OBJECTIVE: To explore the long-term outcome of patients who began IVF treatment by considering not only treatment outcome in the center but also the parenthood project outcome after discontinuation of unsuccessful IVF. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort follow-up study. SETTING: Two French IVF centers. PATIENT(S): Seven hundred twenty-four patients who began IVF treatment in 1998. INTERVENTION(S): Postal and phone contacts with unsuccessful IVF patients. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): Long-term outcome of parenthood project. RESULT(S): Of the 724 patients, a minimum of 53% and a maximum of 81% finally succeeded in their parenthood project during or after IVF treatment (depending on the hypotheses that the 204 patients not contacted either failed or succeeded in their parenthood project). An intermediate hypothesis gave an estimation of 66% of patients finally succeeding in having a child (40% during IVF treatment in the center and 26% after). Achievement of the parenthood project after IVF discontinuation was due mainly to adoption of a child (46%) or a birth following a spontaneous pregnancy (42%). CONCLUSION(S): Unsuccessful patients should not lose hope, because nearly half may subsequently succeed in having a child.