Although increasingly common among women and couples around the United States, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a challenging journey that requires a lot of courage and a lot of strength. And there’s no decision more challenging than deciding when to stop IVF.
For many couples, the decision to stop IVF feels like an admission of failure. But that’s not the case at all. The word “fail” has no place in the journey you’re on. When IVF does not deliver the intended results, it’s simply time to redirect your efforts toward another option. For many couples, this means it’s time to consider surrogacy.
The term “surrogacy” — also known as third party reproduction — is surrounded by a lot of mystery and confusion, which makes many couples reluctant to pursue it. In the past, it was primarily associated with celebrity families and seemed out of reach for the average family. But, that’s not the case anymore. Between 1999 and 2013, the rate of successful surrogate births more than doubled. Surrogacy has become an increasingly viable option for many couples who want to start a family.
So how do you decide when to stop IVF and start considering other options? There’s no hard and fast answer to this question, which is why it’s important to make this decision in consultation with your fertility team. Understanding IVF and its success rates is a good way to work toward making a wise decision.
IVF Success Rates
A series of procedures designed to help a woman conceive a child, IVF is a fertility treatment that involves retrieving eggs from the intended mother, fertilizing them with sperm from the father in a lab, and then implanting the fertilized egg, or embryo, back into the intended mother. In some cases, these embryos have been frozen and kept for some time before being used. Other times, they are not.
IVF can be performed for a lot of reasons, but usually, it’s recommended when one or both partners has a medical condition that interferes with the natural process of fertilization or conception, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, fallopian tube damage or a high risk of a certain genetic condition.
Although IVF can be a good option for couples who are unable to conceive naturally, it doesn’t always result in a successful pregnancy and delivery. Success rates vary, depending on several factors, including a woman’s age at the time of the procedure, as well as how many embryos are transferred. So how successful is IVF? And where will you fall in that statistic?
Understanding Current IVF Success Rates
It’s difficult to measure the success rate of IVF nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collects data from fertility clinics and offers certain statistics, however, collecting data takes a lot of time and, although CDC’s data accounts for approximately 95 percent of the clinics around the U.S., it doesn’t take all of them into account. The statistics available don’t always reflect what’s happening around the country at the time you’re going through the process.
It’s important to do your homework and make sure you’re working with a reputable fertility clinic known for providing high-quality care. The clinic should have a track record of success when it comes to IVF. The staff at the clinic can advise you on how to interpret the existing data, as well as understand what it means for your unique situation.
Why Does IVF Fail?
You’ve undergone an IVF treatment cycle, but the pregnancy test was still negative. Unfortunately, IVF does not always result in a pregnancy. A few factors can prevent the procedure from being successful.
- Age. A 2016 study of women in the U.K. found that age was one of the most significant factors in whether or not a woman conceived after an IVF procedure. Women over the age of 40 had significantly lower rates of IVF success than their younger counterparts.
- Reproductive history. If you’ve had a successful pregnancy in the past, then the chances of conceiving via IVF are higher. If you’ve had several rounds of IVF previously, but no successful pregnancies, then the rates of success are more difficult to determine. And, there continues to be a lot of debate on the impact of multiple cycles of IVF on a woman’s chances of conception.
- Cause of infertility. If your infertility is the result of endometriosis — a condition in which the uterine tissue actually grows on the outside of the uterus — you may have a lower chance of conceiving using IVF. The condition of your eggs prior to retrieval can also impact your chances. If your egg supply is compromised for any reason, then the embryo that is created using your eggs may not be as likely to implant successfully.
- Lifestyle. Some lifestyle factors that can also impact the success of an IVF procedure, including smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption and the use of recreational drugs. If you engage in any of these things, especially during your IVF cycle, then it may decrease your chances of success.
- Genetic conditions. In some cases, you may be a carrier for certain genetic abnormalities or chromosomal conditions that make it impossible for an embryo to develop into a successful pregnancy. Certain tests, performed prior to implanting embryos, can determine some of these factors, but they aren’t always identifiable ahead of time.
How Many IVF Cycles Does It Take to Get Pregnant?
The answer to this question is a difficult one because there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Some studies suggest that three is the “magic” number when it comes to IVF cycles. One study in the U.K. suggested that the rate of success increases with more attempts. The problem with putting a number on this is that IVF is emotionally and financially draining, and the reasons it isn’t always successful vary from woman to woman.
The cost of one IVF cycle varies, depending on the clinic you work with, the specifics of your health and the insurance coverage you have. Even if your insurance does offer some coverage, there are still a lot of costs that you may pay out of pocket. Once you start multiplying the cost by multiple cycles, the average couple quickly realizes that it’s not financially feasible to keep doing round after round of IVF.
No one wants to put a cost on starting a family, cost is an important consideration during the process. Besides the financial implications, the emotional roller coaster of IVF is one that many couples cannot endure indefinitely. It’s emotionally draining to get your hopes up and then be disappointed when the embryos don’t take. And, with each procedure, this becomes more difficult to cope with.
