6 Jul 2023
When Your Treatment is Unsuccessful
Strategies to Cope
Experiencing unsuccessful treatment can be very challenging and distressing. When treatment doesn’t work out, you may feel a sense of loss: a loss of becoming pregnant and the potential loss of a hoped-for dream of parenthood. You might struggle with the uncertainty of it all, not knowing if further treatments will work or even knowing if you are wanting to keep going with treatment.
As human beings, one of the most difficult things to manage is uncertainty, and fertility treatment, especially when it is unsuccessful, can leave you feeling like you don’t have control over your body, having a family, and how you thought your life would go. These losses and experiences are often not fully acknowledged by others as they don’t see you as losing something visible or tangible. You may feel angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, resentful, hopeless, worried, and a whole lot of other emotions that you may not have been prepared for. If you are in a relationship, unsuccessful treatment can be hard on both of you, but you might find that you cope in very different ways. Sometimes this can lead to tension and resentment in your relationship.
There are no right or wrong emotions to feel when you have experienced unsuccessful treatment. Here are some suggestions that may be useful:
Allow yourself to acknowledge that unsuccessful treatment is a loss: Give yourself the space and time to grieve and process the emotions associated with your experience. Denying or repressing your feelings is often unhelpful in the long run, as these feelings may remain under the surface and pop up in other ways or become overwhelming when they are not given space.
Treat yourself with kindness, gentleness and compassion: What you have gone through is difficult! Try to be gentle with yourself and speak to yourself in a kind way. Being hard on yourself, expecting yourself to “cope better”, beating yourself up about things you think you should or could have done, are not helpful.
Focus on what you can control: Difficult emotions, including anxiety and worry, are inevitable, normal responses to uncertainty and it’s easy to get lost in ruminating about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future. While there is a lot you cannot control, try to focus on what is in your control: You cannot magically make your difficult feelings disappear, but you can control what you do. The reality is, we all have more control over our behaviour, than we do over our thoughts and feelings. This might involve making plans related to your treatment and discussing the treatment with your medical team, self-care, nurturing social connections or getting involved in projects that bring you pleasure. While this can feel like the last thing you may want to do, taking action can be of benefit. Sometimes people find that while they are going through treatment, other plans are put on hold, and so it can be particularly useful to get a sense of having control over some things – one step at a time. Try to get a balance between taking action however, and setting boundaries – not taking on too much, and saying “no” to activities or situations that may feel triggering or stressful for you.
Get support: Talk to others around you who understand what you are going through. Be aware that some people simply won’t know what to say or how to support you, and may come up with unhelpful and insensitive comments or suggestions. Sometimes being part of a support group of people who have gone through unsuccessful treatment themselves can be really useful. You might also want to talk to a therapist who has expertise in the area and can provide you with the space to process your feelings and help you develop ways to cope.
Look after your relationship: If you are in a partnership, this can be tough on both of you, even if this might be in different ways. One partner might feel responsible or side-lined, or you might have different ideas on the way forward. Be gentle and kind with each other, and consider reaching out to a therapist if needed for help in processing your different emotions and communicating effectively with each other.
Be aware of the helpfulness of your social media use: Social media can be great. You can access resources and support and be part of a community of people with similar experiences to yours. On the other hand, social media can also be a trigger, a source of misinformation, or lead to negative comparisons (in which case, a break might be a good idea!)
Practice self-care: Try to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating a healthy diet, and connecting with others. Many people find mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way, helpful. Mindfulness can be done through formal meditation-type practices, through activities such as yoga, or informally throughout the day by paying attention to your experiences in the moment – see Coping Mechanisms for further information.
Remember, you are not alone. Infertility is a common experience, and Fertility NZ is there to walk alongside you in facing fertility challenges and can provide support, information and advocacy. https://www.fertilitynz.org.nz/.
Dr Sonja Goedeke (BSocSci Hons, MA, PhD) is an Associate Professor in psychology at Auckland University of Technology and a registered clinical psychologist. Sonja is also an Advisor to the Board at Fertility New Zealand.
Sonja’s research focuses on the psychosocial and ethical implications of infertility and its treatment for men, women, their families, and individuals conceived through treatment, in particular, through donor conception.
Sonja is a strong advocate for the need for support for those affected by infertility and assisted reproductive technologies.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new healthcare regimen.