In vitro fertilization, usually referred to as IVF, is a common treatment for couples with infertility. The procedure is expensive and somewhat invasive as far as medical treatments go, and it's definitely not something to be undertaken without a lot of careful consideration. But for couples who need it, IVF can have a lot of advantages.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) usually is used only by couples who have trouble getting pregnant without intervention. The procedure involves the female partner taking medication to stimulate her ovaries to produce more eggs than usual. These eggs are then harvested surgically once they have ripened. The male partner then produces a sperm specimen and the sperm are combined in the lab with the woman's eggs. The embryos are grown in the lab for three to five days and then the most viable embryos (usually one or two) are transferred back to the woman's uterus. Seven to ten days later, she takes a pregnancy test. Depending on the circumstances, the procedure has a roughly 30% success rate each cycle it's tried. But, it can cost more than $10,000 per cycle.
For couples with certain types of infertility, IVF has the obvious benefit of boosting the odds of getting pregnant, sometimes from a near zero odds of pregnancy. For example, a woman who has blocked fallopian tubes will have a good chance of getting pregnant through IVF but astronomically low odds of getting pregnant without intervention. IVF can also be the best choice when men have a low sperm count or other issues impacting their ability to fertilize the egg. Using IVF and implanting already created embryos eliminates the need for the sperm to navigate the woman's reproductive tract. IVF would also be the treatment of choice any time a couple decides to use donor eggs, such as if the woman is suffering from premature ovarian failure or has other issues with her own supply of eggs. In these cases, the embryos would be created using the woman's partner's sperm with the donor eggs and then transferred into the woman's uterus during the correct point of her menstrual cycle.
In addition to helping couples get pregnant who otherwise might not have been able to, IVF also means the potential to test for genetic abnormalities in the eggs prior to transferring them back into the mother. Some women have high risk for having a baby affected by serious chromosomal disorders, and with new medical techniques, doctors can test the chromosomes in each embryo before completing the IVF in order to be sure that viable embryos are being transferred.
IVF can be very expensive, especially if using genetic testing on the embryos, and the costs are often not covered by insurance. The couple often must fund the treatment. Combining that with the fact that IVF is far from guaranteed to result in a pregnancy, it becomes obvious that couples should think carefully before deciding to pursue IVF. Yet for couples who dream of having a baby against the odds, IVF has obvious appeal and these challenges are not major roadblocks. It's important to note also that even though there are stories in the media now and then of women in their sixties and seventies giving birth to babies, these stories are the exception rather than the rule. IVF works most successfully in women under 35; it can still work in women over 35 but the odds of success are somewhat lower each month.
Many people have ethical problems with IVF for whatever reason, primarily because the treatment often results in extra embryos that may or may not be transferred back into the mother at any point. Pro-life advocates often decry this fact as a waste of life, viewing frozen embryos as being equivalent to children. Yet the fact of extra embryos may be a benefit for some couples who prefer to undergo the embryo creation procedure only once and then save the extra embryos for an attempt to have a second child or to repeat the IVF procedure in the event that the first transfer is not successful. In addition, some criticize all fertility treatments with the argument that couples suffering from infertility should just adopt a child instead of using infertility treatment. But, the reality is that adoption (especially of newborn babies) can be extremely expensive and time consuming as well. Sometimes IVF is actually cheaper and faster than adoption in reality, making it the simplest option for couples who have trouble getting pregnant.