When fertility treatment fails, what next?

IVF patient getting support over the phoneSometimes treatment doesn’t work and you may need time to recover physically and emotionally, or you may simply decide not to pursue further treatment. 

It may help to consider the following options:

Take a break

Many experts recommend that you wait for a couple of months before trying again. This gives you a break from the stress of treatment and a chance for your body to recover.

You may want to use this period to reassess your options and come to terms with your feelings.

Points to think about
You may want to talk to your clinician about whether to try again – using the same or a different method – and whether there is anything you can do to boost your chances of conception next time. 

If appropriate in your particular circumstances, you may want to talk to your clinician about using donors or surrogates.

You may decide to see a counsellor to help you to talk through your feelings.

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Understand why your treatment didn't work

You should discuss with your clinician why your treatment hasn’t resulted in a positive outcome.

There are two main reasons why things can go wrong.

1. The embryos fail to develop in the womb. This is the most common reason for treatment being unsuccessful. There is often no obvious explanation but one of the following may be the reason:

  • Embryos have a reduced chance of implanting - the egg may not have matured properly, or may not have divided as it should after fertilisation.
  • Chromosome problems - many embryos that look healthy have faulty chromosomes – the structures inside cells that contain genes and control how the cell works and what it does. 
  • Poor blood flow to the womb - even if there is nothing wrong with the quality of the embryos, if circulation to the womb is poor, you have less chance of getting pregnant and a greater chance of miscarriage if you do conceive.

2. Treatment may have to be cancelled before the eggs are collected or before the embryos are transferred to the womb. This happens if:

  • the ovaries don’t respond to the drugs used to stimulate egg production
  • the ovaries over-respond (ovarian hyper-stimulation) to the drugs used to stimulate egg production
  • no eggs are found during egg collection – for example, if the follicles (egg sacs) have developed but they are found to be empty
  • the collected eggs aren’t fertilised so no embryos develop
  • the embryos fail to develop in the laboratory, so cannot be transferred to the womb.

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Choosing to stop treatment

Whether you have had one or more tries at fertility treatment, a time may come when you will have to decide whether to stop treatment.

  • You may feel you cannot afford more treatment, financially or emotionally.
  • Your specialist may tell you that you have little or no chance of conceiving. 
  • You may just feel that enough is enough and you simply want to get on with your life.

It is important that you feel you are making a choice to stop treatment, and that it is not a sign that you have failed, or not done enough. You may want to consider counselling.

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Looking at the alternatives to treatment

Stopping treatment can lead to further choices:

  • It may help to talk to a counsellor, or to others who have been in a similar situation, as you decide how you can best move on.
  • You may wish to explore the possibility of other options for having children, such as adopting and fostering. 
  • You may want to explore what life without children has to offer. The national organisation, More to Life aims to offer support for those in this situation.

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Page last updated: 09 May 2012

Emotional support

Find the support you needFind the support you need.

There are a number of resources on hand to help you through what many people describe as the 'emotional rollercoaster’ of fertility treatment.

..more about getting support

Support is absolutely vital...infertility treatment can be such a solitary experience.

Caroline, 35, and her husband Andrew have unexplained infertility.

...read Caroline's story