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Reciprocal IVF: Creating Families For LGBTQ Couples

In Vitro Fertilization, commonly known as IVF, is used to help couples or individuals get pregnant. There are many reasons why someone may choose to pursue IVF. For example, heterosexual couples who struggle with infertility, single men who wish to have a biological child, and LGBTQ couples often turn to IVF to help them have a baby. You can learn more about the basics of IVF here.

So what is reciprocal IVF and how does it work? We are going to answer those questions and more below.

What Is Reciprocal IVF: A Discussion On Assisted Reproduction

With improvements in technology, there are many more options available to LGBTQ couples wishing to grow their family. Reciprocal IVF, also referred to as Partner IVF or Co-IVF, is an increasingly popular form of assisted reproduction available to lesbian or trans male couples. The overall process is very similar to that of standard IVF. However, with reciprocal IVF, one partner supplies the eggs and the other carries the pregnancy.

How Does It Work?

The process of reciprocal IVF allows both partners to have an important role in bringing their new baby into the world. One essentially acts as the egg donor while the other is the gestational carrier. Many couples believe this process allows them both to form a strong bond with their child.

In order for the process to work, both parents must sync their menstrual cycles with the help of medication. One will then start fertility medications to begin ovarian stimulation. Once eggs are produced, they will undergo the egg retrieval procedure. Once retrieved, the eggs will be taken to the lab to be fertilized by the donor sperm.

When the embryos are ready, the other partner who will be carrying the pregnancy will undergo the embryo transfer. Assuming the transfer is successful, the embryo will implant into the uterus and continue to develop and grow over the course of the pregnancy.

Who Will Be The Donor And The Carrier?

The initial step of the reciprocal IVF process is deciding who will be the egg donor and who will be the carrier. When choosing which role each partner will play, there are a number of important factors a couple should consider.

Both partners should share their medical history with their doctor. The overall health of each individual is an important factor to consider. If one has previously given birth or just has a healthier uterus than the other, they would likely be the better candidate to carry the pregnancy.

Likewise, if one partner has a better ovarian reserve, they could be the better fit for undergoing egg retrieval. Age usually plays a big part in the quality and quantity of one’s eggs. So if there is a significant age difference between the two, it might be best to retrieve eggs from the younger partner. Typically, those under the age of 35 are considered to have a greater chance of producing plenty of good quality eggs.

In some cases, one parent may have a strong desire to become pregnant whereas the other is not interested. It’s also important to acknowledge that while a trans man might have the physical ability to carry a pregnancy, he may choose not to as it doesn’t align with his gender identity. It would also require that he discontinue his testosterone treatment during the process which isn’t something many would be comfortable doing.

The Relationship With The Baby

Reciprocal IVF gives both parents the chance to play an important role in growing their family. The parent who acted as the egg donor is genetically connected to their child while the other is connected through pregnancy.

There can be some mixed feelings regarding who gets to actually share genetics with their child. Some may worry that they won’t have as strong of a connection with their child because they’re not genetically related. However, this isn’t necessarily true.

A bond is created between the carrier and the baby in utero over the course of the pregnancy. From carrying their child in the womb, giving birth and even breastfeeding — a strong bond is certainly formed.

In addition, one interesting study published in 2015 showed that the uterus may actually play a role in how genes are expressed. The study performed on mice revealed that molecules secreted from the lining of the uterus called microRNAs, act as a communication system between the baby and the parent carrying the pregnancy.

So what does all this mean? It means that both parents could technically have an influence on their baby’s genes. The partner whose eggs were used clearly has a big impact on the genetic side of things. However, it’s thought that the parent carrying the pregnancy could possibly pass molecules to the baby that might influence the activity level of the child’s genes as well.

It’s always a good idea to mentally prepare yourself for the journey ahead. As this will be an exciting and joyous time for your family, there may be some challenging moments as well. We recommend taking time to discuss the emotional side of becoming parents. Many couples who choose reciprocal IVF seek counsel from a mental health professional who is familiar with the complexities of assisted reproduction and LGBTQ parenting.

We all know that people sometimes make unsolicited comments during and after pregnancy. In many situations, they mean no harm but can unintentionally cause hard feelings. In this case, the carrier may feel hurt when hearing remarks of how much the baby looks like their partner. During the pregnancy, the baby may be referred to as just the carrier’s baby which is of course hurtful to the other parent.

The bottom line—with reciprocal IVF, both parents are given the opportunity to create a special bond with their child. These bonds may be created at different times and in different ways, but it still allows both partners to feel that special connection.

Is It Worth It?

Reciprocal IVF is becoming increasingly popular. As with everything, it comes with pros and cons that should be considered. Overall, the process seems to have a pretty good success rate. According to a study published in 2017, 60% of couples successfully achieved pregnancy with eggs being retrieved from someone averaging 32 years of age.

The cost to undergo reciprocal, or partner, IVF is similar to that of IVF with a known donor. Because both partners are required to take fertility medication, the cost does typically end up being higher than that of a standard IVF cycle.

There is a chance that your insurance company may help cover some of the IVF expenses. Unfortunately, while some companies might cover the cost of IVF treatment when there’s a diagnosis of infertility, there’s a chance they won’t cover reciprocal IVF if it’s not considered medically necessary.

The cost of fertility medication ranges from $3,000 – 10,000 for each partner. When adding that to the average cost of $12,000 for the IVF procedure, you could spend around $15,000 – $30,000 for the cycle. Coverage varies depending on the location and the carrier. It’s best to reach out to your insurance provider before beginning treatment to avoid any hefty, unexpected costs.

It’s important to note that there is a possibility that future cycles could be less expensive. Let’s say that more than enough eggs are produced during the initial cycle. In that case, you might be able to freeze those extra eggs. When using frozen eggs or embryos, the cost of the cycle decreases significantly as you won’t have the expense of things like fertility drugs or egg retrieval.

The Legal Issues

The laws regarding reciprocal IVF vary from state to state. There are a number of important factors to consider from a legal standpoint. For example, will both parents have parental rights? Will an adoption process need to take place for the parent not carrying the pregnancy? You’ll certainly want to take the proper steps to ensure that both partners are recognized as the child’s legal parents. Because there are so many variations in the laws regarding reciprocal IVF, it’s best to seek guidance from an attorney experienced in reproductive law.

Should You Have This Treatment?

Advances in medical technology have opened up a great deal of opportunities when it comes to achieving pregnancy especially for those in the LGBTQ community. Reciprocal IVF is one practice that is becoming increasingly popular among trans men and lesbian couples. With one partner providing the egg(s) and the other then carrying the embryo, they’re both able to play a big part in their journey to parenthood.

Because there are many variations when it comes to potential insurance coverage and laws associated with reciprocal IVF, it’s recommended that you seek help from an experienced assisted reproductive law professional. It’s important to be sure that both parents are protected from a legal standpoint.

As mentioned before, there are pros and cons to undergoing reciprocal IVF. Couples should consider all factors involved when deciding if it is the right fit for them. If so, it’s a good idea to seek guidance from a professional that can walk you through the process and ensure all of the important details are covered.

Interested to know more, don’t hesitate to talk with us! We are always happy to help people on their path to parenthood!

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