If you've been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for a certain period of time or you've received a particular diagnosis where fertility treatment may be beneficial in helping you achieve your dream of having a family, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended.
While you may have heard of IVF before, most people don't know what it entails. Below, we'll share what IVF is, what it involves, and the process step-by-step.
IVF is a technique where eggs and sperm are combined in a special laboratory to create an embryo or embryos.
A woman's eggs are collected (retrieved using a very thin needle through the vaginal wall) from the ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then, the fertilized egg (now called an embryo) is transferred to the uterus or frozen for further dispensation.
One full cycle of IVF can take about three to four weeks. However, sometimes these steps are split into different parts, which can take longer. This means that depending on what IVF protocol your doctor is recommending, your IVF calendar can range anywhere from four to six weeks for one IVF cycle.
Every month, when a woman's body releases an egg, it is known as ovulation. During ovulation, an egg is released from the ovary and waits to be fertilized for a span of 12 to 24 hours. When a patient is about to undergo an IVF cycle, the reproductive endocrinologist wants to make every effort to increase the chances of success. This is why you are given fertility medications in the hopes of producing more than one egg to increase your chances of IVF success. Fertility medications are prescribed for this to happen, and a specific IVF protocol is designed with your health history and family-building goals in mind.
This process, known as ovarian stimulation, helps the ovaries to increase the number of eggs produced; thus, ideally, more embryos can be created. After several appointments to monitor the size of the follicles growing on each ovary via ultrasound (follicles are where eggs are contained), the eggs are then retrieved through a very thin needle under light sedation. They are then combined with the partner's (or a donor's) sperm and fertilized in the IVF laboratory, where they become embryo(s).
Resulting embryos are placed in special incubators to develop over two to six days and are closely monitored for cell development. Then, one or two of the highest quality embryos (this would be discussed with your fertility doctor) would be transferred back into the uterus, hoping that the embryo will implant in the uterine lining. If an embryo implants, that means a clinical pregnancy has been achieved. Any remaining embryos can be vitrified (cryopreserved) for repeat treatment or for additional future children you may wish to have. Alternatively, all resulting embryos may be frozen for later transfer.
Your reproductive endocrinologist will prescribe the treatment they believe will provide you the highest chance of success, and your clinical team will be your day-to-day guide.
While it can seem overwhelming, what's important to remember is your fertility clinic is there to explain and support you throughout your fertility journey. Therefore, you should feel comfortable asking questions to take an active role in your treatment! The first step is to find the best fertility clinic for you.
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