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What happens when your IVF transfer is unsuccessful

infertility tips ivf Apr 12, 2022

Dr. Johanna Von Hofe of the Fertility Center of the Carolinas joined me for an infertility workshop to discuss what happens when an IVF transfer is not successful the first time around.

This subject is hard. It’s something we wish didn’t happen, but unfortunately it does, so it needs to be talked about. And I recently saw a post that said that being strong is not smiling through hard seasons, it’s TALKING about hard seasons and still moving forward.

Having a failed embryo transfer sucks. No easy way to put it. And it is something I went through. My very first transfer did not work. So I can tell you first hand, it is HARD. I know what it’s like to go through it emotionally and physically as the patient, and as the IVF coach as it has happened with my clients. And Dr. Von Hofe joined me to share what goes on from the medical expert side. You can watch the full (and amazing) workshop by clicking here.

It’s not a matter of if

Your first transfer might not work. I know that’s a big thing to hear so please know I say this with the utmost love and care. I see so many women who go through IVF thinking IVF is a certainty and it will only take one round, and it isn’t always the case. I also see women who have had a cycle fail and they think they are the failure, they think they did something wrong, they think their body is more broken than the other women who need IVF to grow a family.

I truly believe that if you want to be, you WILL be a mom. It’s not a matter of IF you’ll be a mom, it’s a matter of when (and how). So if you have been through a round (or two) of IVF without success so far, it doesn’t mean it will never work for you. It doesn’t mean you’re broken. It doesn’t mean you’ll never have success. It doesn’t mean you’ll have to live kid free. Sometimes, IVF does not work on the first try. And it doesn’t mean anything more than that. 

Thinking ahead on your IVF plan

When going through IVF, it’s a step-by-step process toward the end goal —a baby. But when you’re in the midst of it all, you don’t realize that. Your mind can’t zoom out and see that every step you take, every bump in the road, is all part of the journey to your destination.

That’s why when you hit a huge bump, like your first IVF transfer not ending in a positive beta, you can feel an array of confusion, overwhelm, anger, frustration, devastation…the list goes on and on. Because you’re still in the messy middle of this infertility journey and you’re experiencing a wide range of strong hormotions,  it can be incredibly difficult to decide on a next step.

With my clients, we lean on a couple of tools to help when making a decision can feel hard. One of them is to actually talk about the thing you’re afraid of happening ahead of time. My husband and I would often have the what if conversation for both the good thing and the bad thing and talk through what we’d do in either scenario. This helps because you address your fear, you can also see that there are some options, and you’re more capable to think of solutions when you’re not in that situation at the moment.  It also helps you prepare ahead of time for the good news. Our brains are hardwired to look for trouble, so we can’t stop it from thinking about the bad what ifs. What we can do though is choose to spend equal time believing the positive what ifs!


If your transfer doesn’t work, you will often schedule an appointment with your doctor. Us IVF warrior patients have come to call this the WTF appointment, for When Transfer Fails, but also because you’re thinking “What the F? Why did this fail?” It’s an emotionally charged appointment where you show up with loads of questions, wanting concrete answers and a clear plan for moving forward. Because doesn’t a plan always make you feel better?? :-)

Dr. Von Hofe went into detail with me on what this appointment looks like from her end, explaining exactly what she looks for at this point:

  1. The first thing Dr. Von Hofe is looking for is what embryos are left? Is there an opportunity here to move forward with another transfer?
  2. If the answer to above is yes, the next question is what should change? Throughout the first transfer, your doctor is learning so much about you. This includes the quality of the embryo, what your lining looks like, what medicine you got and what your medical history is. There could be something there that seemed irrelevant initially but that your doctor will want to take a second look at to make sure the proper adjustments are being made if necessary.
  3. Once data is gathered and assessed, a plan of action is proposed. And oftentimes, this might mean proceeding exactly how you did for the first round, making no changes at all. 

