What is reciprocal IVF?
Updated: Jun 6, 2018
Audrey and I always knew we wanted kids. We both come from large families and were always the ‘favourite aunties’, constantly babysitting for our nieces and nephews.
Before we knew that Reciprocal IVF had a name, we would say to each other ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I (Ranae) could carry the baby but we used your (Audreys) eggs?’
The difference in a Reciprocal IVF cycle is that the ovarian stimulation and uterine preparation is ‘shared’ between the two mothers. This is why it is also called Shared Motherhood.
It wasn’t until we went to a Dublin fertility clinic in 2015 and asked if we could do this, that we were told no. That it’s not possible here in Ireland because there is no legislation. I’ll do a separate post on my thoughts about that and other issues that same-sex families face in Ireland.
Anyway, the doctor that day said that if we had our heart set on Reciprocal IVF, we would have to go abroad. That same day, I got onto google and found our first clinic that we attended in Barcelona, Spain. Initially we had a full cycle of IVF and a fresh embryo transfer. We flew home shortly after the transfer and later found out that I’d had a chemical pregnancy/very early miscarriage. Though we were devastated, we decided to keep the momentum going and prepared for a frozen embryo transfer a month and a half later. And it worked! In August 2016, Ava was born.
For anyone who has been on a fertility journey themselves, you will be familiar with all of these processes. But for anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves or had a close friend or family member undergo treatment, the actual process can be confusing. I’ve put together some easy to understand information on how IVF works, step by step.
Here is my explanation of IVF vs Reciprocal IVF.
What is IVF:
IVF stands for ‘in vitro fertilization’. Conception happens outside of the womb, when sperm and eggs are fertilized to make embryos. These are then transferred back into the womb. The first case of successful human IVF was in 1978. Since then, millions of babies have been born through IVF. The process is as follows:
1. Stimulation of the ovaries
In order to have a successful cycle of IVF, you need to collect a good number of healthy eggs. In a normal month of a womans’ cycle she will produce one (sometimes 2) eggs. In an IVF cycle they want your body to ‘superproduce’ eggs. Everyone reacts different to the ovarian stimulation. Some women produce 20 eggs and some only 2 or 3.
In our first cycle in 2011, Audrey had 11. To stimulate your ovaries, drugs such as Gonal-F or Menopur are used. There are many types of drugs to choose from, but the desired outcome is the same. To produce a whole pile of eggs! Your initial fertility testing along with age and other criteria will determine what the doctor prescribes as your ovarian stimulation protocol. About 36 hours before the egg collection, another drug is used to trigger your ovaries to release the eggs. This whole process usually takes about 10 days from starting the drugs to the egg collection. You will need scans to track the growth of the follicles as the treatment continues. This could be every day or every few days. The egg collection is done under sedation as a large needle is inserted through the womb to the ovarian follicles to collect the fluid which contains the eggs. Audrey was SO drowsy after it :)
Once the eggs are collected, they need to be fertilized with sperm. In our case we obviously used donor sperm. A step further than standard IVF, is a procedure called ICSI, where the sperm is injected directly into the egg to increase chance of fertilization. We did this and ended up with 7 embryos. These embryos are then allowed to develop for 3 to 5 days depending on your clinic and what you decide. With our first clinic we used 3 day embryos. On our next cycle we hope to use 5 day, but you cannot always predict how things will play out.
On day 3 or 5 the embryos will be ready for transfer. If they are transferred right away this is called a fresh transfer. If they are frozen and then transferred at a later date this is called a frozen transfer. We had one fresh transfer and two frozen transfers. (The middle transfer which resulted in Baby Ava.) In order to prepare the womb for an embryo transfer, the lining needs to be thick and healthy. Somewhere that an embryo wants to implant. Estrogen is used from the first day of your period until your transfer date. Progesterone is also used 3 to 5 days days before the transfer to ready the womb for the embryo. If pregnancy occurs, you will continue taking both of these hormones until your 2nd trimester. It can be rough going being on so many hormones in addition to the normal pregnancy ones. Audrey tells me that I was very well behaved. Not crazy at all... (I think she might be lying!)
The exact same process as IVF except that the procedure is ‘shared’ between the two female partners. As you can see from the above, tons of hormones and drugs are used in a standard cycle of IVF. If I had been doing IVF solo, I would have been doing it all alone. The difference in a Reciprocal IVF cycle is that the ovarian cycle and uterine preparation is ‘shared’ between the two mothers. This is why it is also called Shared Motherhood.
We wanted to do it this way, because we both felt we had a big part to play. We did the IVF as a team and it’s so special that Ava has Audreys genes but my blood. That is not to say that couples who choose standard IUI/IVF are any less of a family or different to us. Not at all. At the end of the day, families are made in many different ways. Through donor eggs and sperm, through surrogacy, through adoption/fostering. When a child is loved, wanted and in a happy, safe and stable environment, whether with one parent figure or two or more, that is all that matters.
Reciprocal IVF was the right choice for us, and we wish it had been available in our own country. We are very grateful that we were and are able to travel abroad to make our dreams a reality. Ferticentro, we can’t wait to get there for the next cycle!