Unbearable: What Happens When IVF Doesn’t Work?

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Having a child is usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, as we wait longer to have children, infertility and trouble conceiving can become a part of the family making process. Unbearable addresses these difficulties.

The overall success rate for in vitro fertilization is about 30%. In the middle of reading Holly Finn’s brutally honest look at infertility in The Wall Street Journal, this statistic stuck in my mind. 30% is a little less than one in three women. One in three women who walk away from months of shots and raging hormones, from egg retrievals and implantations, from thousands of dollars in generally uninsured medical procedures with a pregnancy.

That means that two in three women who go through all of that stress, anxiety and anticipation don’t have a baby to show for it. In the opening of this piece, Finn observes that we rarely hear from these women, the unsuccessful ones. Normally, people open up about their fertility treatments once they have a beautiful newborn or a proudly prominent bump. Those stories are much more fun to share. The other seventy percent tend to keep to themselves. Often, they continue to dedicate even more of their time, energy and money into more treatments, with an even smaller chance of success. That’s because your chance of getting pregnant with IVF decreases with every failed attempt.

This is the real fear behind my hesitancy to start fertility treatments. Sure its a lot of money. Sure my hormones might turn me into a dramatic rollercoaster of a human being. And of course, there’s the shots, which don’t sound like very much fun. I think I could deal with all of that though. I think I could handle being an emotional wreck and cancelling my vacation plans to save money and rearranging my schedule. But I don’t know if I could handle all of that and then have the procedure not work. I mean, honestly, I have no idea how I would cope.

To make matters worse, I feel like each failure would only make me more committed to trying again. Once you’ve invested such a large portion of your life to having a child, its even more difficult to come away empty-handed. Where can your search finally end if you never get to experience those first kicks that feel like butterflies flitting around your stomach or if you never get that rush of emotion from holding a newborn in your arms as it opens its eyes for the first time? How do you give up on that?

There are literally millions of IVF success stories. Finn cites that some four million children have been born through IVF. I, personally, have two close friends who used in vitro to conceive. They are both glowing, happy examples of the wonders of modern reproductive medicine. Each is incredibly open and honest about their experience. They acknowledge all the long hours and money, discuss the fear and doubt. They don’t sugarcoat the process and make it sound like fairytales and gumdrops. But when you’re staring at their adorable infants, you can’t help but think of fairytales. You look at those incredible miracle babies and see how everything turns out all right in the end. Lots of work for an amazing reward. And those moms will tell you, “It was all worth it.”

But when you talk to a woman who never got her fairytale ending, its excruciatingly difficult. On a recent post, a commenter suggested that I give up, grieve and move on with my life, instead of letting fertility treatments become a never-ending cycle of hope, anticipation and depression. At first, I was pretty taken aback by the cavalier way that someone could tell me to “save yourself the heartache”. But maybe it was good advice. What if I’m one of the 70% and IVF doesn’t work? Will infertility ever stop being unbearable?