For people dealing with infertility issues, sometimes the dream of starting a family can become a nightmare. Struggling with your body’s inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy can be a long, difficult and heartbreaking journey, but there are options—and there can be hope. For National Infertility Awareness week, we asked Dr. Virginia Houserman, medical director of the ART Fertility Program of Alabama, to talk with us about infertility issues, IVF and how it’s possible for your dreams of starting a family to become a reality.
What is IVF?
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a procedure that increases the likelihood of conception by combining sperm and eggs outside the body, then implanting the fertilized eggs into a woman’s uterus. It is designed to mitigate factors that can degrade a couple’s fertility in “traditional” conception, such as blocked or absent fallopian tubes, low sperm count and more.
What does the process for IVF entail?
First, fertility medications are prescribed to stimulate egg production. Then, the eggs are retrieved through a minor outpatient procedure performed in the ART Fertility Program office. Next, the male is asked to produce a sample of sperm. The sperm and eggs are then combined in a laboratory for fertilization. The goal is always to fertilize multiple eggs, because not all eggs will fully develop into embryos.
Then, approximately three to five days later, a small catheter is used to transfer the “best” one or two embryos into the woman’s uterus. Seven to 10 days later, we perform a blood test in our office to determine if the woman is pregnant.
Who does IVF work best for?
IVF can be a good option for many people, including women with blocked or absent fallopian tubes, or men with a low sperm count. The success of an IVF procedure is dependent on a number of factors, including a women’s age, quality of the sperm and a woman’s ovarian reserve. As a woman gets older, her IVF success rates decline if she is using her own eggs. The IVF live birth rate for women under the age of 35 is about 40%. However, older women that choose to use donated eggs have a higher IVF live birth rate.
What are lifestyle changes I can make to increase my fertility?
- Maintain a healthy diet — Studies have proven that eating a healthy diet will increase fertility. When trying to get pregnant, consider eating more vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. Please try to limit your intake of trans fatty foods, red meat, carbohydrates, and sugars.
- Maintain a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) — Studies have also shown that maintaining a healthy weight increases fertility. BMIs that are too low or too high can disrupt a woman’s ovulation. Men with abnormally high BMIs may also improve sperm parameters with weight loss.
- Don’t use tobacco, drink less alcohol — Best pregnancy rates can be obtained with stopping tobacco or nicotine use. Additionally, excessive use of alcohol can decrease pregnancy rates. Women should have minimal exposure to alcohol use when attempting pregnancy. For men, it can also take up to 72 days to clear the sperm from exposure to these toxins.
Is there an affordable way to do IVF if I don’t have insurance?
Yes: The ART Fertility Program of Alabama does offer a Shared Risk Refund Plan for select couples looking to do an IVF or Egg Recipient cycle. The plan is designed such that if a qualified couple does not achieve a live birth, a significant portion of their money will be refunded. The refundable portion of the plan fee will then allow the couple to pursue other options, such as adoption.