In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is kind of having a moment right now.
Back in June, Chrissy Teigen shared that both of her children were conceived through IVF and, in the new season of This Is Us, Kate Pearson (played by Chrissy Metz) is undergoing IVF to help her conceive despite fertility issues caused by PCOS and her husband’s sperm.
“People are just curious and I think hearing success stories gives people hope,” Chrissy said in response to a fan’s question on an Instagram post of her son Miles. “I’m all for talking about IVF.”
So let’s follow Chrissy’s lead and talk about IVF—what it is, how it works, and even how much it costs (it’s pricey, tbh).
What is IVF, exactly?
IVF is the most common type of assisted reproductive technology (ART), which essentially helps women with infertility issues become pregnant.
Normally, a sperm fertilises a woman’s egg while it’s still inside her body—that fertilised egg then attaches to her uterine lining and grows for nine months until, well, you know the rest.
With IVF, sperm from your partner or a donor is matched with your egg or a donor egg to create an embryo in a lab. That embryo is then implanted in your womb, where it hopefully results in a successful pregnancy.
Who gets IVF?
IVF is primarily done for women with infertility caused by damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, severe endometriosis, or other unexplained fertility issues, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
However, access to care is a huge obstacle when it comes to IVF—and fertility in general—especially among ethnic groups.
According to a recent survey conducted by WomensHealthMag.com and OprahMag.com, with help from the Black Women’s Health Imperative and Celmatix, white women are 10 percent more likely than Black women to say their doctor had brought up their fertility with them. Black women were also less likely to know someone who had gone through fertility treatments: Nearly 70 percent of Black women said they don’t personally know anyone who has undergone fertility treatments, compared to 51 percent of white women.
So, what happens during IVF?
Typically, IVF involves five steps, if you decide to use your own eggs; the process only takes three steps if you choose to use donor eggs:
Step #1: Stimulation
During this phase—which is actually also called “super-ovulation” (yes, really)—a woman begins taking fertility drugs to boost her egg production, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). During a typical cycle, a woman only produces one egg, but with these fertility drugs, she produces several eggs.
Those fertility medicines come in the form of daily injections—typically in your butt, lower abdomen, or upper thigh—and last for a period of nine to 11 days, Dr. Alfred Rodriguez, medical director of advanced reproductive technology at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, previously told WomensHealthMag.com. Some injections can be tough to do on your own, so you may need to get your S.O. or a friend to help out.
During this phase, your doctor will also monitor your progress with ultrasound and measuring your oestrogen levels.
Step #2: Egg retrieval
Once your eggs are mature, they’re retrieved from your ovaries during a minor surgery called follicular aspiration, per the NLM.
(TBH, the surgery’s not exactly fun—you’ll need to be put under anaesthesia for the retrieval, though it is an out-patient procedure, which means you can go home the same day.) Though you won’t feel pain during the procedure, there may be some cramping afterwards, but, per the NLM, it will go away within a day.
Step #3: Insemination and fertilisation
Once your eggs have been removed (and sperm has been collected from your partner or a donor), sperm and eggs are paired together for insemination and fertilisation.
In some cases, sperm may be directly injected into an egg (this is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI) to increase the chances of fertilisation.
Step #4: Embryo culture
Fertilised eggs grow by dividing—and once they divide, they’re technically called embryos. IVF laboratory staff will regularly check on embryos to make sure they’re growing properly during this phase, to make sure they’re as viable as possible before being put into a woman’s body.
Step #5: Embryo transfer
Three to five days after eggs are retrieved and fertilised, the embryos are placed in a woman’s womb—and the procedure isn’t quite as taxing as egg retrieval.
While the woman is still awake, her doctor inserts the embryos into a woman’s uterus through a thin tube. About 12 to 14 days after the embryo transfer, a woman can return to the clinic for a pregnancy test to see if the embryo implanted.
To increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, doctors will typically place more than one egg into a woman’s uterus at the same time—which, yes, can result in multiple births. If a woman has unused embryos, they can be frozen and implanted at a later date or donated.
What are the risks of IVF?
IVF is not an easy process—physically, emotionally, financially, you name it.
For women using their own eggs, fertility medicines can cause bloating, abdominal pain, mood swings, and headaches—you know, from the extra hormones coursing through your body, per the NLM. In rare cases, fertility drugs can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen and chest that may require drainage or monitoring at the hospital.
Egg retrieval carries its own risks, too, including bleeding, infections, and damage to other organs around the ovaries, like the bladder and bowels, per the NLM.
After that, pregnancies that result from IVF may have to be monitored more closely to make sure the embryos survive in your uterus, per Planned Parenthood—and if multiple pregnancies result from IVF, there’s a greater risk for premature birth and low birth weight.
Okay, let’s talk about how much this type of thing costs…
To be super-clear: IVF isn’t cheap. The exact cost varies based on the city you live in and the clinic you use.
It should also be noted that many women go through more than one cycle of IVF to conceive. Certain health conditions or age-related fertility problems can also up the cost due to increased medication requirements and chromosomal screening of the embryos, says Rodriguez.
How likely is it that I’ll have a baby after IVF?
Every woman is different so it’s hard to say, but age does seem to play a role in success rates. It’s around 50 percent at age 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 percent for women in their late 30s, 11 percent in women 41 to 42, and lower after that.
However, a 2016 review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that ethic communities—especially Black women—have lower pregnancy rates or birth rates after IVF compared to white women.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that if you’re having trouble conceiving, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to go straight to IVF. There are plenty of other things doctors can use to help you conceive first (such as intrauterine insemination, where healthy sperm are placed in the uterus right around ovulation, according to ACOG). IVF is usually seen as the process that’s used when other options fail.
The bottom line: IVF is a long, pricey procedure, but it can help women with infertility conceive successfully.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com