Heartbeat or not, a loss is a loss.

By Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT
October 13, 2017
Credit: KieferPix/Shutterstock

Bright and early on a Thursday morning, 9 days after my frozen embryo transfer (FET), I rushed into my reproductive endocrinologist's (RE) office to get my blood drawn.

Never in my life have I been so eager for a doctor's appointment. I pulled up and parked my car at exactly 6:46 am, even though the office doesn't technically open until 7:00 am, knowing on occasion they open the doors early.

Sure enough, I was sitting in the phlebotomist's chair at 6:50 am ("a good sign!" I hoped), and minutes later my blood was drawn and being sent off to measure my HCG level.

I was certain this was it—the day I'd find out I was "officially" going to be a mom.

Truthfully, I started to feel like I was on my way to motherhood when my husband and I made the decision to go down the IVF (in vitro fertilization) route. The day I wrote A Letter to My Future IVF Baby was when this part of my journey began, and I'm not sure I ever really thought after two FET cycles I'd be sitting where I am today. After hearing so many positive success stories, both online and in the media, I was certain IVF would be my way to baby.

But, IVF, much like anything in life, provides no guarantee.

I'll never forget the moment my husband and I received the call saying, "I'm sorry, you're not pregnant." Though I hadn't heard my baby's heartbeat or felt him (or her!) move inside me, I loved them. We loved them. Immensely. And I was devastated knowing we would never get the chance to know them.

As I mourned and began to seek guidance and support on the road to picking up the pieces of our dreams of a baby, I started to see similarities with how I was feeling and how women who have experienced miscarriages described their loss. While I haven't walked in those shoes—and my heart breaks completely for each and every person who has—I think, unfortunately, we relate on more than you may think.

This realization first came to me when I received a kind message from a friend who had experienced a miscarriage two weeks into her pregnancy. She said to me, "Liz, I am so sorry for your loss."

She was right: What I was going through was, in fact, a loss. And medical professionals agree.

"Though grief for every individual is unique when they experience loss, the devastation from a miscarriage or failed IVF cycle share in the commonality of emotional pain from the missed family both individuals had dreamed of," says Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in women's health and founder of the @IHadAMiscarriage community. "While the grieving process may differ, the cycle of hope and disappointment for the failure of a dream is very real and raw in both circumstances."

Dr. Brian Levine, founder and practice director of CCRM New York, one of the nation's leading fertility clinics, adds, "As patients 'gear-up' for their transfer and the day approaches, the anxiety is palpable, because they feel that they have gotten as close as they possibly have ever been to getting pregnant. This is why it is so incredibly devastating to a patient (and me as their doctor) when a transfer doesn't work. Truth be told, regardless of the etiology, parents often mourn a negative embryo transfer the same that they would mourn a miscarriage, since it is still a loss, regardless of when it was lost."

The moment when the embryologist handed us the magnified photo of our embryo I saw something more than a "morphologically" normal blastocyst (a day 5 embryo)—I saw our little baby to-be. Those dark spots were supposed to form the body and the light bubbly lining on the outer surface was the placenta. And just by looking at that, I had already started to wonder who he or she would be more like. Would she inherit my coloring, my husband's eyes? Would he be smart, funny, shy, or outspoken? Would she like swimming, or singing, or drawing? This photo became my hopes and dreams of motherhood. The day our 5-day blastocyst (aka my little bumble bee) was implanted was the day I started the countdown to when I would deliver (which, in case you're wondering, would have been May 12, 2018).

These moments are forever a part of my story—our story—towards building our family.

Though I never heard a heartbeat in any of my failed FET's, and my sweet friend reminded me that she didn't either (the first heartbeat is usually heard between 6 to 9 weeks), those embryos were a part of me, of us. Heartbeat or not, we lost our unborn babies, and we feel that hurt, deeply, every single day.

Each morning I wake up and feel just a little bit stronger. I learn to grieve and carry on, but never does a day go by that I don't think about my failed IVF cycle and the babies we'll never get to meet. So, with October 15th marking National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, I want all my fellow #ttcsisters and #ivfcommunity to know you're not alone. I feel your loss and I hope we can stand together and honor our unborn babies. You're never alone, and they're never forgotten.

Comments (3)

February 26, 2020
I never thought that there will be a miracle on the internet until i came in contact with Priest Babaka, finally i made it with his help, with his spiritual power which was recommended by a lady in baby center he help before, i never believe it was real until i confirm it now because i have tried so many things to make sure i get pregnant but no luck, immediately i contact him. he did some spiritual prayers and send me a medicine which i took, i got pregnant three weeks after, and i now have a son to show. thank you so much priest and i recommend Priest Babaka for everyone out there that is willing to have a child of her own out there. contact him for help too he is real and powerful, i have confirmed it, contact him on email: babaka.wolf@gmail.com or Facebook at priest.babaka
February 26, 2019
I had been given 3 embryos one didn't survive the thawing. Because of the cell growth was a little slow they decided to transfer two. I had a dream of a boy and girl. Red hair and green eyes as the donors were. I thought having twins would be challenging but my hubby was all in. Then to get the cell after the blood tests saying you aren't pregnant killed me. Even worse no more embryos. I know I'm not a mother but so wanted to be. They were to be my babies.
December 2, 2018
Hello, Thank you for your article. My husband and I just received the news that I am not pregnant. We are so heartbroken. This our first IVF cycle, there were 12 follicles, only retrieved 4 eggs, 2 fertilized. The doctor decided that a day 3 transfer was the best option and to transfer both. Each embryo was good quality, one was A+ and the B+. I just turned 40 so this whole process has made me feel extremely aware of how old I am, the dr. and staff don't let me forget that. My husband has been absolutely amazing and we have done every step together. We are devastated and definitely feel a loss and mourn 2 babies that we will never get to meet. Thank you for sharing your experiences as it has helped me to not feel so alone. Best of luck to you on your journey.