When you're trying to conceive, it can feel like nothing else in the world matters. You're filled with so much hope and anticipation, but you're also worried that it may be impossible for you to conceive naturally. For many people, that deepest worry turns into reality. Thankfully, treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) have been making great strides to give couples and individuals the child they've been dreaming about.
POPSUGAR spoke to Dr. John Zhang, the founder of New Hope Fertility Center, to better understand the process that's created more than 1 million babies in the United States alone. Since IVF can be a complicated process, here are some direct facts to help future patients learn more about their options.
- IVF isn't the first thing you should do when trying to conceive. Even though it's easy to want to make the process of having a baby a sure thing, IVF shouldn't be your first option. "Typically we recommend that a couple attempt to have sex in order to conceive for six months if they're under 35, or one year if over that age," Dr. Zhang explains. "If they're unsuccessful, they should consider seeing a fertility specialist. We always start with a comprehensive evaluation and consultation to try and identify the underlying cause of their fertility problems.
- Not all fertility problems are the same. "Depending on what we find, perhaps intrauterine insemination (IUI, or artificial insemination) or timed intercourse might be next steps," he says. "Sometimes a couple is just having sex at the wrong times. Sometimes just a little medication and proper timing will suffice." Once it's determined that IVF is the way to go, patients begin the process.
- What is IVF anyway? The term IVF has become so commonplace, but it's worth mentioning what IVF looks like. "IVF is the process of removing the eggs from the ovaries, fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory, and then transferring the resulting embryo back into the uterus," Dr. Zhang continues. "During IVF, we simulate the reproductive cycle that naturally occurs. Typically this starts with stimulation of the ovaries to produce more eggs. A patient may expect to receive medication in the form of hormones that will encourage the follicles in the ovary to produce multiple eggs."
- IVF requires frequent monitoring. In hopes of finding the perfect opportunity to find the right egg, Dr. Zhang told POPSUGAR that patients are well taken care of: "The patient will be monitored regularly to determine the level of egg production. At the ideal time, a trigger is introduced that tells the ovary it's now OK to release the eggs. Then the patient will have an egg retrieval. The egg retrieval is typically conducted with a syringe attached to a special pump and is monitored via ultrasound."
- You may begin to feel like a pincushion. One of the most well-known aspects of IVF is the numerous shots that patients have to administer. "Injectable hormones that contain a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) will be self-administered to encourage the follicles to start producing eggs all at once," he explains. "As the eggs develop, the ovary naturally will want to expel them. So, another injection of a gonadotropin-releasing hormone with antagonistic (blocking) activity may be administered to prevent the ovary from releasing the eggs prematurely. When your doctor thinks the eggs are mature enough, further injections, known as trigger shots, are administered to begin ovulation. Typically patients feel like a pincushion at the end of the day; however, we have developed amazing techniques like natural cycle IVF, mini-IVF, and even needle-free IVF to reduce the cost and pain of all these shots."
- Patients could see results immediately. Amazingly, IVF can work rather quickly. "Some couples will see success over one to three cycles," Dr. Zhang reveals. "So using mini-IVF or another more gentle protocol means this could be three months, since a typical IVF cycle coincides with a woman's menstrual cycle. However, with all the injections in conventional approaches, you need to let the ovaries rest for a month, so it could be twice that time, like three to six months."
- IVF isn't for everyone. While the process of IVF has been proven to work, it's not for everybody. "IVF is ideal for couples who can't achieve pregnancy naturally, or simply by having sperm introduced to an egg inside the uterus," he says. "Not ideal candidates include women who are menopausal but want to use their own eggs, patients that are unhealthy or in poor physical health, and patients who have emotional or mental issues that may cause undue stress or other complications."
- It's expensive. One cycle of IVF can run anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000, but there are other options patients might want to consider that are less expensive. "We practice minimal-stimulation IVF, natural-cycle, and other approaches that allow us to pass on savings to the patients." Dr. Zhang explains. It's also worth noting that your health insurance may cover the cost.
- Before beginning the process, do your research. "It's wise for patients on a budget to shop around both for price point and for a doctor they trust," he advised. "Reviews online can be misleading, and many centers have hidden fees that a patient won't discover until later in their journey. Always try to discuss with the billing department all potential fees that might crop up, just to be prepared."
- Infertility is nothing to be ashamed about. When committing to infertility treatments, patients should be positive. "There are advances every day in this field, so don't give up hope easily!" Dr. Zhang concludes. "Persistence and confidence, reducing stress, and being healthy are wonderful for both successful IVF and a successful life! Don't be ashamed or embarrassed, because infertility is more common than you might think."