PrivateBlogReciprocal IVF – what is it and how does it work?
Infertility and treatment

Reciprocal IVF – step by step explanation of the procedure

Two women in a relationship having reciprocal IVF treatment

Reciprocal IVF treatment is a form of fertility treatment that lesbian couples can use to be physically involved in the pregnancy. In this blog post, we explain what reciprocal IVF is, the different steps in the procedure, why egg retrieval is necessary, and why some couples use it to fulfil their dreams of a child.

What is reciprocal IVF?

Reciprocal IVF is a form of fertility treatment for lesbian couples, similar to IVF treatment. The difference is that in reciprocal IVF, the eggs from one woman are retrieved and fertilized with donor sperm before being transferred to the other woman’s uterus. Here, the embryo hopefully sticks to the uterus wall and becomes a pregnancy. Reciprocal IVF is a preferred option amongst many lesbian couples because both women are physically involved in the pregnancy, with one supplying the eggs, while the other woman is going to carry and give birth to the child.

What is the success rate when using reciprocal IVF?

According to a study, the success rates of reciprocal IVF treatment are very promising, with a live birth rate of 60% per receiving couple. It is, however, important to note that not many studies have been performed in this area yet, and therefore any future success rates might be different than the one in this study. If you want to read more about success rates in other types of fertility treatment, then follow the links to our pages about ICI treatment, IUI treatment, and ICSI treatment.

The cost of reciprocal IVF

The cost of reciprocal IVF varies depending on factors such as the country in which you receive treatment and the fertility clinic you choose. Compared to traditional IVF, reciprocal IVF tends to have a higher overall cost as the procedure is more complicated than normal IVF.

It is worth noting that insurance coverage for reciprocal IVF is not always available, and it is important to be aware of the laws and regulations regarding this method of fertility treatment in the country you have chosen to receive treatment. In some countries, reciprocal IVF is not legal, which could force you to have treatment in another country, thus adding extra cost to the price of reciprocal IVF.

Therefore, it is essential to thoroughly research and understand the financial aspect of reciprocal IVF. This can help to ensure that the cost of treatment is manageable and within your budget, making it easier for you to focus on the most important aspect of this journey: building your family.

Woman in fertility treatment injecting herself with hormones

The process of reciprocal IVF - step by step

Reciprocal IVF treatment consists of six steps and is very similar to normal IVF treatment with donor sperm. The only difference is that the eggs are retrieved from one woman and transferred to her female partner. Here below we explain the different parts of a reciprocal IVF treatment:

  • Step 1 - Choosing a sperm donor: Before the reciprocal IVF treatment can begin, you need to choose a sperm donor. There are many things to consider, such as the amount of information accessible and whether your future donor-conceived child will be able to contact their donor in the future.
  • Step 2 - Ovarian stimulation: Before the woman can have her eggs retrieved, her ovaries must be stimulated to create more than one mature egg. By stimulating the ovaries with hormones, it is possible to “trick” the ovary into creating more mature eggs than usual.
  • Step 3 - Egg retrieval: Egg retrieval is a crucial step in reciprocal IVF, as the woman not carrying the child needs to have her eggs retrieved for fertilization. After the ovarian stimulation is completed, and multiple eggs have hopefully matured, it is time for egg retrieval. During egg retrieval, a fertility doctor retrieves the eggs using an ultrasound and a small needle.
  • Step 4 - Uterus stimulation: Once the eggs are retrieved, the partner receiving the embryo needs hormone stimulation to prepare her uterus for the transfer. By stimulating the uterus, you make sure that the fertilised egg will stick to the uterus wall and hopefully develops into a baby.
  • Step 5 - Fertilization and transfer: Once the eggs are retrieved, an embryologist uses donor sperm to fertilize the eggs. After 3 to 5 days, the embryologist can see whether the egg has been fertilized and developed into a 5-day embryo, also known as a blastocyst. If successful, a blastocyst is transferred to the partner who did not provide the eggs. If more than one egg has developed into a blastocyst, the excess blastocysts can be frozen and stored for another attempt or siblings.
  • Step 6 - Pregnancy: After the embryo transfer, the fertilized egg hopefully sticks to the uterine wall and evolves into a pregnancy. It is possible to see whether the treatment has been successful about two weeks after transferring the eggs. This period is often referred to as the two-week wait. If you want inspiration on what to do during this period, you can follow this link to our blog post called What to do during the two-week wait.

Are both parents biologically connected to the baby?

Both parents are biologically linked to the child, but only the mother who provides her eggs shares a genetic connection with the child. The other mother, who carries and gives birth to the child, often forms a special attachment to the child. This bond can be further strengthened through breastfeeding, which creates a unique connection between the child and the birth mother.

A woman with a positive pregnancy test

3 things to consider before choosing reciprocal IVF

If you and your partner are thinking about using reciprocal IVF treatment to fulfil your dreams of a child, then there are a few things you should consider before deciding. Here we have created a list of 3 things to consider before having reciprocal IVF:

  • The legislation regarding this type of treatment: Reciprocal IVF is illegal in many countries. Therefore, we recommend that you research whether it is possible in your country. If not, you must consider if you are willing to travel to a country that allows it. Travelling to another country to receive fertility treatment is called fertility tourism. If reciprocal IVF is illegal in your country and you do not want to receive treatment in another country, you can read more about IVF treatment for lesbian couples here.
  • Egg retrieval and pregnancy: Before planning a reciprocal IVF treatment as a lesbian couple, you must decide on who will have her eggs retrieved, and thereby have a genetic relation to the child, and who will carry the baby through pregnancy and give birth. In other words, both of you will form some sort of biological connection to the child, which is why this type of treatment is preferred by many lesbians. A lot of factors such as health, age, and will might influence the decision about who does what. Some women might also have a strong preference regarding getting the chance to experience pregnancy and carry the child, while others might prefer to have a genetic relation to the child.
  • Choosing the right sperm donor: What are your criteria regarding the sperm donor? At Cryos, many lesbian couples choose a sperm donor with physical traits similar to a woman who will not be genetically related to the child. However, there can be many reasons for choosing a particular sperm donor, which is why it is a good idea to start discussing this early on. If you would like to see which sperm donors are currently available at Cryos, please follow the link to our free Sperm Donor Search.