Growing a family through IVF
Not everyone has an easy time conceiving a baby. Infertility can be a concern for one or both individuals in a couple. Today, however, advances in fertility treatments are giving more families more opportunities to become biological parents.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) has been available to American women for 35 years, and in that time, its popularity has grown tremendously. In 2014, the most recent data available, 208,604 ART cycles were performed at 458 reporting clinics across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There were 70,354 babies born as a result.
IVF success rates and age
The most discussed type of ART is in vitro fertilization (IVF), a process through which a woman’s eggs are extracted and fertilized in a lab. A small number of resulting embryos are then placed in the woman’s uterus. The remainder can be frozen for future use. The CDC reports that success rates for women younger than 35 in 2014 were overall positive:
- 42.6 percent resulted in pregnancy
- 37.1 percent resulted in a baby
- 23.2 percent resulted in a single infant that was carried to full term (37 or more weeks) and was a healthy weight — at least 5 pounds, 8 ounces
Success rates decline as women age. In 2014, IVF resulted in pregnancy in:
- 36.4 percent for women ages 35 to 37
- 26.9 percent for women ages 38 to 40
- 16.4 percent for women ages 41 to 42
- 8.8 percent for women ages 43 to 44
- 2.7 percent for women older than 44 years old
It is important to note that success rates vary dramatically among laboratories. Each IVF center in the United States is required by law to report outcomes to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Validated clinic specific outcomes can be found at the CDC website, cdc.gov. One of the very exciting new advances within the field has been the ability to perform comprehensive chromosomal screening of embryos (CCS) which has been of great help in couples of advanced age, those with recurrent pregnancy losses, and those who have experienced prior unexplained cycle failure. In addition, embryos of patients who are carriers for mutations of such devastating genetically transmitted diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Tay Sachs can be screened to prevent transmission to an offspring.
Different circumstances, different options
Though IVF might be the most well-known form of ART, it’s certainly not the only option, said Dr. Eric Surrey, medical director of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM), a network of 10 fertility clinics located across the United States and Canada (ccrmivf.com).
“IVF gets the most press, but there are other less aggressive approaches that may be appropriate for any given patient,” said Dr. Surrey.
He added that the many of CCRM’s patients who get pregnant don’t use IVF at all. Depending on circumstances and the results of an evaluation, a specialist might suggest one of the following alternatives:
- Treatments or medications to encourage ovulation/sperm production
- Surgeries to correct abnormalities
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI), a process by which sperm is prepared in a laboratory setting and introduced into the uterus using a small catheter to facilitate conception
Dr. Surrey suggests that women 35 or younger consult a specialist if they have been trying to conceive for a year without success. If the woman is older than 35, it’s best to seek a specialist after six months of trying.
What to expect
Pursuing ART can be both exciting and challenging. Being prepared for the journey ahead is important. Dr. Surrey recommends that if a couple is trying to get pregnant, both parties should come to appointments. This way, both can fill out medical histories, understand prescribed tests and medications, feel comfortable with the process, ask questions and thoroughly consider every option that may impact fertility.
Patients should also be emotionally prepared. When a couple or individual consult a doctor for ART, there are usually other pressures. Friends and family might be giving unwanted advice or asking probing questions. Societal or work pressures about when and how to begin a family may also add to an already difficult time.
To help counter the emotional stress, some clinics have counselors available to help support the patient. CCRM, for example, has a full-time staff of counselors who will speak one-on-one with the couple or an individual. They provide counseling throughout the fertility journey, and even into the pregnancy. Group sessions are also available.
Financial preparation is also important, as ART often comes with a high price tag. The American Society For Reproductive Medicine reported the average cost of one cycle of IVF is $12,400. Many times, it takes more than one cycle to become pregnant.
Different insurance companies approach coverage in different ways. Dr. Surrey said that CCRM is careful to walk each patient through the cost of treatment, determining how much the patient’s insurance will cover, and what the ultimate out-of-pocket amount will be. For some, a fertility loan can provide the necessary financing without requiring a prospective parent to dip into other assets, such as home equity, 401K or high-performing stocks.
The truth is, there’s no one right way to begin or grow a family. Some people conceive easily; others find IVF or another option to be helpful. Still others choose surrogacy, adoption or foster parenting. In the end, what really matters is the love a parent has for their child.
The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine is a financing affiliate of LightStream.