IVF allows two women to carry the same baby: 'It was like a relay race'

Going through the IVF process can be tricky for same-sex couples: Who will supply the egg and sperm? Who will carry the baby? One couple in Texas found a way for both to take part.

Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter, a couple in North Texas, welcomed their son, Stetson, five months ago via IVF. “I wanted to be pregnant for so long and so bad,” Ashleigh told NBC 5. “I always wanted to have a child, I just didn’t want to carry the child,” Bliss said. “Obviously, us being two women, we were like, ‘How can we make this happen?'” Ashleigh said. “We felt like there has to be a way.”

The two ended up going to a fertility clinic that allowed them both to carry Stetson, and the process was similar to traditional IVF — with a twist. “Bliss went through the stimulation of her ovaries and the egg harvest,” her doctor, Kathy Doody, told NBC 5. Typically at this point in IVF, a woman’s eggs would be fertilized with sperm and placed in an incubator in a lab to grow for a few days until they were implanted in the woman’s uterus.

Bliss’s eggs were put not into incubators but into the chamber of a device called INVOcell and then inserted in Bliss’s vaginal cavity for five days. “She got the embryo off to an early start,” Doody explained. “The eggs fertilized in her body, and when they returned five days later, we removed the device and froze the embryos.”

Then, an embryo was transferred into Ashleigh’s body. “Almost like passing the baton, like it’s a relay race,” Doody said.

A couple in Texas was able to take turns carrying their son, through the power of IVF. Doctors weigh in on what’s at stake. (Instagram: @Ashleigh.Coulter).
A couple in Texas was able to take turns carrying their son, through the power of IVF. Doctors weigh in on what’s at stake. (Instagram: @Ashleigh.Coulter).

“[Bliss] got to carry him for five days and was a big part of the fertilization, and then I carried him for nine months,” Ashleigh said. “So that made it really special for the both of us — that we were both involved. She got to be a part of it, and I got to be a part of it.”

The process is known as reciprocal effortless IVF, and it cost about $8,000, which is cheaper than traditional IVF, NBC 5 points out.

It seems unusual, but using one mom as a form of an incubator “might be better physiologically” than the standard method of IVF, Jessica Shepherd, MD, a minimally invasive gynecologist and founder of Her Viewpoint, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Doctors need to put the developing embryo into a device temporarily, because it “needs to be contained in something,” Shepherd explains. “Then, when it’s time to retrieve it, doctors are able to find it easily.”

Just like more traditional forms of IVF, there are risks with reciprocal effortless IVF. “Any time you have a transfer, whether from a petri dish or from a device to the other uterus, there’s a risk the egg or embryo can be lost,” Shepherd says. The overall health of the moms matters here too, she says: “That can dictate how well the pregnancy does.”

Overall, though, Shepherd says this is a “viable option for couples to discuss if they both want to be a part of the process.”

Bliss and Ashleigh are believed to be the first same-sex couple to carry the same baby. However, a second same-sex couple went through the same procedure at the same clinic subsequently, and had a healthy baby in September.

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