When Should I Stop IVF?
Although we can’t offer a magic number when it comes to starting and stopping IVF, we can say this: The best thing you can do is work with your fertility team to decide upfront how many rounds you’re willing to undergo. You can decide on the number of rounds by evaluating your finances and your emotional state.
How to Cope When IVF Fails
When an IVF cycle fails, it’s completely natural to feel loss and grief. After all, you spent several months imagining what pregnancy would feel like. You pictured your child and dreamed of the day you’d hold them for the first time. When these things don’t happen as you’d expected, disappointment and sadness are inevitable. Well-meaning friends and family may try to reassure you that you can try again or things will all work out, but that’s not really what you want — or need — to hear at this point.
So how do you process all the emotions surrounding a failed IVF attempt?
- Allow yourself to grieve. You had an idea of your child and what your life would be like as a parent. You’ve wanted to be a parent for a long time. It’s okay to cry and feel sad when IVF doesn’t work out. And it’s okay to simply want to be alone for a while.
- Grow closer to your partner. Your partner is likely experiencing the same emotions you are. So allow this to bring you closer together. Share how you’re feeling and turn to each other for comfort. Although you may need some space to work through your own emotions, don’t neglect your relationship and seek comfort in being together. You might consider seeing a counselor together to help you process your feelings.
- Talk with your fertility team. Why isn’t IVF working for me? You might ask yourself constantly. Your fertility team is there to support you through all the highs and lows you’ll experience on your journey. And they’re there to answer your questions about IVF and what’s going on. Talk to them about how you’re feeling, and let them offer support and suggestions about where to go from here.
- Don’t rush into the next phase. In your disappointment, it might be tempting to rush into another option or assume that you’re out of options. Don’t let your next decision be motivated by grief or disappointment. Instead, take time to process through your emotions before you decide what to do next.
What Options Do I Have When IVF Doesn’t Work?
After you’ve experienced one or more unsuccessful IVF attempts, it’s time to look at your other options. Take some time to reevaluate where you’re going and change directions if you need to.
So what are your options after failed IVF? One choice might be egg donation. Another might be surrogacy.
- When to consider egg donation? If the quality of the egg is preventing the procedure from being successful, using an egg donor might be helpful. If your medical team determines that the quality of the egg is a primary factor, then they can advise you on the possibility of finding an egg donor for another attempt.
- When to consider surrogacy? If you have been unsuccessful in your IVF attempts for reasons not related to your eggs, or IVF is not an option, then another option to consider is surrogacy, having another woman carry a child on your behalf.
What You Should Know About Surrogacy
Surrogacy is a viable option for women and couples who are experiencing unexplained infertility or who cannot conceive even with the help of IVF.
After determining her ability to become pregnant and successfully carry a child, the surrogate — sometimes referred to as a gestational carrier — undergoes an IVF procedure to implant the embryo into her uterus. She then carries the child and gives birth on behalf of the intended parents. Once the baby is born, the baby legally belongs to the intended parents. In some cases, the baby is genetically related to both parents; in other cases, the baby is formed from an embryo created from an egg and/or sperm from a donor.
Typically, a surrogate does not know the family prior to the surrogacy process, and she is financially compensated for her decision to carry the child. However, in some cases, a female friend or family member may offer to be the surrogate out of love for a couple and a desire to see them start the family they’ve always wanted.
Although the decision to start a family via surrogacy is an intensely personal decision, you may be a prime candidate for surrogacy if:
- The Cause of Your Infertility Has Not Been Identified. Science is a wonderful thing, but doctors can’t always pinpoint why a woman can’t conceive or carry a child. If you are struggling with fertility but your doctors have been unable to identify the cause of the problem, surrogacy may be your best option.
- You’ve had unsuccessful IVF attempts. If you’ve experienced one or more unsuccessful IVF cycles, then you may be ready to try another option. Surrogacy can be a good alternative if you have been unable to conceive, even with medical intervention. Your medical team can advise you on the benefit of surrogacy versus attempting additional rounds of IVF.
- You’re in a same-sex relationship. In many cases, surrogacy may be the option you and your partner want to build your family and fulfill your dream of holding your child in your arms.
Surrogacy and Western Fertility Institute
Working with an experienced and compassionate team of medical professionals can help you navigate the process of surrogacy. The Western Fertility Institute has an 86 percent surrogacy success rate. We work hard to help you achieve your dream of starting a family and raising a child. And we are committed to helping you figure out the best way to do that.
Besides providing outstanding medical care, our staff is well-versed in the laws and processes surrounding surrogacy. We walk with you every step of the way to make sure we get it right. Whether you’re just beginning your infertility journey or you’re not sure what’s next, let us help you. Schedule a consultation today.
This content was medically reviewed by the Western Fertility Institute medical team on October 30, 2019.