A reader asked me to address the issue of how you can tell if you should stop infertility treatment. This is a very important question, and one that is perhaps impossible to answer. However, I am going to try my best to share my thoughts on this subject, for whatever they are worth.
Sometimes the decision to end treatment is basically made for you. A biological event occurs, like being diagnosed with a serious illness, that makes continuing in treatment unwise. In other cases, diagnostic information comes to light that makes the possibility of success so unlikely that continuing in treatment is pointless. Also, financial or practical considerations may arise that make it simply impossible to continue in treatment. However, in most cases, the situation is not so clear cut, and it becomes a judgment call as to whether or not you should continue.
The way I think about the decision to terminate infertility treatment is centered on one of my fundamental beliefs--that we should try whenever possible to anticipate what our future selves will think about our decisions, in order to minimize future regrets. Having children (or not having them) is a very important, life changing decision. Thus, I feel it is extremely necessary to really think about how you will feel about your choices ten, twenty, or thirty years in the future. As an example of what can happen when you do not take your future self into consideration, I would like to tell the story of a lovely woman that I know from my hair salon. She is now in her late 80's and is suffering from some cognitive dementia, so although she has met me several times, she does not explicitly remember talking to me before. Despite this, she always sits down with me and tells me her story, each time with more nuance and detail. In a nutshell, she and her husband had a baby when she was in her early twenties, but sadly, he was stillborn. She wanted to try to have another baby, but her husband was insistent that they should not. He felt if God wanted them to have a baby, he would have let their first baby live. As time went on, she still wanted to have a child, and suggested that they adopt. Again, her husband was adamantly against this--to him, God obviously did not want them to have a child, and besides, he was not interested in raising "someone else's children". She loved her husband and wanted to stay with him, so she put her dreams aside, and stayed with him through thick and thin. Every time she told me this story, she stated that although she is very sad about not having a child, she feels she must come to peace with it. But it seems to me if you are telling this (and only this) story sixty years later to a relative stranger at the hair salon, you may never come to peace with the decision. Although she has led a rich and full life, and has wonderful extended family that make sure all of her needs are met now (including making sure her hair looks fabulous), I am pretty sure that remaining childless was not the right choice for her. And the deep regret that she expresses is the kind of thing I think we all want to avoid.
If it's over, you'll know
So given that you want to make sure that in the future, you do not have profound regrets, how do you tell when it's time to call it quits with infertility treatment? My personal and clinical experience has taught me this: when it's time to quit you will know it. You will feel it, almost as a physical sensation--something like, "I can't do this anymore, it's bad for me." Your self-protective mechanism will kick in, and saving yourself will become the most important goal. I vividly remember the moment of my decision to quit infertility treatment. I had a break at work, and was pacing back in forth in my office when I realized that although I didn't want to stop trying IVF, I had run out of treatment options. If I kept going, it would be sort of like gambling--the odds were stacked against me. I had the profound sense that I would be really hurting myself if I continued, and to no good end. I acknowledged that I was really bad at getting pregnant--but maybe there was something else at which I was good, and it made more sense to put my energy toward that. We turned to adoption, and so far I have never regretted that decision.
But the heart wants what it wants...
However, if you feel in your heart of hearts that you would like to continue, but that maybe you shouldn't because it is expensive, time-consuming, or other practical concerns--then it is a different story. In this case, I think that if you could logistically make it happen, you should probably continue in treatment. Infertility treatment has a time-stamp on it, so you don't want to be looking back 10 or 20 years down the line, when you don't have the option anymore, and wishing you tried when you had the chance. The heart wants what it wants, and if continuing is what is in your heart, I think it is important to try to honor that. Whether or not it results in a baby, at least you will have the closure of knowing you tried everything you could to achieve your goal.
I know that this way of thinking comes at a price, usually financial. I personally hate the fact that money can be such a primary factor when it comes to decision making about creating a family. But money can usually be earned or borrowed, although admittedly not without significant sacrifice. However, having a child is such an important part of life that it may be worth taking on more financial risk or burden in order to maximize your chances.
As for the time, logistical difficulties, and other inconveniences involved with infertility treatment, I would urge you to remember that although it may be difficult in the near-term future, if you avoid these things now, you may be feeling regret later for many years.
As in so many things in life, we must balance our short-term needs with our long-term goals. It is never easy, but I think you should keep in mind that this is one of the most important decisions you will ever have to make. This will help give you the necessary perspective--and courage--to do what you need to do to protect your future happiness.