What exactly is IVF? The common fertility procedure explained

Last month, hospitals and clinics were forced to stop all in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally protected children. On 28 February, state lawmakers proposed two bills that would shield the medical providers from criminal and civil liability.

In vitro fertilisation, otherwise referred to as IVF, is a type of assisted reproductive technology. According to Planned Parenthood, the process involves surgical procedures and medication prescribed to help sperm fertilise an egg and the egg implant in the uterus. There are multiple steps carried out over several months.

What is the IVF process?

The first step in IVF is ovulation induction. “The first step in IVF is taking fertility medications for several months to help your ovaries produce several eggs that are mature and ready for fertilisation,” Planned Parenthood explains on its website. Frequent blood tests and ultrasounds are normal to ensure hormone levels are where they should be and to keep track of egg production.

The egg retrieval happens next. Per Planned Parenthood: “Once your ovaries have produced enough mature eggs, your doctor removes the eggs from your body.” Egg retrieval is a minor procedure performed in a doctor’s office or clinic.

“Using an ultrasound to see inside your body, the doctor puts a thin, hollow tube through your vagina and into the ovary and follicles that hold your eggs. The needle is connected to a suction device that gently pulls the eggs out of each follicle,” Planned Parenthood noted of the procedure.

Next, the eggs are mixed with sperm cells from a partner or donor. The eggs and sperm are then stored in a “special container” for fertilisation to occur. Here, the cells in the fertilised eggs divide and become embryos. However, if the sperm has lower mobility, they are injected into the eggs directly to aid the fertilisation process.

After three to five days, the embryos are transferred to the uterus. “The doctor slides a thin tube through your cervix into your uterus, and inserts the embryo directly into your uterus through the tube,” per Planned Parenthood. If the embryo sticks to the uterus lining, the woman will become pregnant.

Planned Parenthood recommends rest after the embryo transfer, holding off on “normal activities” until the next day. To help the embryo survive in the uterus, progesterone hormone shots and pills can be administered in the following eight to 10 weeks.

Side effects of IVF can include mood swings, headaches, cramping, bloating, bleeding, infection, bruising from shots, breast tenderness, and potential allergic reactions to medicines.

Aside from the physical risks, IVF can take a toll on one’s mental state. Planned Parenthood noted: “IVF can also be difficult emotionally, both for the person having the procedures and for their partner and/or family. Many people doing IVF treatments struggle with depression and anxiety throughout the process.”

According to a recent Forbes report, the procedure can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 for one full cycle – ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval and embryo transfer. The total cost is dependent on the fertility clinic and the patient’s needs.