In vitro fertilization is a complicated and exacting process – but the overall process is easier to understand after a quick explanation in plain words. In vitro fertilization (often shortened to IVF) is a fertility treatment intended for women with nonfunctioning or entirely absent fallopian tubes. It also helps couples dealing with other fertility obstacles such as endometriosis or male factor infertility.
The typical IVF treatment involves a four-part process. The first is ovulation stimulation, followed by egg retrieval and fertilization, and finally, the transfer and follow-up. This quick guide will explain the details step-by-step.
The IVF process often begins with medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. These medications often come in the form of self-administered injections. While it is possible to complete a full IVF cycle with only one egg, collecting multiple samples creates a better chance for a successful pregnancy.
You will likely visit the clinic for ultrasound examinations to track the progress of your egg development. Sometimes the physician will administer a trial transfer to determine the length and angle of the uterine cavity. You might have to begin daily blood tests after the first week following the beginning of your ovulation stimulation cycle. Once the tests and ultrasounds show that the eggs are mature, the retrieval process can begin.
Don’t worry about incisions or scarring – the IVF process does not involve any invasive surgeries. Retrieval is often a very simple outpatient process, done with light anesthesia and a small thin needle inserted through the vaginal opening. Cramps are a common side effect but you can even go back to work the next day if you feel up to it.
Every egg will undergo a thorough evaluation for maturity, quality, and health. When the time comes to collect the sperm sample, each sperm will undergo a similar evaluation. The eggs will sit in a special solution in an incubator until the clinic is ready to begin the fertilization process.
The sperm and eggs that show the greatest chances for success will undergo fertilization very soon after retrieval. The embryology specialist will inject each viable egg with the healthiest sperm from the sample.
After a few hours, the IVF team will be able to determine which eggs were successfully fertilized. A few days later, the clinic will be able to determine which eggs are growing and thriving. The eggs will continue to develop into embryos until ready to transfer.
The choice of transfer date often depends on the number and health of embryos. Women whose IVF cycle created a large number of healthy embryos can choose to delay the transfer until the embryos have developed into blastocysts. This delay can help improve the chances of pregnancy – the embryos that survive until the blastocyst stage are more likely to survive after implantation.
The clinic will call you on the day of the transfer to implant the healthiest embryos or blastocysts into the lining of your uterus. Embryo transfer is just as simple as the egg retrieval; it is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. You might not even need any anesthesia. This often occurs somewhere between day 3 and 5 following the egg retrieval.
During the transfer, the physician will use a long thin catheter to place the embryos through your cervix and into the uterus. You can choose to have the “extra” embryos frozen (cryopreservation) to use just in case this particular transfer does not yield a pregnancy. After the transfer, you will need to limit your activity level. Try to stay comfortable and relaxed.
Pregnancy tests can measure the results about 10 days after the transfer. This is the most exciting and rewarding part of the whole experience – you get to see whether all that hard work has resulted in a pregnancy. Your clinic will advise you about how to proceed regardless of the outcome.
Taking the Next Steps
Are you unsure about where to begin? The good news is that Genesis Fertility can help with IVF through education, treatment, and follow-ups.
Don’t forget that every IVF cycle is going to play out a little differently. Your clinic will tailor the process to fit your unique needs. Never hesitate to contact your clinic for answers, reassurance, and recommendations.