Fertility Treatment Losses – When an IVF Cycle Fails
Rainbow babies represent "babies" that we have lost, that have not survived to birth. We also call them miscarriages or still births.
Miscarriages & Loss
These losses are hard enough to grieve, often when there hasn't even been an announcement of pregnancy yet. We, as a society, don't know what to say and so often we say well-meaning but unhelpful things. Even the simplest "I'm sorry" can hurt someone who is grieving.
We don't know what to do. And we don't know what to say. When someone's heart is broken or breaking or shattered into a million pieces, there is nothing we can say that will fix that and that's what we desperately want to do. Fix it. Make someone feel better.
We don't have that ability.
What do we call embryos that are dividing and then don't make it to a transfer stage?
Consider what happens for those of us who go through fertility treatment cycles that do not result in any pregnancy at all. An IVF cycle, where there has been an embryo formed, where cells are dividing and "growing". Are those our babies? Do we see those cells as our babies to be?
Well, some of us do and some of us don't. We each have our own belief system that guides us.
When an IVF Cycle Fails, How Do You Respond?
What every one of us has in common, almost without exception, is that when an IVF cycle "fails", it feels like a loss. That something was growing one moment and is no longer ever going to be a viable pregnancy and ultimately a baby. Do we see it as a death? A miscarriage? A group of cells that are no longer dividing?
We see it all different ways, because we are each unique beings.
And we see it as loss because we are each human beings.
It hurts when an IVF cycle fails. It hurts when our dreams and hopes are concentrated on that sperm and egg continuing to divide and then they stop. It is a loss, an abrupt stop. This isn't the month that we will have that positive pregnancy test, even though, in some senses, we already succeeded. Embryos were formed. They were dividing. And then they weren't.
There's no Hallmark card to give someone for a failed IVF cycle. Even the term we use, "failed" IVF cycle hurts. What is there to say that is helpful or even kind? We search for the right words and they don't come.
Want a suggestion?
Ask a question. See if the person who has experienced the loss wants to talk. Don't interrupt, let them talk. When they stop, ask another question. Let them talk about their experience and see that you are interested and there for them, without judgment and without trying to fix them and without having to change how they feel.
Deal with your own discomfort by being loving and open to them.
A loss, even at the microscopic size that blastocysts and dividing embryos are, is enormous. It's the size of the family in our dreams.
Please be extra gentle with yourself and with others about fertility treatment cycles that don't succeed. If you need someone to talk to, I am here for you. And there are lots of us out here who understand and have been through similar experiences and losses.
And in case no one has said it, I'm sorry for your loss.
About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.