How do you know when it's time to give up IVF?

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It's a question many of us hope to avoid. But for those who haven't fallen pregnant naturally and undergo IVF, it's an issue that looms large: when will we give up on IVF?

Is the answer about having the emotional capacity to continue? Desire for a child? Finances? What the research says about success rates?

For Genea Medical Director Associate Professor Mark Bowman, the answer is fairly clear-cut. "No matter where you are in the world, the subset of people who are successful with IVF tend to succeed quickly," he says. "It's a common misnomer that everyone has to go through IVF endlessly. In fact, nobody should be going through it endlessly."

If the first few times aren't successful, Bowman says he sits down with the couple and counsels them against continuing with IVF. "It's hard for people to accept," he says. "In a recent Four Corners program, there was a doctor who thought you should do IVF over and over again, but IVF outcome statistics don't back that up."

For some women (and men), however, the desire for a child is so strong that the heart wins over statistics. And for some, persevering with IVF takes greater courage than walking away.

"The best way I can describe it is when continuing [IVF] is harder than giving up," says one mum. Although she has one child conceived through IVF, it was only after three years of trying and failing to have a second child that she knew she had come to the end.

"My body was wrecked," she says. "I said 'I can't do it anymore'. [But] it's hard not to waver from your decision."

Nikol Johnson-Sanchez, an American makeup artist who blogs about her infertility journey, completely agrees that it is much easier to give up than to keep going.

"You are mentally and physically spent and your dreams of having a baby dwindle with each failing cycle," she says. "The strength comes when you tap into your personal power, and we all have this. You don't know your strength until you are put through the fire."


Johnson-Sanchez and her husband have been trying to conceive since 2013, and have under gone two intrauterine (IUI) inseminations, five IVF cycles and one frozen embryo transfer. All cycles failed, and the lack of success came as a surprise to the couple.

"We honestly thought that we just needed a little help and that the first IVF cycle would be successful," Johnson-Sanchez says. "We transferred two high-grade five-day blastocysts in January 2015. When we found out it failed I made a commitment that I would do as many cycles in 2015 that I could mentally and physically do."

The attempts took their toll, however. "[After each failed cycle] I would tell my husband I was finished, that I just can't keep doing this," Johnson-Sanchez says. "We would have a rational non-hormonal conversation … and then I would be back in the IVF game."

For those who are ready to "stop cycling", Johnson-Sanchez hopes they find peace in their decision.

"There comes a time where the best decision is to stop cycling, reclaim your life and be happy with this choice," she says. "It doesn't mean you are a failure.

"It means that you know your limits and you are ready to move forward with your life."