When nothing needs to change

The idea of moving forward without changing anything is one of the toughest things I coach my clients through. It’s a completely counterintuitive action to everything we’ve been taught our whole lives. Our brain automatically thinks, “I’ve done this before and I didn’t like the outcome.” Your brain wants to protect you by telling you to stay away from what caused you pain, don’t do it again.

But that’s just the way the brain works. If you can step away from this natural instinct, you can look at all the other data points and information from your doctor about why this is the right decision for you.

I get it. Your entire life you’ve known a simple rule — if something isn’t working, fix it, change it, improve it, right? In your mind, this shouldn’t be any different.

But it is different. The timing is different and more importantly, the embryo is different. What if that different embryo is in fact the one change you’re making? Every embryo is different. If you feel reluctant to move forward without changing a thing, know that your second time is not exactly the same. Every cycle is different, both in nature and in science.

Many of my clients jump to say “didn’t work, time for a new clinic.” If you find yourself there please take a deep breath and open your ears and mind to the reasons your doctor is giving you and remind yourself that your doctor has already learned so much about you. It is never a blind decision. If you trust your doctor, if you like your clinic, and you’re upset it didn’t work, I bet they are too. Changing your doctor isn’t always what’s in your best interest at this stage because you might lose what information they have learned from this round.

(Side note, this does not mean I don’t ever support getting a second opinion or finding a new doctor. If you don’t jive with your doctor, if your doctor doesn’t respect you or your opinion, if they downplay everything you talk about then I do support changing doctors. Advocating for yourself and being with someone you trust and feel respected by matters and can make a huge difference.)

Most important of all, the one thing that absolutely doesn’t need to change is you. You didn’t cause this not to work. You are not the problem. The transfer failed, not you. Got it?

The power of language

Another piece of advice I tell clients time and time again is to be careful of the words you use. “When transfer fails” is such a commonly used phrase, but the word “fail” has such a negative connotation and is so final. What if you said something else?

The transfer was unsuccessful this time, but it didn’t fail.

The language often doesn’t represent what you’re going through. It’s still devastating no matter how you phrase it, it’s still not the outcome you want, but the words we use can impact our life over and over again. Taking out the word “fail” is a small thing you can do that can make a difference.

Belief in a second round

It’s hard to change your brain into believing that something that didn’t work can possibly work the second time, but, through coaching, it is possible. That’s why the 3rd step of my IVF Warrior Coaching process includes building belief and confidence.

It’s really hard to go through another round if you don’t believe it might ever work. And so I can help you get to the place where you can believe in IVF, in yourself and in your body. I am proof. I had that unsuccessful transfer the first time and now I have my IVF miracle daughter. Remember, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when (and how).

When my first transfer was unsuccessful, I knew it wasn’t the end of my story. I always believed I was going to be a mom and I wasn’t going to let anything stop that. My clients all believe that as well. Because of that attitude they are resilient, they fall down 8 times, they get up 9 times. It doesn’t mean any of this is easy. It doesn’t mean any of it will happen on your timeline, and it doesn’t mean it will happen the way you think. But I truly believe that if the dream is in you, it’s made for you. 

I’d love to help go after this dream and build your belief. I’d love to metaphorically hold your hand through this process and give you the support you need and deserve. I’d love to be the person for you that I wish I had when my first transfer didn’t work.

If you’re ready to try again, to not be consumed by your infertility and to get the support you know you need to keep going then I invite you to schedule a complimentary call to talk about how coaching can help you. We will start by talking about where you are in this process and then how infertility coaching can help make you feel better. 

Schedule your free call here.

If you want a renewed sense of hope heading into your next round of IVF...

Then its time to join other IVF Warriors in my group coaching program: My Cycle Circle:

  • Build greater excitement and confidence that your next round of IVF doesn’t have to consume your life the way it has in the past
  • Know how to focus on what really matters in your next IVF round (hint: it’s not your shots or dr. appointments or how bloated you feel)
  • Develop a life-changing, long-term mindset shift that just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t.
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