Deciding when to stop IVF: 4 things to consider

For most of us doing IVF, there’s no clear end-point. It’s left to us find our own limits. It takes incredible strength to keep a sense of calm or control in these circumstances, but if you’re trying to decide when the end will be, here are some things to consider:

Statistics: friend or foe?

Statistics can really mess with your head but they can also be sobering. For instance, the success rate after three rounds of IVF is 29% for under 35s. After about eight rounds, chances can increase significantly (especially for under 35s) – but that doesn’t mean I can go into my 5th, 6th, 9th round thinking I’ve got 50% chance of it working – because I haven’t. I’ve still just got about a 20% chance of it working each time. It’s like buying a scratch card every day for one year; chances are the same for each scratch card but luck might one day be on my side. I find this IVF calculator quite a helpful reminder of actual chances per round.

How we want to spend our money

If there was some absolute assurance that me re-mortgaging my house and having no holidays and never buying any clothes would give me a baby, I would absolutely do it. Because having a baby matters more to me that any of those things. But we are not in that situation. We are gamblers. And each time we gamble again, we have more to lose. If all of this doesn’t work, could we live with the knowledge that we spent £40,000 and have nothing to show for it (other than emotional scars)? We may not want to think about it, but it’s important to decide on a spending cap. For me personally, and at this stage of our lives, I probably would prefer to spend money on having a better home and perhaps also on spending quality time together, especially after what we’ve been through.

Emotional cost and taking back control

We were sad after our first embryo transfer failed but after the second round of IVF didn’t work, we were both so deflated. I felt strongly that I was putting myself through something dreadful. I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it again and all those hurdles to get through. And there’s the disruption to our lives as well – the way it dominates and becomes your entire focus.

Some time has passed now and I do feel stronger. I possibly could steal myself and do it one more time – perhaps if my partner wanted to. But I feel cautious about the way that IVF forces hope, whether you like it or not. When I imagine the reality of the injections, scans, and waiting, all my instincts tell me ‘please don’t make me hope again.’ I’ve been here before. It’s all too familiar.

We all have to draw a line somewhere. The ‘don’t give up hope’ narrative can be dangerous, even if it does work out in the end, and you do get your baby. We must watch ourselves and closely monitor the impact on our wellbeing. And then we need to be realistic about what we risk if we continue. We otherwise might end up dragging ourselves through so much suffering and upset that we never quite get over it. There have to be limits. There must be more kindness to ourselves.

On the plus side (though it may not sound very appealing), by stopping, we get full control back of our lives. I felt a kind of liberation – partly from no longer planning around the next cycle, but also the freedom to be hopeless, even if that means really grieving.

Confronting our deepest fears

However many times you decide to try again with IVF, it’s important to not let everything depend on it. The same could be said for all sorts of things that we expect for ourselves in life. If all our plans are built on the assumption of good fortune, we are in a very fragile position. If we can’t let ourselves imagine any viable alternative, every moment that we do not have what we desire is terrifying and depressing; a great burden. And if we do have to face ‘worst case scenario’, it will probably play out as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, we are missing something here because, however much hardship we must face, it is still possible to find happiness. Because happiness is not just about that which can be acquired.

Lots of people have misfortune in their lives. We are one of those people – we have not been specially chosen and our live is just as precious as any other; it’s random. We must let go of feelings of shame and instead feel proud of ourselves for facing something so tough. And remember all of who we are and what we have to give – no one should let children alone define their identity.

If we can confront the things we fear, and let ourselves imagine and accept that possibility (yet see a way to still value life), it can be a relief. That way, our fears no longer haunt us, causing us strain and anxiety; we have diffused them.

We as individuals, and no-body or no-thing else, hold the power to live our lives happily, even in adversity.