An Overview of the IVF Process
What is in vitro fertilization, and what are the five stages of IVF? In short, IVF is a process by which eggs are removed, fertilized either with your partner’s sperm or donor sperm, and then reinserted into the uterus.
There are five stages, broken down into:
- Ovarian stimulation: Fertility drugs are used to induce your ovaries to produce more eggs than usual.
- Egg retrieval: Eggs are taken from follicles via an outpatient surgical procedure.
- Fertilization: Washed sperm are allowed to fertilize eggs, or if sperm parameters are abnormal or not optimal, sperm may be directly injected into the egg.
- Embryo maturation and quality: Fertilized eggs are allowed to develop for either 3 or 5 days, and graded based on their quality. Different clinics may grade differently, but they’re generally looking for number of cells, symmetry, and maturation.
- Embryo transfer: Finally, well graded embryos are transferred into your uterus. Your provider may do a “practice” embryo transfer to determine your uterine depth and which techniques will work best. If the embryo(s) successfully implant, a few days later you’ll get a positive pregnancy test!
How to Know Whether or Not IVF is Right for You
So how do you know if you should pursue IVF? First of all, IVF is a treatment for infertility, so if you’ve been trying to conceive for over a year with no success (or 6 months if you’re over 35), this is when your doctor might recommend an infertility evaluation and a clinic referral.
Before that, It might be in your best interest to try other testing or learn more about your fertility, and keep trying to conceive naturally. But if you’re considering infertility treatments, here are some things to consider when it comes to IVF:
1. Conventional IVF Requires Time & Work
A whole cycle of IVF takes at least 2-3 weeks, excluding all your initial consults and plans. Most of the steps require precise timing, so you’ll be scheduling appointments, bloodwork, egg retrievals, and necessary medications/injections around the IVF schedule, not your own.
This can certainly be worth it, but make sure you’re prepared for the time and flexibility that you’ll both need to make IVF work.
2. Emotional & Psychological Preparedness
IVF is a relatively invasive process, so if you’re going that route, it’s important to be prepared to give yourself injections, go through the egg retrievals and bloodwork, and ultimately be patient while you wait for results.
There’s also no guarantee with IVF, and you may not get pregnant the first cycle or even at all. (I went through 2 rounds of IVF before taking home my first child!)
Research has shown that entering the IVF process prepared for it to be multiple cycles can lead to better confidence in decision-making and understanding of the process.
3. Evaluating the Costs of IVF & Financial Considerations
Keep in mind that IVF can also be quite expensive. The average cost of an IVF cycle is $15,000 to $30,000 according to Forbes, and while your insurance may cover some of this, it varies greatly. It’s a good idea to check with your clinic and insurance provider, and don’t be afraid to ask multiple clinics or ask about cost-saving options.
Additionally, it’s possible it will take multiple cycles to get pregnant. The cost alone is a good reason to think about exhausting all other options, like natural ways to improve your fertility or intrauterine insemination (IUI).
4. There's a Risk of Pregnancy or Birth Complications
While there are risks of complications with all pregnancies, evidence suggests there’s a higher risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and pre-term birth with babies conceived via IVF.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors and be aware that there’s a higher probability you may need to manage a high-risk pregnancy. Additionally, transfer of more embryos increases risk of twins, triplets, or more babies!
5. Age Matters: Freezing Eggs is an Option
Rate of success of IVF can be highly age-dependent, declining beginning at age 30. Aging decreases the likelihood of live birth as well as the number of eggs that are typically retrieved successfully. This doesn’t mean you can’t be successful if you are older!
However, if you’re still relatively young and thinking about pursuing IVF in the future, freezing your eggs now may increase your chances of success in the future. If you’re worried about your future fertility, consider ovarian reserve testing.
6. IVF Doesn't Guarantee Pregnancy
You can look at success rates for individual states and clinics to see what your odds might be, but ultimately, IVF doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a baby at the end of it.For someone under 35, the rate of success with IVF is hovering around 50%.
Some people may need several cycles to be successful, and ultimately many will never have a baby via IVF. That’s why it’s important to stay hopeful but realistic.
7. It's Important to Find Your Support System
Ultimately, if you’re doing IVF, it can help to have lots of emotional and mental support, and not just from your partner (it can be hard on both of you). There are many support and patient resources available, and you may want to seek out a support group or at least let a few trusted friends know what you’re going through.
With infertility up to nearly 1 in 5 couples in the US, you likely aren’t the only ones you know!
Exploring Alternative Fertility Treatments
If you’re considering IVF, there’s a good chance you’ve already pursued other fertility treatments, but if you haven’t yet, it can be worth trying things that are less expensive and physically invasive first. These can include screening for ovulatory dysfunction with PdG testing, semen analysis, considering IUI vs. IVF, and ovulation induction medications.
Talk to your doctor and explore all your options before you decide what’s right for you.
Want to explore natural ways to conceive before IVF? Check out this blog!
Have you tried at-home fertility tests yet? If not, try Proov Complete!