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What if Fertility Treatments Don’t Work?

If you’re undergoing infertility treatments, you need to balance hope and faith with the possibility that fertility treatments won’t work. In 5 Reasons In Vitro Fertilization Fails to Result in Pregnancy, I describe possibilities for failed fertility treatments. A new study shows that there is a link between an unfulfilled wish for children and worse mental health.

What if Fertility Treatments Don’t WorkI wouldn’t recommend taking fertility supplements while undergoing fertility treatments such as IVF or IUI, but the Restoring Fertility DVD by Drs. Brandon Horn and Wendy Yu might be a wonderful, relaxing way to accept whatever lies ahead. The idea is to be open-hearted and open-minded, and relax into whatever your future holds. Loosen your grip, calm your breathing, and flow into the next chapter of your life.

In this article, I share a research study that uncovered a link between infertility and decreased mental health. This makes sense, especially if having children was a dream for you and your partner. When you’re trying to get pregnant with fertility treatments, I think you need to prepare your heart, mind and soul for any possibility! Have faith and hope that you will conceive, but stay open to the idea that you may have to start a family in a different way.


Interestingly, male factor infertility led to better mental health outcomes for women who can’t get pregnant. More about that below.

When Fertility Treatments Fail…

The study – called Sustaining a desire for child after failed fertility treatment linked to worse mental health and published online in Human Reproduction – is the first to look at a large group of women (over 7,000) to try to disentangle the different factors that may affect women’s mental health over a decade after unsuccessful fertility treatments. These factors include whether or not they have children, whether they still want children, their diagnosis and their medical treatment.

Women whose fertility treatments didn’t work had worse mental health outcomes. “It was already known that people who have fertility treatments and remain childless have worse mental health than those who do manage to conceive with treatment,” says Dr Sofia Gameiro, the lead author of this research study. “However, most previous research assumed that this was due exclusively to having children or not, and did not consider the role of other factors.”

There is a time to let go of your dream of getting pregnant. “We live in societies that embrace determination and persistence,” says Dr Gameiro. “However, there is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being. We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment to let go.”

If fertility treatments don’t work, sometimes it’s healthier to give up on your goal of getting pregnant, instead of doggedly pursuing fertility treatments at all costs.

How This Research Study Was Conducted

In this study, Dr Gameiro analysed answers to questionnaires completed by 7,148 women who started fertility treatment at any of 12 in vitro fertilization (IVF) hospitals in The Netherlands between 1995-2000. The questionnaires were sent out to the women between January 2011 and 2012, meaning that for most women their last fertility treatment would have been between 11-17 years ago.

The women were asked about their age, marital status, education and menopausal status, whether the infertility was due to them, their partners, both or of unknown cause, and what treatment they had received, including ovarian stimulation, intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilisation / intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (IVF/ICSI). In addition, they completed a mental health questionnaire, which asked them how they felt during the past four weeks.

The majority of women had come to terms with the fact that fertility treatments didn’t work. The researchers asked the women whether or not they had children, and, if they did, whether they were their biological children or adopted (or both). They also asked them whether they still wished for children. However, six percent (419) still wanted children at the time of answering the study’s questionnaire and this was connected with worse mental health.

If your fertility treatments don’t work, will you let go of your dream of getting pregnant? If you can accept the fact that adoption or fostering children is your only option, you will be more emotionally and mentally healthy.

ivf didnt work

“What if Fertility Treatments Don’t Work?”

“We found that women who still wished to have children were up to 2.8 times more likely to develop clinically significant mental health problems than women who did not sustain a child-wish,” said Dr Gameiro. “The strength of this association varied according to whether women had children or not. For women with no children, those with a child-wish were 2.8 times more likely to have worse mental health than women without a child-wish. For women with children, those who sustained a child-wish were 1.5 times more likely to have worse mental health than those without a child-wish.” She added that this link between a sustained wish for children and worse mental health was irrespective of the women’s fertility treatments that didn’t work.


Male factor infertility leads to better mental health outcomes for women. The researchers found that women had better mental health if the infertility was due to male factors or had an unknown cause. Women who started fertility treatment at an older age had better mental health than women who started younger, and those who were married or cohabiting with their partner reported better mental health than women who were single, divorced or widowed. Better educated women also had better mental health than the less well educated.

If you can’t let go of your wish to get pregnant, you may be setting yourself up for poor mental health (eg, depression, anxiety) than if you accept that you can’t have biological children. This is why it’s important to think about what will happen if fertility treatments don’t work, and how you will adjust in the long term. Being obsessed with having a baby sets you up for problems.

Also, it may be easier to deal with the possibility that fertility treatments didn’t work if you have other things in life that are meaningful, such as a strong connection to God, a career, or fulfilling community involvement.

How do you find the balance hope and faith with the possibility that fertility treatments won’t work? Read Keeping the Faith When You’re Trying to Get Pregnant.


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