Skip to main content

Coping if treatment doesn't work

Finding out your treatment hasn’t worked can be heartbreaking. Even if you’ve tried not to get your hopes up, it’s natural to be disappointed when things don’t work out. Find out why your treatment may have been unsuccessful and explore your options for what to do next.

My treatment was unsuccessful, what next?

Getting news that you’re not pregnant can be devastating. If you’re in that situation, it’s important to take the time to come to terms with it and give your body a chance to recover. When you’re ready, talk to your doctor about whether you should try again and what the chance of conceiving might be if you did. They may suggest a different treatment or discuss any other options for maximising your chances of conceiving.

If you’re unable to have more treatment, or you’re not sure if you want to go through treatment again, you may find it helpful to talk your feelings through with a counsellor. Some couples have different opinions on whether to continue with treatment; talking to an impartial professional may help you to think through the issues together and come to an agreement about how to move forward.

Getting emotional support

Couple sitting on a bench looking out over a harbour

When my cycle failed I was heartbroken. It really felt like I’d suffered a bereavement – I’d lost the child I had positively pictured in my mind through each stage of the process.

Why might my treatment have not worked?

You should talk to your doctor about why your treatment has been unsuccessful. Broadly speaking there are two main reasons why treatment doesn't work.

The embryos fail to develop in the womb

This is the most common reason for treatment being unsuccessful. Often there’s no obvious explanation although reasons could include:

  • The egg may not have matured properly, or may not have divided as it should after fertilisation leading to the embryo failing to implant in the womb.
  • Many embryos that look healthy have faulty chromosomes – the structures inside cells that contain genes and control how the cell works. 
  • Poor blood flow to the womb could mean you have less chance of getting pregnant and a greater chance of miscarriage if you do conceive.

Your treatment’s 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 hyperstimulation) 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.

The British Fertility Society has produced a leaflet on some of the reasons why IVF/ICSI doesn’t work.

I’m not sure whether to try again or stop?

It can be so difficult to know whether to carry on with treatment or to call it a day. Every woman and couple is different, so whilst some people want to know they did everything they could, others prefer to move on from treatment at an earlier stage.

Ask your doctor for an honest opinion on whether treatment may work for you. If there’s a very small chance of it working this may be a factor in you deciding to stop. You should also consider the emotional burden treatment puts on you and your partner (if you have one) and if you do decide to keep going, make sure you’re getting plenty of support.

Talking to other people about how they decided when to stop treatment may also help. Fertility Friends has an online forum for people who are thinking about stopping treatment.

Couple holdings hands with coffee

"We went there expecting one or two babies; the thought never crossed our minds there might be none."

Read Kelly's story

Couple reading a book together in a field

"When our second cycle didn’t work we knew it was time to draw a line under it. I’ve made my peace with our situation."

Read Claire's story

I’m struggling, where can I get support?

It's very common for women and couples to feel a deep sense of bereavement when treatment is unsuccessful. No matter how hard you try to not build up your expectations, it's completely natural to hope for the best.

Many clinics have a counsellor who you can talk to, either for free or for a fee. They tend to be specialists who have experience of working with people going through fertility treatment and may be a good place to start. You could also ask your clinic if they know of any patient groups where you can meet other people going through similar issues.

There’s an extensive list of support groups and more advice on our emotional support page

;
;

Review date: 24 May 2019