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Understanding IVF – What You Need to Know

By Published On: April 7th, 2012

In the 21st century IVF is something that almost everyone has heard of and thousands of men and women have become Mummies and Daddies thanks to the treatment. And yet it was only in 1978 that the first live “test tube” baby (as they were called back then) Louse Brown was born in the UK.

What is IVF?
IVF – which is short for In Vitro Fertilization is often confused with artificial insemination but the two procedures are very different. Artificial insemination is the process of placing donor sperm into the uterus in the hopes of effecting pregnancy. IVF on the other hand is the process of combining sperm and eggs in a laboratory, rather than inside a woman’s body – thus the old test tube baby tag. Once an embryo (or in a number of cases embryos) form then the eggs are placed into the uterus to develop.

IVF is a difficult procedure and one that less than 5% of couples dealing with infertility issues choose to pursue it. It is also an expensive procedure and many couples do have to pay large out of pocket amounts to cover it all.

Choosing IVF
IVF is never the first step in a couple’s quest to become parents. Instead it is an option that is really something of a “last resort” – something to consider when diet and lifestyle changes, fertility drugs, surgery and the more traditional artificial insemination procedure has not worked. Some of the most common reasons couples end up considering IVF include the following:

  • Diagnosed Endometriosis in women
  • Documented low sperm counts in males
  • Documented problems of a number of different kinds with the uterus or fallopian tubes and or normal ovulation in women
  • An unexplained fertility problem (sometimes there just does not seem to be a reason why a couple cannot conceive.)

Choosing the Right IVF Clinic
As IVF can be a long and rather daunting procedure finding an IVF centre or clinic that has a good reputation as well as staff that are knowledgeable, helpful and perhaps most importantly of all sympathetic to your problems is very important. All of the following are questions you should ask clinic staff when you are weighting up your options:

  • What is your clinic’s live pregnancy ratio per embryo transfer procedure?
  • What is your clinic’s pregnancy rate for couples who have our fertility problem and are in our age group? What is the overall rate for all couples?
  • How often do the successful pregnancies of your clinic’s patients result in the birth of multiples?
  • How experienced are your staff and how long has the facility been operating?
  • What do you estimate that the total cost of the procedure will be?
  • Could we store unused eggs after the procedure and if so for how long and how much would that cost?

If you can get a personal recommendation from other couples that can be even more helpful as well as you can get a better glimpse into the patient experience this way.

What to Expect from IVF
There are a number of different steps involved in the IVF procedure. The first is that the prospective Mummy to be will be given a course of hormone treatments designed to stimulate the production of several eggs at ovulation instead of just one as is the norm. She will then be tested – and sometimes given instructions for self testing at home as well – to determine just when is the best time for the process to move ahead.

On the day before the actual procedure Mums to be are given a set of instructions to follow for then and the day of the procedure and are usually also asked if they prefer to undergo full anesthesia or light, waking sedation. This is something that the staff should discuss at length because it can make a difference both in terms of the woman’s comfort levels and the ultimate costs.

During the procedure the doctor performing it will locate the eggs in the ovary follicle using ultrasound and then used an ultrasound guided hollow needle to remove them. The whole procedure usually takes no more than an hour.

While their partner prepares for their procedure, prospective Daddies are asked to provide a semen sample. As soon as the eggs are harvested they will be taken to a laboratory where they will be mixes with the sperm under very controlled conditions. These potential new embryos are then observed very carefully for up to five days before a decision is made that there are indeed viable embryos to implant.
Once this decision has been made couples return to the clinic and another procedure to implant the embryo, or in some cases embryos, is performed. Prospective Mums are then put on bed rest for several hours before they can go home. A pregnancy test to determine whether or not the IVF procedure has been a success is usually performed two weeks or so afterwards.

If you have chosen to any unused eggs will have been frozen and should the IVF procedure not be a success the first time you do have the option to “try again”.

IVF Negatives to Consider
One of the biggest things that infertile couples have to worry about when considering IVF is the cost. IVF is far from an inexpensive procedure and their are absolutely no guarantees that it will be successful. There is also often an emotional toll to be considered as the IVF process is quite long, involved and can be very draining on couples individually and on their relationship, especially if things do not turn out as hoped. It is always best to learn any form of relaxation techniques, e.g. meditation to help ease off pent up stress.

IVF does offer childless couples the chance to become parents at last but it is not something to be rushed into out of desperation. Its an option that you should consider carefully, making sure to include the doctors you are already consulting with to help you determine whether IVF is the right option for you.