Let me tell you a little story about my first round of IVF.
Spoiler alert: it was a big fat failure.
We started our IVF journey back in June 2016 and I was so excited! Finally, after a year and a half of trying to conceive we were actually DOING something about it. And our odds were good! With a solid sperm count and above-average AMH, our reproductive endocrinologist gave us a 75% chance of InVitro Fertilization (IVF) and a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) resulting in a real-life baby. I remember my husband Brad and I left that appointment feeling so hopeful and excited; we were basically picking out baby names.
But our optimism quickly fizzled out after my egg retrieval resulted in only 7 eggs, which quickly dwindled down to just two blastocyst embryos. After another two week wait we got the genetic screening results back and learned that our two little frozen embryos both had chromosomal abnormalities that were not compatible with life. We had no healthy embryos to transfer.
Cue ALL the sads. I spent the entire month of July crying. I bought a lot of poetry books. I journaled every day. I was inconsolable. How could this NOT work? This thing that we spent so much money on and believed in? All those drugs? All those appointments and ultrasounds? That 75% number the RE gave us? How could modern medicine NOT have worked?
Call me naïve, but I hadn’t even considered this outcome. Sure, I knew IVF wasn’t a guarantee, but I always assumed it’d fail later. Like maybe a transfer wouldn’t work or a frozen embryo wouldn’t thaw properly. But to not even make it to a transfer? Woof. That was brutal.
It took a couple months for me to get my emotional shit together and prepare for a second round, which we underwent in October 2016.
When you get ready to go through a second round of IVF (or a second IUI), there’s an odd mix of feelings. It’s both easier and harder than the first round.
It’s easier because you know what to expect. You know how to administer the injections, how to plan your calendar, and how to predict your feelings. But some parts are also just plain excruciating…sometimes it’s harder to get as excited as you were the first round. There’s also more at stake from a financial perspective with more bills and more pharmacy runs and just more everything. But above all else, it’s hard to go into a second round with the same blind faith and hope so many of us had with round 1.
Here are some suggestions and tips for ways you can prepare yourself as you gear up for your second round of IVF (or IUI, or embryo transfer).
1. Understand that the first round not working wasn’t your fault
As women, a default reaction is oftentimes to blame ourselves. Perhaps you experience an unhealthy internal dialogue that sounds something like: “If you only had cut out gluten…”, “Why didn’t you do more acupuncture?” or “You should have worked out less.”
The first step in getting ready to jump back into round 2 of IVF is to acknowledge that this is not your fault. Bodies react differently. There’s not always a scientific rhyme or reason. It sucks and it’s nebulous, but it’s not because you had too much cake and it’s not because you got too into HIIT workouts.
Cut yourself a much-needed break. Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don’t. It’s truly not your body’s fault. It’s doing the best it can.
2. Make sure you’re really ready to go again
Having a failed cycle of IVF, a failed embryo transfer, or a failed IUI is heartbreaking even in the best possible situation. Now multiply that heartbreak if it resulted in OHSS, a chemical pregnancy, a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or another complicated outcome. Not only are you going through emotional heartbreak, but sometimes your body is also physically traumatized.
It’s important not to rush right back into treatments if your soul and your body are not yet ready. You need time to process what happened and how you’re feeling. You need time to regroup with your partner and make sure you are still aligned and emotionally, financially and physically prepared for the next step
Every single day spent trying to conceive can feel like a year, but waiting is a good thing if you’re not yet ready to move on.
3. Avoid back-to-back cycles
Even if you feel emotionally and physically ready to jump right back into treatments, you may still want to consider avoiding back-to-back egg retrieval.
According to Carolinas Fertility Institute, the standard space between IVF cycles is one full menstrual cycle. A fresh IVF cycle should not be done two months in a row without a menstrual cycle in between them. That means waiting about 4 to 6 weeks after the embryo transfer and negative pregnancy test to start another full cycle for most women.
There are a few compelling reasons to avoid back-to-back IVF cycles:
- Physical: The medications used for ovarian stimulation may cause some inflammation. Many doctors think it’s beneficial to wait for the inflammation to subside before going forward with another fresh cycle.
- Emotional: To give yourself time to not focus on IVF. For your mental health, you may need to take a breather from the emotional rollercoaster of treatments.
- Financial: Unfortunately, even insurance plans that cover fertility treatments will not cover everything. So it may be necessary to pause treatments to assess things and make arrangements for the next cycle.
4. Let go of expectations
It can be tempting to compare the second round of IVF with the experience of the first round.
It’s important to let go of these expectations because every cycle is unique. During your second round of IVF, you may be extra keen on reading up on all aspects of the process. But sometimes information overload can do more harm than good.
Consider what it would look like to detach yourself a bit more from the process. This could look like limiting your reading material, or decreasing your time sifting through the depths of online forums. It’s perfectly OK (and healthy) to shelter yourself from information overload, and let yourself feel grateful for your body and for making it this far. That, in and of itself, deserves recognition.
5. Consider changing things up
Sometimes making some small changes between cycles can give you a greater sense of control. Whether that means taking more supplements to increase egg quality, working out more, going to therapy, or even working with your RE to change your medication protocol, doing small changes to tweak your attitude and outlook can make a big emotional difference.
It’s just human nature to try something different a second time once a first attempt fails. And while it might not necessarily make a huge difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
6. Continue making mindful medical decisions
After your first IVF cycle crashes and burns, you usually have a “WTF Appointment” with your RE. That’s when your doctor will tell you what they learned from your first cycle and how they plan to change things up the next go-round.
Maybe that means adding more meds or changing your pre-stimming protocol. Or it could also mean suggesting you pursue egg donor, sperm donor or surrogacy options. Just be sure that you and your partner are making mindful medical decisions on how you both wish to proceed.
Don’t let ANYONE pressure you into a decision you are not comfortable making. Take your time. Ask lots of questions. Do your research. Write a pro and con list. Take a vacation. Do whatever you need to do to get educated, aligned and then prepared with your partner.
7. Take care of yourself
Make sure you’re getting what you need to get and stay calm as you get ready for Act 2. Whether that means surrounding yourself with safe friends, buying new slippers, cutting out alcohol, or finding yourself a mentor who understands… just do whatever you need to do to feel safe, supported and mentally prepared to get back in the game.
Remember also that self-care looks different on different days. Some days self-care means drinking green juice and going for a run, other days it means eating a milkshake and binge-watching Friends. Again.
What’s Your IVF Story?
Did you have a failed IVF cycle (or two or three or four)? What do you wish you’d known back then? What advice do you have to share with your fellow fertility warriors? Please share in the comments below!