle, a miscarriage after fertility treatment or an ectopic pregnancy.
Getting a negative result
Women and men described the two-week wait for the results of their fertility treatment as one of the hardest parts of treatment (see Difficult parts of IVF & ICSI treatment). They were often extremely anxious to find out whether their treatment had worked, especially if they saw it as their last chance. People found the wait particularly nerve wracking as they knew exactly when their baby had been conceived and what day they could find out if the pregnancy had worked. They often analysed every sign and sensation.
Fiona’s first cycle of IVF was cancelled before egg collection because the drugs had not stimulated her ovaries. She found it “absolutely horrendous”. Carol said she could feel her hormones drop after the first week and would know in her heart that the cycles hadn’t worked. Although she put on a brave face, inside she “died a thousand deaths”. Saskia and her lesbian partner had had one daughter through IVF and were very disappointed when their second IVF cycle failed. However, they were positive that at least the embryo had implanted and treatment might work well next time.
Fiona’s fertility treatment did not work and she and her husband went on to adopt three sisters. However, the failed treatment had a devastating effect on her. She was very depressed and developed anorexia but found the adoption process very healing.
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No matter what the cause, the loss of a pregnancy was a massive blow for the women and their partners. Anne had secondary infertility. When she did finally conceive she suffered two delayed miscarriages* that she found “horrible”. Although they were diagnosed with infertility, some of the women we spoke to managed to get pregnant without medical intervention. Not long after she had given up on treatment, Maggie was delighted to find that she had conceived without treatment but sadly she miscarried.
To miscarry after IVF treatment was a huge blow. Clare and her husband had been trying for a baby for three years when they started their first IVF cycle. The first scan showed that she had conceived twins but they had both died. She then got pregnant without medical intervention, but again miscarried.
Ectopic Pregnancy
Some of the women we spoke to had experienced an ectopic pregnancy (which is where the pregnancy lodges in a fallopian tube rather than in the womb). This can happen either as a result of a natural pregnancy or a pregnancy after fertility treatment. The experience of an ectopic pregnancy can be frightening, requiring emergency surgery to remove the embryo. The loss of a fallopian tube may also further reduce fertility.
Many women talked about the grief they felt after a failed cycle. They were grieving for the potential baby they had just lost, but also for the loss of their expected future as a parent and family. Maggie described each month that passed as a failure and kind of bereavement. She was grieving for the loss of the life she and her husband imagined they were going to have together. She appreciated it was hard for people to understand.
Liz’s treatment was finally successful and she had one son. But she described the grief that she, and everyone around her, felt when her first cycle failed. Clare found that her grief started very early on, and carried on through her failed cycles and miscarriages. She doesn’t feel she will ever forget the grieving and loss. 
Ways of coping after a cycle fails
Women described different ways in which they coped after a cycle failed. Carol said she put on a brave face, but felt as though she was dying a thousand deaths inside.

* A delayed miscarriage (also known as a silent or missed miscarriage) is where the baby has died or failed to develop but the woman’s body has not yet miscarried the baby.

​Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated July 2017.


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