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).
- Understand that the first round not working wasn’t your fault. As women, I feel like our default reaction to this infertility nonsense is oftentimes to blame ourselves. Many of us have an unhealthy internal dialogue that sounds something like this, If you only had cut out gluten…why didn’t you do more acupuncture? 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 crossfit. Cut yourself a break. Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don’t. I know that’s an unsatisfying answer but it’s not your body’s fault. It’s doing the best it can.
- 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. 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. I know every single day spent trying to conceive feels like a year, but the waiting is a good thing if you’re not yet ready to move on.
- Let go of expectations. It took all my strength not to compare every single thing I did the second round of IVF with every single thing I did the first round. I tried my hardest to let go of these expectations because I knew they would drive me insane. So the second round of IVF I stopped asking questions about my follicle counts. I stopped asking for details around the presumed egg quality and my cysts. I just went with the flow. Do you have any idea how hard that is for a Type A personality? Ha. Maybe you do! I swear the only thing that saved me that second round was being more detached. It’s not that I stopped caring, I just stopped obsessing. I limited my reading material. I stopped going on message boards and FB groups late at night. I sheltered myself from information overload and tried to just be grateful for my body and for making it even this far.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…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 differently 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.
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?