In vitro fertilization (IVF) makes gestational surrogacy possible. One of the most important types of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in surrogacy, IVF is the process in which an embryo is formed—and eventually, a baby—outside of the human body.
So, what exactly is IVF and how does it work? Here’s everything you need to know about IVF.
Defining In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
IVF, which stands for “in vitro fertilization,” involves a series of procedures used to assist in conceiving a child. In scientific terms, the Latin phrase in vitro means “outside the living body and in an artificial environment.”
In short, IVF is the process of fertilizing an embryo in a specialized laboratory.
In gestational surrogacy, a mature egg is retrieved from the egg donor or Intended Mother and fertilized with sperm from a sperm donor or Intended Father. Once fertilized, the egg becomes an embryo and can be either stored or immediately transferred to the gestational carrier.
The IVF Medical Process
The IVF process involves a series of sophisticated medical procedures conducted either at a doctor’s office or a fertility clinic. Here’s a brief overview of the steps involved:
- Prescreening Test
- Initial Consult & Ovary Prep
- Ovarian Stimulation
- Egg Retrieval
- Embryo Transfer
Looking for a more detailed breakdown of the process? You can read a more comprehensive overview of the medical steps here.
How Long Does IVF Take?
As an Intended Mother or egg donor pursuing a surrogacy journey, the time between the initial prescreen testing period and the ultimate embryo transfer may vary depending on how many cycles you need.
It takes roughly 4 to 6 weeks to complete an IVF cycle on average. Depending on the outcome of the IVF cycle, the amount of time it can take until a successful embryo transfer can vary widely.
Unfortunately, not all IVF cycles are successful—but that’s no reason to give up on your dream of starting a family. If you experience an unsuccessful IVF cycle, you can always work with your doctor to understand why it may have failed and how to increase your chance of success.
How Successful is IVF?
Developments in medicine and technology have greatly improved the success rate of IVF over the last few decades.
While modern medicine has allowed fertility specialists to drastically increase the chance of live births resulting from IVF, there are also a number of other factors that can affect the success rates of IVF. The age, medical history, and number of pregnancies are only a few factors that can either raise or lower your chances of success.
The CDC reported the following success rates based on the latest national data:
The IVF Process & Timeline
Find a Fertility Clinic
IVF occurs in a designated fertility clinic. Once the IP’s and surrogate are ready to start this stage of the surrogacy journey, they will meet with a doctor at the clinic to understand the procedure and what will be involved for each participant.
To start, the Intended Mother or egg donor and the gestational surrogate will take medication to synchronize their menstrual cycles. Once they’re in sync, the IVF doctor will begin the IVF protocol to stimulate the egg donor/Intended Mother's ovaries and promote egg production.
Once viable follicles/eggs have formed, the IVF doctor will schedule an egg retrieval to remove the eggs. This procedure is minimally invasive and is performed at the fertility clinic. A thin tube with a needle and suction device is inserted through the vagina and into the ovaries. Most women share that the procedure isn’t considered painful.
The sperm to be used, either by an Intended Father or a sperm donor, will be analyzed to determine its strength and viability. Sperm determined strong enough to fertilize an egg, but not necessarily strong enough to swim to the egg, can be directly injected to increase the chance of fertilization.
There are specific steps you can take to prepare for an embryo transfer. This is a minimally invasive procedure using a thin tube to insert the embryo(s) into the uterus of the gestational surrogate. Once completed, the surrogate will be discharged immediately after the procedure and advised to relax and take it easy for the remainder of that day.
Most surrogates are cleared to resume normal activities the following day. Occasionally, the carrier will need to continue taking hormones (progesterone) for up to ten weeks to help the embryo attach and increase the chance for successful pregnancy.
The cost of IVF can be expensive. While insurance may cover some costs, IP’s will be required to pay the expenses. Prices vary by location and additional ARTs, but on average, IVF costs range from $12,000 to $15,000 per cycle.
It's important to know exactly what costs are involved throughout the IVF phase of your journey. Talk to your insurance company and local fertility clinic to see exactly what costs you may incur and what discounts you may apply for.
Number of IVF Cycles
The number of IVF cycles a gestational carrier agrees to attempt with her Intended Parents will be defined during the surrogacy contract phase. Some surrogates and IPs experience success during the first cycle while others succeed after 3-5 attempts. In some situations, the carrier and her IPs may agree to try one additional time and successfully become pregnant.
There are no guarantees, but IVF has been—and will continue to be—a highly successful form of ART to help people grow their families. If you’d like to learn more about IVF and its role in the surrogacy journey, schedule a free consultation with Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists. We’re happy to walk you through the process and help you take this exciting step toward growing your family.