Conceiving through IVF is a long, expensive, and unpredictable process. That’s probably why only 5% of couples who struggle with fertility turn to it. However, it’s a safe procedure that (eventually) has a great success rate.
It’s jarring to think that IVF was in its infancy 40 or so years ago. People didn’t know what it was and referred to babies born thanks to IVF as “test-tube babies.” In reality, IVF is the best thing the 20th century brought to couples who had trouble conceiving.
Today, infertility treatment, fertility medication, and the entire relevant field of medicine have advanced so far that in-vitro fertilization IVF is just another way to conceive.
A Walk Down Memory Lane — Brief History of IVF
IVF saw its beginnings in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Back then, it was a pioneering procedure. Not everyone thought so, though. The technique (and its trailblazers, Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe) had a long way to go to become the number one fertility treatment it is today.
Although it raised quite a few ethical concerns, IVF both started and revolutionized the assisted reproductive technology (ART). Developed in Sweden, for a few short years in the ‘80s, it was only available there. During those years, it was perfected and made more accessible.
The vaginal ultrasound was the real gamechanger when it came to making the entire IVF process simpler. It facilitated the monitoring of hormone levels and ovaries during the process of hormonal stimulation and, of course, egg removal.
What Is IVF?
When it comes to how IVF works, the process is anything but simple. The end result, however, is more than worth it.
In-vitro fertilization means fertilizing the egg outside of the human body. It’s a long, tedious process that involves both fertility drugs and surgical procedures to work.
It is, in simple terms, a process of removing the eggs, taking the sperm, and combining them in laboratories in fertility clinics. This process ensures that the eggs and sperm actually do their thing — fertilization.
Two to six days after the successful fertilization, the embryos (fertilized eggs) are implanted back into the female body. The procedure generally involves implanting more than one embryo to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. The more embryos, the bigger the chance of one (or more) or them implanting into the uterus’s lining. That’s why IVF often results in twins.
The entire process of IVF has several steps, and it can last for months:
- Ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs that matures the eggs
- Monitoring hormonal levels and egg maturity
- Hormone injection to mature the eggs two days before extracting them
- Egg retrieval (See the whole process of egg retrieval)
- Sperm Collection
- Egg fertilization
- Transfer of freshly fertilized eggs directly into the uterus
- Waiting (this is often the step women find the most difficult)
- Pregnancy test
Who Are the Best Candidates for IVF?
Fertility struggles have many faces and forms. Just like there’s no poster child for fertility issues, there’s no one ideal profile of candidates for IVF. However, some people may have a more significant chance of conceiving through IVF than others.
Typically, people who’ve had trouble conceiving for longer than a year start considering IVF as an option. Furthermore, women with PCOS or endometriosis and men with low sperm count or sperm motility are advised to look into it.
Aside from that, the best candidates for IVF are women who:
- Haven’t experienced miscarriages
- Are in their 20s or early 30s
- Have a high ovarian reserve (number of eggs left in the ovaries)
- Have healthy fallopian tubes
- Are generally of good health
Unfortunately, a history of previous miscarriages carries an increased risk of the embryos not implanting into the uterus’ lining.
Are There Any Risks or Side-Effects to IVF?
IVF medication and the procedure itself have a few side-effects that aren’t severe but can be quite uncomfortable. Bloating, cramping, constipation, and tenderness, as well as headaches, mood swings, and even hot flashes, are all possible side effects.
In rare cases, IVF can cause OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome).
What’s the Success Rate?
Globally, over 8 million babies have been born thanks to IVF. What’s more, when it comes to live birth rates, IVF scores are off the charts. However, on an individual level, success rates depend on the mother’s age, causes of infertility, and both parents’ reproductive history.
Overall, around 72% of IVF implantations end successfully. Still, there is a strong chance that the first round (or a couple) doesn’t take. Only around 33% of women end up pregnant after their first IVF cycle. However, that percentage goes higher and higher the more cycles the woman does. By the eight cycle, the woman has between 54 and 77% chance of getting pregnant.
Nothing in life is guaranteed. Similarly, IVF can not guarantee you a pregnancy, nor does it have a 100% success rate. That’s one of the cons of IVF that we simply have to accept.
A Few Parting Words
Although conception often comes naturally to many couples, others simply aren’t as lucky. Due to various causes, some couples may never conceive in the natural way, which is why they seek fertility treatments. IVF, as the ultimate fertility treatment, is often the last resort for these couples.
Complicated, tedious, and expensive, IVF is more than worth it. What’s more, it’s an overall safe procedure, with very few side effects.