What Is Reciprocal IVF, and How It Can Help LGBTQ2IA+ Couples With Their Family Building Goals?
What is Reciprocal IVF?
Within the last decade, advances in medical technology have significantly increased parenting options for people in LGBTQ2IA+ communities. ReciprocalIn-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), also called co-maternity, partner-assisted reproduction, shared motherhood, or ROPA (reception of oocytes from partner), is a popular fertility treatment option for couples who both possess a uterus.
Reciprocal IVF allows both partners to be physically and emotionally involved in the pregnancy, as both parents play a role in conceiving the child. One partner’s eggs are fertilized using donor sperm, and once the fertilized egg develops into an embryo, it is placed in the other partner’s uterus to be carried to term.
Dr. Erica Berman, registered psychotherapist, describes the emotional benefits of IVF by stating that “reciprocal IVF allows both members of a couple to have a physical connection to the child’s prenatal development. It also allows the couple to make a decision together about who is carrying the pregnancy based on financial/employment situations”.
How does the process work?
Reciprocal IVF begins by synching both partners’ cycles using birth control. This step ensures that the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, is at the proper thickness to receive the fertilized egg1. Next, hormone medication is used to stimulate the egg donor’s ovaries, producing multiple mature eggs1. These eggs are then removed from the body, and sperm is combined or inserted to create an embryo1. When the fresh embryo reaches an appropriate maturity, usually after a few days, the embryo is transferred to the second partner, who will carry the pregnancy to term1. If any fertilized embryos remain after the procedure (that were not implanted), they can be frozen and stored for future use. Frozen embryo transfer begins by thawing the embryos that were previously created and implanting them into a prepared endometrium, bypassing both egg collection and fertilization steps.
How do both parents influence the child’s genetics?
While the parent supplying the egg contributes a large part of the child’s genetics, new research has revealed that the mother carrying the fetus can significantly influence how these genes develop. Lifestyle factors such as stress level, nutrition and exercise can positively or negatively impact the developing fetus, a biological concept known as epigenetics2,3.
A great analogy for the concept of epigenetics, as explained by Nature, is a musical orchestra. The child’s genes are like sheet music, but lifestyle factors are the conductor, who can change the music’s volume and speed. By changing these factors, the same sheet music can sound very different. If you’d like to see the concept of epigenetics depicted visually, take a look at this video from Nature Video.
Before considering reciprocal IVF, partners should discuss:
Who will act as a sperm donor?
Who will supply the egg (supplier)
Who will carry the pregnancy (carrier)
It is a good idea to involve your fertility doctor in these discussions. They can use information from fertility testing and medical history to determine which partner would be best suited for each role to offer the best chance of a successful and safe pregnancy.
Typically, the partner who has a higher number of eggs (known as an ovarian reserve) will act as the supplier. If one partner has previously had a child or undergone IVF or IUI treatment, they will likely make a better candidate for a carrier. However, personal preference also plays a large part in deciding these roles, such as if one partner does not wish to carry a child.
What are the success rates?
Like all IVF treatments, many factors can influence the success rate of reciprocal IVF. These include age, health issues, and doctors’ experience level and those performing the procedures.
However, UK researchers from The London Women’s Clinic recently conducted a large scientific study on the success rate of reciprocal IVF (Bodri et al. 2017). This study followed 121 lesbian couples undergoing the procedure, 75% of which were under the age of 35. With a cumulative live birth rate of 60%, researchers concluded that reciprocal IVF is a safe and successful procedure associated with good birth outcomes1.
If you are interested to learn more about family building options for the LGBTQ+ community, book a consultation today!
Bodri, D., Nair, S., Gill, A., Lamanna, G., Rahmati, M., Arian-Schad, M., Smith, V., Linara, E., Wang, J., Macklon, N., & Ahuja, K. K. (2018). Shared motherhood IVF: high delivery rates in a large study of treatments for lesbian couples using partner-donated eggs.Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 36(2), 130–136.
Kwon, E.J, Kim, Y.J. (2017). What is fetal programming? A lifetime health in under the control of in utero health. Obstet Gynecol Sci, 60(6), 506-519.
Gluckman, P.D., Hanson, M.A., Cooper, C., Thornburg, K.L. (2008). Effect of In Utero and Early-Life Conditions on Adult Health and Disease. N Engl J Med, 359(1), 61-73.
Chloe Graham (she/her)
Doctoral Student (University of Guelph, Biomedical Sciences)
About the author
Chloe is a Masters Student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph, who also works as a patient coordinator at Anova Fertility.
At Anova, she educates patients through creating online resources, manages patient flow and assists with administrative functions. Before joining our team, Chloe advocated for women’s health and reproductive rights as an executive member of Oxfam at Guelph, local branch of the international anti-poverty organization.
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