As someone who spends her day talking to patients about IVF, I find that many people are not excited to find themselves across the table from me. As a fertility specialist, the conversations in my office are never dull, but when a couple is faced with infertility, our conversations can become quite overwhelming. Despite one’s best intentions, the pressures of life leave many of us creating our families later and later. As a result, more of us are needing help from treatments like IVF.
IVF is by no means a perfect option for those having difficulty conceiving, but it’s the most successful option that science provides for achieve the goal of having a baby. It is an option that is based on rescuing eggs that would normally be lost in a given month and getting them to mature inside the woman’s body using medications given through injections. Ouch! Once mature, the eggs are carefully extracted and fertilized with sperm. The embryos are grown outside the body to a point where the best embryo can be selected (and now often tested) prior to returning it to the carefully scrutinized baby house (the woman’s uterus). IVF is helpful because it allows many of the potential problems that come along with egg transport, fertilization, etc., to be bypassed. And since not every egg has the potential to make a baby, it allows for a better chance of finding the one egg that will in a shorter amount of time. This is especially important when time is running out.
I know that most people prefer not to be in a place in life where they need IVF, but if you are there, it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Here are some common misconceptions I see on a daily basis that make people more stressed out about IVF than need be:
IVF Is My Last Resort.
I see people put off IVF for as long as possible for a lot of different reasons, but often it’s because they are worried that if it doesn’t work, they will never achieve their goal of having a family. IVF is your best chance of conceiving using your own genetics when other things aren’t working, and it’s significantly more successful when you don’t wait until the last second of your fertility window.
Let me just say, though, there is always a plan B. Many creative options that you may have never even considered make lots of people parents everyday. Learning about these options (by reading or talking to your doctor) can help someone feel that IVF is only the next step in the process—not the last resort.
If I Do IVF, I’ll Be All Jacked up on Hormones—Moody and Crazy.
Actually, the medications you take for IVF are the same hormones that your body makes (FSH and LH)–just in higher doses. They cause the ovary to grow (make more eggs than usual), and that can cause bloating, but it doesn’t make you crazy. I promise. The moodiness and anxiety that some patients experience stems from the stress of not being able to control the outcome, even though they are putting a lot of time, energy, and money into it.
“What if I pay all this money and it doesn’t work?” We are used to working hard and getting the results we want, but reproductive biology doesn’t work like that. And that lack of complete control combined with a strong desire to have a baby can make even the most balanced individual feel or act a little crazy. This is why it’s important to take good care of yourself during the process. Building time into your schedule to relax and get extra sleep makes everything a little easier.
IVF Is Not Very Successful.
It’s true that IVF is not ALWAYS successful, but for the majority of patients, if they are able to keep trying, pregnancy can be achieved. For someone who gets a genetically normal embryo, that single embryo often has more than a 60% chance of resulting in a baby. I agree, it would be nice if it were 100%, but unfortunately, that’s not how biology works.
If I Do IVF, I’ll Have Twins or Triplets.
Best practices in the field of IVF often mean putting back one embryo at a time, even if it lowers the success rates, which it usually does. We have to keep in mind that he goal is one healthy baby at a time! Twins and triplets have a much higher chance of being born early, and that comes with many complications for both the mother and babies.
More good news…Even 10 years ago, your best chance of success was with fresh embryos because freezing embryos significantly lowered success rates. This is no longer the case. With the introduction of the fast-freezing method known as vitrification, the difference between fresh and frozen success rates disappears. This allows us to give the same cumulative success rates, but with one embryo at a time.
IVF Is My Only Option.
There are a lot of great ways to build a family. IVF is a great option, but it’s not always successful, and it’s not for everyone. I’ve watched patients build families in all sorts of amazing ways. And I have never once had a patient come back to visit with their baby with any regrets, no matter if that baby was adopted or created with a donor egg, donor sperm, etc. I encourage patients to explore all of their options and find one that’s a good fit for them.
I encourage you to learn about IVF if it’s been recommended for you. Don’t let friends or blogs scare you. Knowledge is power. Talk to a fertility specialist and find out if it’s the right choice for you. This will hopefully leave you with more choices and confidence and less stress.
Julie Lamb, MD FACOG
*Director of Fertility Preservation
*Director of the New Center of Excellence for Family Building at Advanced Reproductive Age
*Pacific NW Fertility and IVF Specialists
Julie Lamb, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., has worked with thousands of fertility patients over the last 10 years and she is gifted at combining attentive, personal care with advanced reproductive technology. “Helping build families is an incredible privilege and responsibility. My goal is to help people build families with a safe, compassionate, yet optimized approach.”
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