When LGBTQ+ couples want to start a family, there are a myriad of options available to them. However, there are important decisions to be made when it comes to who is contributing genetic material (egg or sperm) to each pregnancy, as well as who will be carrying the baby.
Lesbian couples have the option of reciprocal IVF
Reciprocal IVF is an exciting option for lesbian couples, giving each woman the chance to be more actively involved in the conception, pregnancy and birth of their child.
In the past, most lesbian couples decided which woman would both conceive and carry the baby, using donor sperm and IUI to get pregnant (or the DIY turkey baster method). In that model, the same woman contributes both her egg(s) and her uterus for the pregnancy. If both women were interested in experiencing pregnancy and labor, they simply switched roles when they were ready for baby number two.
There are obvious shortcomings to this process, particularly for women who have no interest in being pregnant or giving birth, but are very interested in having a biological child of their own. That’s why reciprocal IVF is gaining popularity for lesbian couples who want to have a more equal share in the conception, pregnancy and birth of their children.
Reciprocal IVF requires 4 steps
The reciprocal IVF process aligns almost identically with a traditional IVF model, but the donor egg originates from one-half of the parental partnership.
Step One: Fertility testing
We highly recommend that both women go through at least the minimal level of fertility testing. We may find that an undiagnosed infertility factor changes the roles in terms of who contributes the eggs and who carries the baby to improve your chances of success. Or, in some cases, the results of your fertility tests may change your fertility plan more dramatically – using a separate donor’s eggs or using another gestational carrier altogether.
Step Two: Egg retrieval
For reciprocal IVF, we retrieve the eggs of one partner (the egg donor), fertilize them using donor sperm, and then transfer them into the other woman’s uterus (the gestational carrier). Therefore, the woman contributing her eggs to the pregnancy will use fertility medications to stimulate her egg follicles, and we’ll retrieve a target goal of 15 eggs.
Keep in mind that age matters when it comes to egg quality. If either or you is 35-years or older, it’s best to use eggs from the youngest partner to increase your odds of IVF success. If both of you are 38-years or older, you may want to consider using a donor egg or donor embryo, rather than going the reciprocal IVF route, to experience the same chances of IVF success as the egg donor’s age bracket.
Step Three: Fertilization
Once we have the eggs, our embryologists will mix them with the donor sperm for fertilization. In most cases, healthy eggs and healthy sperm yield multiple embryos – these will remain fresh or can be frozen and stored depending on your timeline.
Step Four: Embryo Transfer
If you’re opting to transfer fresh embryos, we’ll work with the woman receiving the eggs, syncing her menstrual cycle so that the eggs are transferred roughly five days after she ovulates – mimicking Mother Nature’s cycle. If you opt to wait, we’ll freeze and store the embryos until you’re ready to get pregnant.
Once you’re ready, we’ll sync your cycle accordingly and transfer the embryos, after which you get to travel the proverbial IVF gauntlet – known as The Two Week Wait.
The exciting news is that when fertility health is verified by a specialist, the egg donor is 35-years or younger and the sperm comes from a legitimate sperm bank, reciprocal IVF can have higher-than-normal success rates (follow IVF success rates for the age bracket of the mother contributing the egg).
Are you interested in learning more about reciprocal IVF? Have you decided to move forward with reciprocal IVF to start your family? Contact us here at the Reproductive Resource Center (RRC) where you’ll experience treatment from the a fertility center with excellent IVF success rates.