Coping When Fertility Treatment Fails

It was the perfect window to take a trip. Our workloads had eased a bit and I hadn’t seen my parents in over a year due to travel restrictions. We had this underlying sense that if we didn’t go then, we may not get another chance to. So, we jumped at the opportunity. We set off at five AM in the morning. The sun had barely risen as we drove through mist and quiet mystery. We listened to music, ate snacks and chatted as we wound our way through farmland, mountain passes and forests, spotting cows, horses, sheep, ostrich, birds of prey and even antelope roaming the wide open expanses. We arrived at my parents home on the coast in the late afternoon, sat down to an early family dinner and enjoyed the pleasantries of a long overdue reunion. 

I spent the most part of my two week wait absorbing the calm of the sea. We took walks on the beach, spent our days enjoying the gentle warmth of the winter sun. My husband and I went on a self-drive Safari, enjoyed viewing wildlife, bird watching and took a short hike along a river gorge with spectacular views. We found some great natural honey at a rural farmstall. Most days, I woke up before everybody to do yoga on the patio and watch the sunrise over the ocean. Those felt like such beautifully grounded mornings. These distractions had done well to keep my anxiety at bay. Even so, beneath the surface I kept monitoring my body for signs of implantation and pregnancy. A little twinge here, a slight bout of nausea here. 

Could I be pregnant? 

Or was it just the progesterone side effects?

I could notice a thousand signs that I must be pregnant, and find just as many reasons as to why it can’t be so. I shifted between hope and the dread of disappointment. The reality was that I didn’t feel pregnant, and the closer it drew to my test date, the deeper that sense of disappointment became. 

‘Why couldn’t I be the person that things worked out for, instead of the one that nothing worked out for?’ I wondered. 

On cycle day 26, the day before we were due to return home, I took an early home pregnancy test hoping to see a faint pink line. It was negative. I put my feelings aside, still holding on to the hope that the result would be different in the next couple of days when we were back home. Alas, on cycle day 28 the pregnancy test result was still a hard and clear negative. When my period arrived the next day I felt completely deflated and let down. I turned to my familiar self-care practices to nurture myself. From experience, I know how important nurturing one’s nervous system is at times when we feel at our lowest. I did some gentle yoga and soaked my tired muscles with a magnesium salt bath. I spent time in the sunny garden enjoying watching the beautiful birds at the feeders. I did some watercolour painting to lift my spirits and watched some movies. These simple rituals have always helped restore and nourish me. 

I gained some perspective from a ‘Very Well Family’ article I read on steps to take when treatment fails. Rachael Gurevich wrote that: “Coping with fertility treatment is not easy. Failed treatments take an emotional and financial toll. It’s normal to feel frustration and sadness. But few people have success on their first or even second try. Remember that one or two failed cycles don’t mean things will never succeed. You may just need more time or a different treatment plan” 

I felt a bit more encouraged by this, more hopeful that the next cycles could heed better results. In addition, in the book, ‘The Infertility Survival Guide, Judith Daniluk says: “To help you cope and maintain some sense of your own efficacy as a man or a woman, it is critical that you understand that it is medical science and medical treatment that have failed, not you!”

Daniluk adds that “You need to reject blaming and negative language; refuse to allow it to define you and your body.You also need to reframe the whole notion of failure.”

The self-blame comes so easily. It is difficult not to feel responsible for things not going to plan. Yet as both authors have demonstrated, more often than not you have to cut yourself some slack or acknowledge that you are simply doing the best you can under unfortunate circumstances. 

The impact of the blow lessened as I took steps to care for myself and reframe my thinking around everything. I had little time to wallow in any case, as I prepared to move forward with the next medicated cycle a few days later. I released my disappointment and I moved forward again, into my second cycle, being a bit kinder to myself and open to what lay ahead.

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