What is IVF?

by beagooddad on September 1, 2006

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I’m on the record as not being a doctor.  This might be the most important post to remember that factoid.

In vitro fetilisation, IVF, is where the doctor retrieves eggs from the mother-to-be, introduced to sperm in one of a few ways, and a fertilized egg or two (or sometimes more) is returned to the mom-to-be.  These are the “test tube babies” you may have heard about before.

The first step involves getting mom-to-be good and ready to get pregnant by totally stimulating her hormones and then retrieving the eggs.  I’ll talk about this step next time.

Then, the lab cleans up the eggs and places them in a special fluid.  They find some sperms that are ready to do some swimming and set them free in the fluid for about 18 hours.

Another option the doctors have is to do a precedure call ICSI.  With this procedure, they take one sperm and insert it directly into an egg with a special needle.  They do this for each egg.  This is the procedure we used.

Studies conflict about whether or not there are increased risk of birth defects for ICSI.  It is difficult to get an exact reading because many of the couples that need ICSI might be more likely to have birth defects which caused them to need the ICSI method in the first place.

Either way, the fertilized eggs are transferred to a different area of the lab and let hang out for about 48 hours.  During this time, the eggs should divide into 6-8 cells.  We had around 11 potential candidates at this point if I remember correctly.

A day or two later, they place an egg back into the mother.  At this stage, the success rate is nowhere near 100%.  It is closer to 20-30%.  So doctors often put more than one egg in for each cycle.  We had two put in the first cycle and neither attached and developed.  We had two more put in the second cycle.  At this point we called them Mole Man and Spidey to encourage them to burrow and hold on tight.  Pookie and Geetle decided to hang on.   Older women and women with a greater risk of infertility are often given more than two eggs to increase their chances of getting pregnant.

Frequently, you will have extra embryos at this point.  There are several options of what to do with them that I will describe in a later post.  For the short term, they are all cryogenically frozen in case you do not get pregnant and need to try again next month.

The doctors keep mom-to-be hormoned up for the next couple weeks and then you come back for the official pregnancy test.  Since our first transfer did not work, we spent two weeks wondering if we were pregnant only to get the message telling us that we had to try again.  That sucks.  If that happens to you, try to remember that it is normal and sometimes you have to be more patient than it seems like you can handle.

Eventually, with a little luck and a lot of insurance coverage, you pass the pregnancy test.  We were monitored weekly by the fertility clinic until they heard a hearthbeat (or in our case two).  Then we were handed over to our normal doctor office for the rest of the pregnancy.

Not everybody who goes through fertility treatments goes through IVF.  There is a less invasive method involving the doctor using a long tube to squirt the sperm directly into mom-to-be.  We tried that for a couple cycles with no success.  If anybody remembers what that is called, I will post a link to some information about it in case anybody is interested.

Coming up next:  You want me to stick that where?  I will describe the medicine needed for IVF as well as how the eggs are extracted.

If you want the table of contents for this series, it is here.

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