Going through in vitro fertilization (IVF) is an emotional experience—and it's even more difficult when you don't get the results you were hoping for. Sometimes, though, there's still a chance for things to work out: Actor and country singer Jana Kramer, who is currently pregnant, went through more than one failed round of IVF, but she conceived without reproductive assistance after each one.
“My daughter Jolie was right after a failed IVF, and this baby boy is right after a failed IVF,” she said on Thursday’s episode of The Doctors. “So I don’t know if, like, my system needs the progesterone. I don’t know if my body needed some of that IVF to help get me going.”
Kramer had five miscarriages in three years, she said on the show, and her last miscarriage was especially painful. “I just didn’t want to talk to anybody and just cried out,” she said. “For me, at that moment, I needed to start reflecting on what the next step is. I was starting to focus really hard on my career, and then the month later is when I got pregnant.”
IVF is a complicated process that involves giving a patient hormone injections to help them conceive.
During the process of IVF, eggs are extracted, fertilized in the laboratory, and transferred into the patient's uterus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If a patient plans to use their own eggs (as opposed to donor eggs), they're given hormones to help stimulate their ovarian egg production, David Ryley, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, tells SELF. And, after the eggs are retrieved, the patient will be given shots of progesterone (a hormone produced by the body during pregnancy) to help prepare their body for the upcoming pregnancy, he says.
There's no evidence that a failed round of IVF will help you conceive, but it might happen anyway.
“This is a myth,” Eve Feinberg, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine, tells SELF. But Kramer isn’t alone in her story—some women do end up conceiving naturally over time after IVF. Both Dr. Feinberg and Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tell SELF that they've seen this happen with their patients. But evidence that the IVF is somehow responsible is lacking. “Are you somehow kicking the ovaries into resetting? Did you trigger something in a woman’s cycle? There’s no great scientific evidence to say that it happens, but we all have these patient stories,” Dr. Minkin says.
Sometimes pregnancy simply comes down to chance, and although IVF can help your chances, "there's still a lot of randomness in the process," Dr. Feinberg says. “Every month there are different eggs that are released, and so it can be a matter of luck of the draw as to which eggs are retrieved," she explains. "IVF will enable more eggs to be retrieved in a single month, but these may not be the good eggs [that lead to a pregnancy].”
But that doesn't mean Kramer's situation is the norm, Brooke Rossi, M.D., a reproductive medicine expert at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. "Most people who don't get pregnant with IVF need more help in the future," she notes.
Becoming pregnant after IVF depends on many factors, including the reason why a patient is pursuing IVF in the first place, Dr. Rossi explains. For example, certain underlying conditions that contribute to infertility may react to the process in different ways. If the patient has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which a hormonal imbalance can cause irregular periods, an IVF cycle might temporarily change their "hormonal milieu" in a way that makes it easier for them to ovulate regularly right after an IVF cycle, she explains.
If you’ve been through a failed round of IVF, there are a few things you can do to keep your chances up going forward.
One factor in your success is making sure you have a doctor that you trust. Another is to keep trying, if you feel up for it and are financially able to do so. “IVF success is cumulative and the more cycles you pursue—up to four to five cycles—the higher the likelihood of success,” Dr. Feinberg says.
And finally, like Kramer, don’t give up hope. If you feel that the emotional toll of IVF or the challenge of conceiving in general is taking a toll on your personal or professional life, that's a sign that you may need some professional support. Infertility counselors are mental health professionals who specialize in helping patients going through exactly what you are, and they can assist you in working through the mental and physical stress during the process.