By Penny Joss Fletcher, M.A., LMFT
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Summer 2011
Whether you have done three cycles of the same treatment or ten cycles of a variety of treatments, when you are not successful in conceiving and bringing a baby home, you will be asking yourselves what to do next. How are you to know when enough is enough?
First, consider taking a break from treatment if you are feeling extremely overwhelmed. This will give you a chance to recuperate from the daily doctor visits and medication injections. It will also allow you to experience what it feels like to not be on the infertility rollercoaster. You may decide that you do not want to get back on it or you may find yourself enthusiastic to begin the next step.
When you find yourself at a crossroads about what to do next, start by assessing how much the treatment process has affected you up to this point. What’s the status of your resources – finances, time, emotional energy, physical energy, social support? Are you morally, ethically or religiously comfortable with the next treatment options offered? Maybe you do not really know anymore how you feel and need to check in with a mentor, a trained counselor or a support group member? Be sure to take into consideration the diagnosis and prognosis you have received from your physician. It is not necessary to have tried everything available but to know you have given it your very best effort respecting your physical, emotional and financial resources.
Some couples are not going to be on the same page at the same time. Communicating about your needs, opinions and emotions must stay active. If you believe your feelings are not being heard, or you can not understand your partner’s feelings, seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in reproductive medicine.
Who is responsible for saying that treatment should stop? Is it the physician or the patient? The bottom line is that the patient is the one who has to take on the ultimate responsibility. No physician can give guaranteed results – positive or negative. What you should be able to receive from your physician (and/or a second opinion) is what all of your options are and an assessment of your chance for success. Many physicians say that after doing a treatment 2-3 times without conceiving, it is time to move on to something new.
Sometimes people continue medical treatment to avoid the grief and loss of not reaching their goal of conceiving a child. Avoiding painful feelings will not make them disappear. Experiencing the sadness and starting the grieving process individually or together as a couple can be an integral part of the decision-making process about what to do next.
Some questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether you might be ready to stop treatment are:
Many people going through infertility treatment could answer “yes” to many of these questions every now and then, but if you find yourself answering “yes” most of the time, then it may be time to reset your family-building goals.
Do research on all of your options – third party reproduction, adoption, childfree living. Talk to people who have taken those routes to find out if you can picture yourself in their shoes. Being open to all possibilities does not mean you have to accept all possibilities. It just means you consider them so that you can make a thoughtful and informed decision that fits your life.
Nothing and no one can guarantee that you will not have regrets because every decision we make leaves the decision not followed open for regret. The goal for this moment is to anticipate, as best you can, what your regrets might be when you look back on today’s choices. Fifteen years from now you might say, “I wish we had done one more IVF.” Or “I wish we had tried donor eggs.” Or “I wish we had adopted.” But you might also say, “I wish we could have had children, but we tried our best.” We learn to live with our choices and build a life beyond them.
Knowing whether to stop infertility treatment is a major decision that cannot be made in an instant. When you take into consideration all of the recommended steps discussed here, you will come to the decision that is right for you.
Penny Joss Fletcher, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Tustin, California, specializing in infertility and adoption issues. She has been a volunteer and support group leader for RESOLVE Orange County for over 15 years and is also an active member of ASRM’s Mental Health Professional Group. She can be reached at (714) 730-7996 or through her website at www.infertility2adoption.com.