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Infertility and treatment

Reciprocal IVF – what is it and how does it work?

Two women in a relationship having reciprocal IVF treatment

Reciprocal IVF treatment, is a form of fertility treatment that lesbian couples can use to both be physically involved in the pregnancy. In this blog post, we explain what reciprocal IVF is, how it works 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, where 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.

The process of reciprocal IVF

Reciprocal IVF treatment consists of 6 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:

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.

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.

Woman in fertility treatment injecting herself with hormones

3. Egg retrieval
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.

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.

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.

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.

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, which you can read more about in the link.
  • 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 a 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 the 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.

Reciprocal IVF success rates

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 fertility treatments, then follow the links to our pages about ICI treatment, IUI treatment, and ICSI treatment.