Assisted reproductive technologies are helping scores of same-sex couples realize their dreams of bringing their own children into their lives and happily expanding their families. In the case of lesbian couples, one particular treatment option of IVF is helping both partners be part of the childbirth process. It’s called Reciprocal IVF.
What is Reciprocal IVF and How Does it Work?
Reciprocal IVF, also known as co-IVF, is based on the same principles of the typical IVF process – select a high-quality egg, fertilize it in the IVF lab with a sperm from a carefully prepared sample to form an embryo, and then transfer the embryo into the uterus of the female in an effort to achieve clinical pregnancy.
However, in the case of lesbian couples, reciprocal IVF helps both partners share the joys of participating in the process of bringing a child into this world. While one partner donates the egg, the other partner carries the pregnancy.
Cycle Synchronization and Egg Retrieval
Both partners are given fertility drugs to sync their menstrual cycles. The drugs that the egg donor receives help stimulate egg growth in her ovaries. Once on ovarian stimulation drugs, the donor is carefully monitored to assess the stage of egg growth and maturation. As soon as they mature, egg retrieval is done using an ultrasound-guided procedure.
In the meantime, the sperm sample is kept ready. In the case of reciprocal IVF, sperm is procured either from a sperm bank or from a donor who is known to the couple. In the case of donor sperm from a bank, the sample is from a healthy male without any medical preconditions. If the sperm donor is a family friend or someone known to the couple, a semen analysis needs to be conducted to check that the sperms are motile, active, and sufficient in quantity.
In Vitro Fertilization
The retrieved eggs are placed along with the sperm sample. When the sperm cells and eggs fuse, they will form embryos through a process called in vitro fertilization. If the semen sample is fresh, the sperm cells are highly active and motile. In the case of a sperm sample procured from a sperm bank, the sample is in a frozen state and has to be thawed before use. Thawed sperm cells aren’t motile enough to fertilize an egg on their own. In such cases, your fertility specialists may suggest performing a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). In this procedure, rather than mixing sperm cells and eggs and hoping that the sperm cells will fuse with the eggs, individual sperm cells are injected into the eggs to enhance the chances of developing embryos. The resulting embryos can be transferred immediately as soon as they are ready.
In case the syncing of menstrual cycles is not possible and due to some reason the gestational carrier partner is not ready for embryo transfer immediately after embryo formation, the embryos can be frozen and stored and can be used when the partner is ready.
PGT and Embryo Transfer
Before embryo transfer, the couple can decide to get preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) done. This test will assess the genetic integrity of each embryo to determine if they are normal or abnormal. Only the normal embryo will be transferred to minimize the chances of implantation failure as well as the risk of a child with a genetic abnormality.
If the embryos are to be transferred as soon as they are ready, the gestational partner (the partner in whose uterus the embryo is to be transferred) is put on fertility drugs that will prepare her uterine environment for accepting the embryo. A carefully selected embryo will then be transferred into the uterus of the gestational partner. If the embryo implants successfully, it will result in a successful pregnancy.
Which Partner Does What During Reciprocal IVF?
This is totally discretionary. But usually, the younger partner has a larger ovarian reserve and can act as the egg donor. The chances of getting healthy eggs are increased with a younger partner. A partner who has a healthy uterus or has experienced pregnancy before is a better candidate to act as a gestational carrier or surrogate.
However, this decision is extremely personal. A couple who is just starting out with building a family may decide to take turns to be an egg donor the first time and a gestational partner the second time, or vice versa. The final decision should, however, be taken only after consultation with your fertility expert and on the basis of a complete fertility evaluation and supporting medical history.
The Biological Connection of Both Parents
While the partner that donates the egg has a genetic connection with the baby, the gestational partner also has a solid biological connection through pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. In this way, both partners play significant roles in the birth of the child. That is why it is also referred to as co-maternity.
It was previously believed that the egg donor was the dominant partner as far as the genetic makeup of the child is concerned because the child will express the egg donor’s genes and be more connected genetically to the egg donor. However, new studies indicate that the gestational partner has a more important role than just providing the uterine environment for the development of the fetus.
In a study performed by scientists affiliated with the Fundación Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad (FIVI), Spain, the uterine lining was observed to secrete molecules called microRNAs that were found to play an important role in the gene regulation of the developing fetus. This may have long-term implications on many aspects of the child in the future. This means that even though the genetic template is provided by the egg donor, which genes will express and which won’t is decided, to some extent, by the gestational carrier.
How Much does Reciprocal IVF Cost?
Insurance coverage for fertility treatment in the U.S. is still not widely available with no clear federal guidelines despite a rising number of couples requiring fertility treatment. Most patients pay out of pocket and this figure can typically be over $10,000, depending on a lot of factors like region, fertility facility, medication protocols, and any add-on services. A single IVF cycle may cost anywhere between $15,000 to $30,000. This means that for most couples, the use of assisted reproductive technologies is out of their reach.
However, at Dreams Fertility, we believe that nothing must come between you and your dream of having a family. And to help you achieve this dream of yours, we offer multiple financing options that include different loan plans, many with 0% and low-interest terms exclusively for our patients. We also help you find the most cost-effective solutions for fertility medication through our extensive and close relationships with top pharmacies. We also offer special discounted packages for teachers, active military personnel, police officers, and firefighters.
Reciprocal IVF is a great option for both women to be involved in the fertility process. At Dreams Fertility, our fertility specialists have been helping thousands of LGBTQ+ couples realize their dream of having a child with assisted reproductive technologies like Reciprocal IVF. . Advances in assisted reproductive technologies have made these treatments possible and our fertility clinic uses these cutting-edge advances to not only help same-sex couples through procedures like reciprocal IVF but also for females who have undergone a hysterectomy or who are unable to get pregnant due to medical issues.
Our fertility center has an extensive nationwide network with top sperm banks that can help you choose the right donor sperm and go through the process seamlessly and effortlessly.
We also offer a wide variety of treatment options for infertility to help you in your family-building efforts.
To start your journey of building a family, schedule a consult with one of our Dreams fertility specialists today.
Dr. Luis Murrain joined Dreams Fertility in 2021, providing specialty services in Fertility and Reproductive Genetics. With a shared vision that everyone deserves to have the family of their dreams, we are dedicated to helping all of our patients. We believe that families come in all shapes and sizes, and all of them are beautiful. We are proud to have a long history of providing services to all, including gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals and couples on their road to parenthood.