When you’re ready for a baby, it’s not as simple as jumping in the sack with your partner and voilà, job complete. You, or your guy, might be struggling with infertility issues. Maybe you’re part of a same-sex couple. Or perhaps you just want to do the single mom thing.
Whatever the circumstances, more and more women are turning to in vitro fertilization (IVF). While there’s no question this complex series of procedures is a miracle of modern medicine, it can also be accompanied by a hefty price tag and a slew of physical and emotional side effects. Some of us know nothing about the process, others want to learn more and many have been through it.
We want the entire SuperShe community to be on the same page, so we’re here to demystify IVF. Even if you’re not the one experiencing it or considering it, it’s our duty as women supporting women to know WTF our sisters are dealing with and help them navigate it with a level of love and compassion rivaling that of drunk girls in the bar bathroom line who call you a radiant goddess while you’re waiting to pee. So let’s dive in, letting experts and real women educate the hell outta us.
How TF Does IVF Work?
In simple terms, IVF is the process of retrieving viable eggs from a woman’s fallopian tubes, fertilizing them outside the body in a medical lab with sperm from a male (after your partner or a sperm donor has gotten real intimate with his hand in a small, dark clinic room) and then transferring the fertilized eggs (the exact number depends on your situation, but it’s at least one) back into the female’s uterus. Then BOOM—life! Well, it’s not that easy every time, but the concept is still awesome.
There are plenty of reasons why women and couples turn to IVF for baby-making assistance. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), IVF can be helpful for women with damaged or missing fallopian tubes, ovulation issues, certain genetic disorders, and even just infertility without a concrete explanation. Not to mention, IVF is a great option for women in same-sex relationships or those who want to be a mom on their own. But ladies aren’t the only gender struggling to create a family; men may be running up against some obstacles, too. IVF can help those with a low sperm count or slow swimmers, for example.
“IVF requires just one sperm cell for each egg, enabling successful fertilization even in cases of the most severe male infertility,” says a spokesperson for Extend Fertility, a NYC egg-freezing service. “And generally, because it allows for the simultaneous use of multiple eggs without an inherent risk of multiple pregnancy (unlike other assisted reproductive technologies), it is the most powerful and successful treatment for all forms of infertility, including age-related infertility and unexplained infertility.”
IVF isn’t perfect and you’re not guaranteed a win every time. But the success rates are definitely more promising than our dream of wifing up Idris Elba. The APA states that the live birth rate in the U.S. as a result of IVF is approximately “41 to 43 percent for women under age 35” and “33 to 36 percent for women ages 35 to 37.” If you want to be a mom or have another kid more than anything, those odds are good e-fucking-nough to try, if you ask us.
Will Your Insurance Cover This Whole Shebang?
OK, we know we just said the odds are promising enough to take IVF out for a spin. But—as any rom-com from the early 2000s taught us—life isn’t as simple as just wanting something and doing it. There are a lot of moving parts. In this case: the multiple costs involved with bringing a little one into this world
We didn’t come here to blather about not putting a price on parenthood, so we won’t do you like that. If your insurance won’t cover IVF, one cycle of this stuff—a combo of the process and the meds—can cost $20,000, according to data from FertilityIQ. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get pregnant and stay pregnant after just one cycle. “Despite IVF’s relative effectiveness, the average fertility patient undergoes over two cycles and so the cumulative IVF costs for most fertility patients reach into the $40,00 to $60,000 range,” states FertilityIQ.
Minimal insurance coverage was a not-so-great reality for Ukemè, a NYC senior video producer who had a boy, now five months old, through IVF before joining the SuperShe team. “My husband and I got $10,000,” she says. “But you go through that so quickly, because that’s only enough for the treatments to successfully extract the egg and to facilitate the meeting of the egg and the sperm. It didn’t cover the drugs needed to make the eggs.” Ultimately, she ended up spending $10,000 out of her own pocket for prescription drugs and things like testing to make sure the sperm weren’t abnormal.
We promise we’re not trying to scare you, but we want you to consider what you might be taking on, you know? And it’s not all bad news, we swear.
“My husband and I were very lucky that our insurance covered the whole thing,” says Megan Woolsey, a writer, blogger, and mom in California who conceived triplets through IVF (insert our jaws hitting the floor here). The president of Megan’s husband’s company had experienced the IVF process in his own personal life, so he made sure to provide employee insurance that covered up to a maximum of $100,000—injectable medications included, she says. Dang, woman. The money saved on conceiving can go straight into the kids’ college fund.
Check with your insurance provider to see if IVF is covered, either in part or in full. Here’s a handy-dandy place to see what your state laws are regarding infertility insurance coverage, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Go full Elle Woods, baby, because that stuff varies from state to state.
What Eggsactly Is Going to Go down?
So…here’s the real MFing deal (you wouldn’t expect anything less from us, right?). It all starts with your period, such is life. Once Aunt Flo comes to town, you begin the 10- to 12-day process or about half your cycle. Depending on your body and all that special internal stuff that makes you you, your doc will prescribe a certain dosage of specific fertility meds and hormones that you’ll have to inject yourself with one to two times a day. Our apologies, needle-phobes.
According to our experts and real IVF-vets, you inject yourself—sometimes in the stomach, sometimes in the booty—with hormones, like gonadotropin, that stimulate egg production to max out your chances of creating enough eggs to pop a viable bun back in your oven. Every day during the process, you’ll head back to your fertility doctor to get bloodwork done (and even some ultrasounds), to determine if the hormones you’re taking need to be changed and when is the perfect time to extract your eggs. They don’t wanna cook those eggs for too long, so a daily checkup is a must.
We’re not going to pretend that jabbing yourself with a needle every day is fun. “The process of IVF is grueling,” says Megan. “You have to give yourself shots in your belly every day. Then there’s the shot in your butt that’s super painful.” Talk about a literal pain in the ass.
But for other women, it’s not so bad, especially when you get a literal helping hand from your partner or a friend. “The process didn’t suck for me,” says Emem-Simpson . “I was lucky, I didn’t ever have to do the shots myself, so it was fine. That was my husband’s job.”
Unfortunately, your bod isn’t the only thing that’s along for the ride. “For me, the emotional strain was worse than the physical,” says Goldman. “Just that I needed IVF, in general. Getting pregnant was effortless for everyone else. Why me? Why did I have to give myself injections and go in for ultrasounds early every morning?”
Even after the egg-prep phase is over, it can still be a real mind fuck. You’ll undergo the minimally-invasive, roughly 20-minute egg extraction that uses a catheter to gently suck out your eggs while you’re knocked out from some anesthesia. Now, fast forward a little bit. You might end up with a precious bundle of joy that changes your life forever. But, if IVF doesn’t end up working for you—either your eggs don’t fertilize in the lab, your uterus doesn’t sustain the embryo or you miscarry shortly after becoming pregnant—it really fucking sucks.
But listen to us, and listen to us good, ladies: none of this is your damn fault. Shit happens, and you’re a superstar just the way you are. It might be your dude’s inner biology that’s got some quirks. It might be yours. Either way: no one is 100%, textbook-level, biologically perfect, and TBH, it’d be super fucking creepy if everyone was walking around like perfect, genetically-engineered robots from Westworld.
So, we know it’s waaaaaay easier said than done, but staying positive can really help. “I tried to have a really good attitude, even though the process was hard for me,” says Megan. “I think it’s important to stay positive because your attitude can affect your body.” We’re not just saying all this to be nice, SuperShes. We’re seriously rooting for you, even when IVF has you feeling as frustrated as Amy Poehler in Baby Mama. You got this, woman!