1. Health

When the Pregnancy Test is Negative

What a Negative Pregnancy Test Means and How to Cope

By

Updated September 15, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Negative pregnancy test

It's amazing how powerful a negative pregnancy test can be on our happiness.

Photo (c) User LesKZN of Stock.xchng

If you've been trying to get pregnant for some time, you're probably no stranger to negative pregnancy tests. You may think you would develop a tolerance for them after a while, and though some people do, most find each successive test harder to take. When a pregnancy test is negative after fertility treatment, the disappointment is even greater.

Dealing with the avalanche of emotions -- anxiety that perhaps you could still be pregnant, sadness thinking you probably aren't -- can be difficult. How can you cope?

Hope Reigns Eternal: Is It Foolish to Hope You Still Might Be Pregnant?

The first moment after a negative pregnancy test usually brings a slight ache in the chest, but the second moment may include a hopeful thought -- perhaps you could still be pregnant. You may even get this hope when your period comes. Just maybe, maybe, this test or period is a fluke.

It's true that a negative pregnancy test doesn't automatically take you out of the running for that cycle. Some factors increase the chances that you could still be pregnant:

  • Your period is still late: If you got your period, it's highly unlikely you're pregnant. It happens, but rarely. If you still didn't get your period, there is always a chance you may be pregnant. If a week goes by, your period doesn't come, and your pregnancy tests are still negative, you may want to call your doctor.

  • You took the test early: And by early, I don't necessarily mean three days before your period is due. (If you took it that early, seriously don't let go of hope yet! That's way too early.) Even the day of your expected period can be too early for many tests. Every pregnancy builds up the level of hCG (the pregnancy hormone that pregnancy tests detect) slightly differently. Some women may not get a positive test result until they are a few days or even a week late.

  • Your cycles are irregular: If your cycles are irregular, you're more likely to not know with certainty when your period is late. It could be you just took the test too early.

Distinguishing between Fact and Story: What a Negative Pregnancy Test Means and What It Doesn't

The ache in the chest upon getting a negative pregnancy test is usually a reaction to what's happening at the moment: seeing only one pink line instead of two. Crying after a negative pregnancy test is often less about what's happening now and more about the story you've created regarding what the negative test means.

Everyone creates stories about what happens in our lives, and it's completely normal. For example, if your partner comes home without the milk you asked him to buy, it shouldn't be such a big deal. However, the story you may tell yourself -- "He forgot because he doesn't care" or "He never listens when I ask him to do things" -- is what gets you increasingly upset. Separating out the "facts" from the "story" can help you cope better with difficult situations.

So, when the pregnancy test is negative, the fact is "the test is negative." It may or may not even mean the cycle failed (yet)! The stories you may tell yourself include:

I'll never get pregnant. This is the biggest and hardest one. One negative test -- even 20 negative tests -- doesn't mean you'll never get pregnant. Of course, the longer you try, the less likely you'll achieve success without help. But one test isn't a testament to this.

Treatment isn't going to work for me. If your test was negative after your first or even second try at a particular treatment, don't be so quick to think this is a sign of future failure. Three to four trials of a given treatment are commonly needed before you know if the treatment will work for you or not. Even if this is your fourth trial, this doesn't mean changing treatment or tweaking certain aspects of the treatment won't help.

I am a failure. Getting a negative pregnancy test can quickly bring us back to grade school, feeling like if we fail at a "test," it means that we are failures. This negative pregnancy test is no indication of your worth as a person. In fact, if you never get pregnant, it still says nothing about your value.

I'll never be a mother/father. If, after getting a negative pregnancy test, you find yourself imagining the rest of your life without your dreamed-of child, you're in good company. Remember that this one negative test doesn't mean you'll never be a parent.

Also remember that even if your worst fears come true and you can't conceive or can't pursue treatment to conceive, you may have other opportunities to be a parent, including foster care, adoption, or even being a wonderful Auntie or Uncle to your family and friends' children. To be clear, I do not intend to brush away the sadness of that idea -- of course it's very upsetting! But at the same time, it's essential to keep the big vision in check, and to not allow this pregnancy test -- or even the fear that you'll never become a biological parent -- hold all the keys to your life happiness. Your life is worth so much more than this.

Moving On From Here: What to Do After a Pregnancy Test is Negative

So when the test is negative, what can you do to cope?

  • Don't grieve this cycle if it's not over yet. If there's still a chance you may be pregnant (see reasons listed above), don't let this one test get to you yet.

  • Allow yourself time to feel the sadness. Holding in the pain just makes it worse. Cry if you need to, and talk about your feelings with a friend or counselor.

  • Separate out the facts from the story. You may want to make a list of the stories you're telling yourself about this one negative test. Once you've made that list, write down a comforting, rational answer to those stories. Be your own Wise Counselor. You may be surprised how much wisdom you have inside yourself.

  • Start thinking about your future plan of action. So this cycle is over. What are you going to do now? Knowing you have a plan of action, even if it's an extremely simple plan of continuing your current treatment or trying to conceive efforts, can help. Your plan may even be to take a month or two off from trying to conceive. Thinking of the future helps you remember this is not the end of the road.

  • Do something fun and different to take your mind off the failed cycle. Yes, make time to cry, but then follow up by making time to live life again.

More on coping while trying to conceive:

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