Science is an incredible thing. Thanks to years of advancements in infertility treatments, and IVF in particular, pregnancy is now possible for tons of women who otherwise may never be able to conceive.
It’s the most effective treatment for infertility, but it’s no walk in the park.
1. IVF is very time consuming.
A full course of IVF usually takes between four weeks and two months, depending on how quickly your body responds to the various medications. And in that time, there’s a lot you have to do.
The first part of IVF is suppressing the natural menstrual cycle, which is typically done with a daily hormone injection or a nasal spray—some protocols use hormonal birth control. This lasts for about two weeks. The next step is ovarian stimulation, in the form of self-administered shots, one to three daily, for anywhere from eight to 12 days. Then, your doctor will administer a shot to prompt the eggs’ release, and see you again in about 36 hours for the egg retrieval process, a short outpatient procedure that requires IV sedation. The collected eggs are then immediately fertilized and left to grow for six days. Finally, one viable embryo is chosen, and implanted into the woman with a non-surgical procedure, done using a catheter. A little over a week later, your doctor will test to see if the embryo implanted successfully.
It’s important to note that on top of the medications and various procedures, you will need to be constantly monitored, with doctors appointments, blood tests, and ultrasounds, throughout the whole process.
2. The whole process can be very stressful.
While IVF has become a very streamlined treatment, it’s still a very stressful process. Which is why Alan B. Copperman, M.D., director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Hospital and medical director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, says he encourages patients to always ask questions. “The best way to combat stress is with information, it gives a sense of control,” he tells SELF. Doing research about the process and asking your doctor anything and everything will make you feel empowered and help ease the uncertainty and stress that’s typical during the process. “It’s stressful to get up early and get to the doctor’s office and potentially be late for work,” Copperman says.
3. But contrary to what you may have heard, being stressed out is not going to make it harder to get pregnant.
While past research has leaned both ways, it’s understood now that psychological factors contribute very minimally to fertility (if at all). “Stress doesn’t really cause infertility; infertility causes stress,” Copperman says. “If you have a healthy embryo, it’s going to implant in a healthy uterus,” Copperman says, whether you had a crazy day or spent hours meditating. “Civilization wouldn’t be around if times of stress and hardship caused an embryo to not stick.” Research does suggest that stress can lead to unhealthy habits like smoking that impact fertility, and impact overall well-being, so it’s important to get stress levels under control.
4. Along the way, it’s likely—and totally fine—that you’ll feel moody, thanks to the influx of hormones.
Chances are IVF may make you a bit moody, thanks to the drastic hormonal fluctuations you experience from injecting hormones every day. “Some women are also just more hormonally sensitive,” Susan Benjamin Feingold, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who works with many women going through infertility treatments and author of Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders, tells SELF. If you have drastic mood changes or are super irritable when you PMS, that normally indicates you are hormonally sensitive and may be more affected by hormonal treatments.
5. What’s more, going through fertility treatments can even make you more prone to depression and anxiety, including postpartum depression.
“If you’re lucky enough to have very even brain chemistry, [going through fertility treatments] is hard enough then,” Feingold says. “But if you’re predisposed to depression or anxiety disorders and then go through this very stressful time, with lots of ups and downs,” you’re more likely to find those issues manifesting themselves, even after you’ve given birth.
6. The shots can cause some uncomfortable side effects, but nothing too extreme.
Breast tenderness and abdominal bloating are two side effects of IVF shots. While it’s typically not severe, it’s kind of like having PMS symptoms that drag on for about two weeks. Shots can also cause bruising at the site, typically your stomach or thigh. Chrissy Teigen recently said that she was undergoing IVF while shooting for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, and that the makeup crew had to cover up some of her bruises on set.
7. The IVF process can take a toll on your relationship.
Infertility is a huge hardship, and impacts not just the woman trying to get pregnant, but both partners in the relationship. “We know separation and divorce are more common in infertile couples,” Copperman says. “Many drop out of treatment before it ever works so that they don’t have this stressor on their marriage.” He adds, though, that as IVF has become more advanced and streamlined over the years, he’s found couples feel more empowered and less stressed about the entire process. Feingold adds that it’s not uncommon for couples to have a strained sex life following infertility treatments. After having a tough time getting pregnant and treating sex like a job, “it sometimes changes the associations with sex as being a pleasurable loving experience, into a job and very serious.”
8. It typically takes more than one cycle of IVF to become pregnant.
Some women do get pregnant with just one IVF cycle, but according to the National Infertility Association, most women need to undergo multiple rounds before they are successful. Based on statistics, the association recommends sticking it out for three cycles of treatment. If you wait a month in between each (some fertility clinics recommend letting one menstrual cycle pass before trying again), you’re looking at about eight months undergoing IVF. Studies estimate that the chance of having a baby after three cycles of IVF can range anywhere from 45 percent to 63 percent (the majority of women typically have a 20 to 30 percent success rate with just one round of IVF).
9. You can choose your baby’s gender with an extra screening process.
During the IVF process, you can choose an elective test called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) that analyses the chromosomes of each embryo, including the sex chromosomes. “We only do it if the couple requests. It requires them to sign off on it, as it’s not covered by insurance,”says Meike L. Uhler, M.D., a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the Fertility Centers of Illinois. She adds that there’s an increase in patients utilizing this service, but that most aren’t using it specifically for gender selection. Rather, it’s mostly used for women of advanced maternal age, aka, 35 or older. “Also in patients who repeatedly miscarried many times or failed on IVF cycle.” Be prepared to shell out a couple thousand dollars more for this screening.
10. IVF is the most effective way for infertile couples to get pregnant, so stick it out if you can.
Depending on your insurance coverage, IVF can be pricey, and we’ve already established it’s stressful in more ways than one. But it’s also the best bet for infertile couples to get pregnant. “IVF has highest success rate for many patients,” of all infertility treatments, Uhler says. It also is the best way to make sure you don’t have twins or triplets (which can happen with other fertility treatments and increases the likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight) and—if you opt for advanced genetic screening—minimize the risk of genetic disorders and increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
11. Throughout it all, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself.
It’s easy to feel down and think negatively about yourself and your body when you’re suffering with infertility. “If you’re feeling down on yourself, you might not be so self loving and self nurturing,” Feingold says. But it’s important to take care of yourself to help keep the stressful process manageable. Whether it’s taking time every day to meditate, treating yourself to a massage, or just setting aside time each day for a hobby you love, always remember that taking good care of you is just as important as any other step of the IVF process.