In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complicated process – your first few days of research are sure to leave many questions unanswered. Until you get the chance to go into the clinic to seek clarification, you can use this quick guide to learn a little bit more about how the IVF process actually works. We’ll describe the five phases of IVF so you can know what to expect.
1. Initial Screening
The first few steps are always the most confusing. Your first visit to the IVF clinic will involve lots of education, question-and-answer sessions, and of course, a ton of forms to sign. Make sure that you have all of your insurance information and medical history on hand for the appointment.
Sometime after the initial screening, you might have to start taking hormones to suppress premature ovulation. This step helps to keep the timing of your IVF treatment on track. If you have any questions about any part of the process, never hesitate to ask yours in vitro fertilization specialist. Do whatever you can to improve your comfort and confidence.
2. Stimulating Egg Development
The ovaries generally only release one egg per cycle, but the chances of a successful IVF pregnancy increase with every available egg. This is why IVF clinics use hormones to stimulate the production of multiple eggs – sometimes dozens of them. The clinic will provide medications and instructions to help you stimulate a numerous but healthy sampling of eggs.
These medications are often self-injected. The clinic will ask you to undergo periodic blood tests and ultrasounds to chart the development of the eggs. When the eggs are mature enough for retrieval, you will move onto the next step. If you are an egg donor instead of an IVF recipient, click here for donor egg program info.
3. Egg Removal and Screening
Retrieving the eggs is a simple non-surgical procedure but if the physician cannot access your ovaries through the ultrasound, he or she might make a small incision near your bellybutton to make room for a viewing instrument to ensure the extraction goes as planned. Don’t worry though – you will probably have access to light anesthesia for the entirety of the extraction.
The physician will insert a thin but very long needle through your vaginal opening (the needle is guided by ultrasound, or by laparoscopy if an incision is necessary) to retrieve the eggs from the ovarian follicles. The mature eggs will then undergo a screening to determine which are the healthiest.
4. Fertilization / Incubation
The clinic will begin the fertilization process immediately after retrieval. The sperm (whether donated or provided by your partner) will undergo the same screening to ensure that only the healthiest samples make it to the fertilization phase. The embryologist will inject each viable egg with the healthiest sperm.
It only takes a few hours to determine whether the egg was successfully fertilized but it takes days to determine which are growing and thriving. The clinic will continue to monitor the development of the new embryos as they grow. If you end up with a large number of healthy embryos, the clinic may suggest waiting until they develop into blastocysts to ensure that only the strongest and most viable embryos make it to the implantation phase.
5. Embryo Implantation
Once the embryos are sufficiently mature, the clinic will schedule an implantation date. The transfer process is a lot like the retrieval process – the physician will give you light anesthesia before using a long catheter to place embryos in your uterus. You can choose to freeze any remaining embryos just in case this particular implantation does not result in pregnancy.
After the transfer, it is very important to reduce your level of activity. Although you can usually go back to work the day after the retrieval, the transfer process is very different and success comes easier if you have some time to relax and take it easy. About ten days after the transfer, you will be able to take a pregnancy test to determine whether the IVF has resulted in a successful pregnancy.
Remember – every IVF cycle is going to be a little different. The clinic will tailor your IVF cycle to fit your own very specific needs. Never hesitate to contact your clinic for answers to any questions you may have.