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Why Does ART Feel Like Failure Until You Succeed?

Why Does ART Feel Like Failure Until You Succeed

Are you on the IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) roller coaster? Do you start each cycle with a momentary glimmer of hope and optimism, only to feel despair and disappointment within weeks of starting? When it comes to fertility treatment, the road to success can be rocky. Infertility and fertility treatment can take over your thinking and your life.

Pausing, even for a micro-moment, to stop and reflect on the small things that are going well can feel like a waste of time and effort. After all, if the cycle doesn’t produce a pregnancy then how can you possibly feel a sense of success and joy?

But here’s the thing: throughout your ART journey, small moments of success are happening each day. Whether it’s completing your first or hundredth injection, to the collection of eggs and the transfer of an embryo — each and every one of these moments is a success in and of itself. And each milestone offers a chance to experience an upward lift.

However, the lens through which we view these moments shapes how we feel about them. It’s easy to take for granted all the effort that you’ve mustered to show up and be courageous in this journey. We tell ourselves stories that often minimize our effort: “I have no choice, I have to do it” or, “If I want the outcome, then…” but each one of these phrases sidelines the strength, resilience, grit, and determination that you’ve engineered to take another step forward.

Allowing yourself to feel joy, positivity, and even a sparkle of hope can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. According to researcher and vulnerability expert, Brené Brown, we forebode joy as a way to shield ourselves from disappointment. What this means is that we deny ourselves momentary feelings of positivity in the belief that we are acting in our best interests. We puff up, hold our ground, and tell ourselves not to soften into the moment.

Rather than celebrating and reflecting on our efforts, we rehearse tragedy. We tell ourselves that we have a long way to go, that anything could happen from here, and reserve the feeling of joy only for when a baby is safe within our arms. The assumption is that if you don’t get too ahead of yourself — if you don’t let yourself feel it — that you will somehow protect yourself in the long run. But the truth is, we can’t protect ourselves from grief, sadness, or suffering. It’s part of being human. It’s something that we all share.

Brené’s work highlights how complex joy is as an emotion. When you allow your heart to fill with joy, you instantly become vulnerable to the possibility of it being taken away, of your heart being crushed, and your hopes being shattered. It feels safer to beat disappointment to the punch. You may find yourself holding back, pushing positive feelings to the side, and reminding yourself not to get too excited. You convince yourself that: “If things don’t work out then I won’t be devastated and, if they do, well, then that will be a pleasant surprise.” At first glance, this is a very logical approach. It makes sense to protect yourself. But Brené Brown reminds us that, “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.”

The longer you travel along the fertility trail, the impact of these efforts to suppress and push down emotions is often emotional exhaustion, feelings of melancholy, and a general lack of energy for life. The world feels grey and the capacity to see the rich colors of life around you, become harder and harder to see. The experience of enjoyment can feel like a distant memory.

Finding small micro-moments of success and joy throughout your fertility journey may seem counter-intuitive but what if this is the missing ingredient to help you sustain your effort and keep on keeping on? After all, the science of Positive Psychology suggests that positive emotions are just as important to our survival as negative emotions such as fight, flight, and freeze. In fact, experiencing positive emotions helps to broaden our mindset, contributes to problem-solving, and builds our resilience and wellbeing.

Leaning into joy is not going to take away your sadness if things do not go the way you hoped or dreamed. But, feeling a momentary upward lift when things go well can put some much-needed reserves back in your emotional tank. Celebrating what has gone well in the present moment, reminds you that your efforts are not in vain and that you are doing everything you can to work toward your goal.

What can you try?

1. Focus on the micro-moments of joy

Take a mindful pause each day to notice and celebrate the good things around you, no matter how small they may seem. Joy is hiding everywhere and sometimes it’s sitting side by side or within the difficult moments and emotions that you may be experiencing.

2. Focus on the micro-moments of joy — Leave out the “but”

Catch yourself when you’re tempted to add a negative: “I’m so excited about this news! But…it’s going to be a hard road from here.” Permit yourself to just be excited in the moment and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

3. Develop a ritual or practice that helps you to let joy in

High five your partner, call a friend or pump your fist into the air to salute this moment.

4. End your day by reviewing what went well

Write it down, talk to your partner or friend. Did you find a parking spot out the front of your clinic? Did the receptionist remember your name? Was the doctor running on time today? Small positive moments matter and will add light and life to your day and journey.

Brené Brown’s research helps to remind us that being brave in our lives is all about having the courage to show up when we can’t control the outcome. Risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure are at times uncomfortable bedfellows to our journey through life, but they are also the place of wholehearted living.

Allowing yourself moments of joy, to feel an upward lift, and to language a success can make your fertility journey a little brighter and lighter. As Robert Louis Stevenson says:


“Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.”

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The ART Space is an independent coaching and counseling community that recognizes the challenges individuals and couples face during fertility and infertility treatment.

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