I have been blessed with the ability to get pregnant on a whim (maybe a little too blessed). Now that we have 3 children, I find myself telling my husband to not even look at me or we will be seeing two more little pink lines. But with more and more people who are close to me having problems conceiving, I find myself wondering what I would be willing to do if the hubby and I hadn’t been so lucky. In fertility is defined the inability of a couple to become pregnant, regardless of cause, after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. When a couple falls into this category they have several options. 1) They can look into possible causes of infertility; such as diet, stress, environment; and try to correct it. 2) They can use a surrogate, egg donor, sperm donor or a combination of these depending on what is causing the infetility. 3) They can adopt a child. 4) They can try in vitro fertilization. Most of us have heard the term in vitro fertilization, or IVF, before. Some of us even know people who have used it. But not many people know exactly what it entails. Here are the ins and outs of IVF so that you can figure out if it is right for you.

IVF was used successfully for the first time in the United States in 1981. More than 250,000 babies have been born since then as a result of using the in vitro fertilization technique. With IVF a man’s sperm and the woman’s egg are combined in a laboratory dish, where fertilization occurs. The resulting embryo is then transferred to the woman’s uterus to implant and develop naturally. Usually, 2-4 embryos are placed in the woman’s uterus at one time. Each attempt is called a cycle. Less than 5% of infertile couples actually use IVF. IVF is usually the treatment of choice for a woman with blocked, severely damaged, or no fallopian tubes. IVF is also used to overcome infertility caused by problems with the man’s sperm. But it is also an option for couples who simply can’t conceive and have tried other infertility methods that have not worked.

So a trip to the lab and you are in the baby-making business. Sounds great right? Before you rush out to your nearest IVF doctor here are a few factors to consider:

  • Your Age: Women younger than 35 years who do not have problems with their partners’ sperm have the greatest success.
  • Multiple births: Generally women who use IVF have a greater chance of conceiving multiple babies. About 63% are single babies, 32% are twins, and 5% are triplets or more. Jon and Kate anyone?
  • Cost: One cycle of IVF costs an average of $12,400.
  • Reduced Surgery: IVF can be an alternative to fallopian tube surgery. It is estimated that the IVF technique has reduced such surgeries by half.
  • Safety: Studies suggest that in vitro fertilization is safe. A recent study covered nearly 1,000 children conceived through these methods in 5 European countries and found that the children, monitored from birth to age 5 years, were as healthy as children conceived naturally. However, other studies have found a slightly increased risk of genetic disorders in children conceived through assisted reproductive technologies.

If you are still on board after reading the fine print, here is what to expect:

  • The woman may be given certain drugs (hormones) to stimulate her ovaries to produce several eggs before the procedure to remove them.
  • A surgeon then inserts a needle through the vagina into the woman’s ovary to remove eggs. Anesthesia is not required for this part of the procedure, but the woman may be given some sedating medication.
  • The fluid removed is examined in the laboratory to make sure eggs are present.
  • At the same time, the man provides a semen sample. The sperm are separated from the semen in a laboratory procedure.
  • The active sperm are combined in the laboratory dish with the eggs. This may be referred to as in vitro fertilization.
  • About 18 hours after this fertilization procedure, it is possible to determine if the egg or eggs have been fertilized and have begun to grow as embryos. They are incubated and observed over the next 2-3 days or longer.
  • The doctor then transfers the embryos into the woman’s uterus through the cervix with a catheter (a long slender tube). The woman should then remain in a resting position for the next hour or so.
  • She is given certain hormones for the next 2 weeks. If implantation works then the pregnancy test result is positive.