Contrary to the common misconception of those lucky enough to not live in the world of fertility treatments, an IVF cycle is not a guarantee of pregnancy by any means. IVF success rates vary depending upon a variety of factors such as age, ovarian reserve, egg and sperm quality, and chromosomal abnormalities. 

Data collected from The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology shows that for patients under 35, the percentage of live births following one IVF cycle is 51%. At 35-37, one IVF cycle leads to success in 38.3% of IVF cycles, and 25.1% at ages 38-40. But your personal IVF journey is not just a number or statistic. A failed IVF cycle is devastating and deserves to take up space in conversations surrounding fertility. 

The devastating reality of IVF is that many patients will not come out of an IVF cycle with a successful pregnancy. Failed IVF is heartbreaking, and it’s vitally important to remember that an unsuccessful cycle is in no way indicative of personal failure.  

A failed IVF cycle can leave patients with a head filled with what-ifs or if only’s - but remember, a cycle with a negative outcome does not mean that you’ve done anything wrong. Grief can be all-consuming, so be certain to give yourself grace during this time. That includes plenty of time to heal, in whatever way that looks and feels best to you.  

With so many people experiencing the unique form of sorrow that is a failed IVF cycle, many are still left wondering: what will happen to my body in this situation? 

Dealing with a negative hCG blood pregnancy test

The primary indication of a failed IVF cycle following an embryo transfer will come at your first beta hCG test, the blood pregnancy test generally performed 10-14 days post-transfer. This blood test measures human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone indicating pregnancy. If positive (greater than 5 mIU/ml), the test is repeated in 48 hours looking for the numbers to double. When hCG numbers indicate pregnancy, betas are usually repeated 3-4 times to ensure that levels are rising appropriately. 

If a beta blood test comes back negative, or not indicating pregnancy, this means that your body is not physically producing hCG. A negative hCG result indicates a lack of implantation. In this case, what happens internally is that because the embryo has not implanted, or attached itself to the uterine lining, it fails to establish a blood source and stops growing. 

The physical reaction to stopping IVF medications

Following a negative pregnancy test, your doctor will advise you on how to discontinue your current medication protocol. Most likely, you will have been taking estrogen (pills or patches) as well as PIO, or Progesterone in Oil, injections up through your beta hCG test date. 

After stopping your medication, and in the days and weeks immediately following a failed cycle, it is normal for your body to feel “off.” You’ve just been through the wringer physically, mentally, and emotionally, and your body will need to take time to recalibrate following the surge of hormones and procedures it has just carried you through. 

You may feel a wide variety of physical symptoms during the weeks following an unsuccessful IVF cycle, including but not limited to: 

  • Feeling drained of energy

  • Muscle aches

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Insomnia

  • Feelings of anxiety or depression 

While all of this is normal in the immediate aftermath of a failed IVF cycle, it’s important that you have support to make it through this grieving process. This will not last forever, even though it may feel like it at the time. 

Physically, it will be imperative to your recovery and journey through this hardship to be gentle to yourself. Get plenty of rest. Nourish your body. As hard as it may be, add movement to your days when possible: take a walk with your partner, pet, or dear friend. Take things day by day, hour by hour, even moment by moment if you need to. Allow yourself the space to physically heal from the weeks of non-stop hormones, doctor appointments, blood draws, and procedures.

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Coping with a failed IVF cycle

Grief is powerful. If you feel lost inside a world of profound depression, anxiety, grief, or guilt following your failed IVF cycle, you are not alone. The emotional impact of a cycle that doesn’t end in pregnancy cannot be understated. However, it’s crucial to seek a community where these types of feelings are understood. Talking to someone, whether it be a therapist or a support group, online or in person, can help provide you with options to see your way through the fog. Just like with the physical symptoms, this too shall pass. 

Seeking mental health support during your fertility journey or otherwise is always a good idea. 

What to do next after failed IVF

After a failed IVF cycle, it may feel like the last thing you want to do is go back to your fertility clinic. On the flip side, you might feel eager to speak with your doctor about what may have gone wrong or how to move forward. In either case, your fertility clinic will have you schedule a follow-up with the intention of discussing your options for moving forward. Whether you decide to plan a second IVF cycle, pursue other options to grow your family or take a break, be certain that you're listening to your body. You can always take a beat before making decisions about your next steps. 

Regardless of what decision you make, honor your body for its strength throughout this journey. A failed cycle is not a personal failure - your body and mind have demonstrated infinite strength, just by bringing you this far, and they deserve love and compassion.

Lindsey Williams is a library worker and writer who lives in Arizona with her husband and their dog, Peaches. After 5 years of trying to conceive with dual-factor infertility, she is currently expecting her first child conceived with the help of IVF.