Female same-sex couples have various options for starting and growing their family, from intrauterine insemination (IUI) with donor sperm to traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF). While these can be the right options for many couples, others are seeking ways for both partners to share in the process of building their family.
Reciprocal IVF, also known as partner IVF, co-IVF, or shared motherhood, allows one partner to donate the egg, while the other partner carries the pregnancy. The process is similar to traditional IVF: the partner donating the egg goes through ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval; the eggs are fertilized with donor sperm; and the resultant embryo is transferred to the other partner for implantation and pregnancy. While this process has been emotionally rewarding for many couples in female same-sex relationships, some are seeking ways for both partners to share more fully in the process.
A fertility treatment option that allows both partners more involvement
An innovative procedure called intravaginal culture (IVC) allows both partners in a female same-sex relationship to be a greater part of the process.
With traditional reciprocal IVF, once the eggs are removed from the first partner’s ovaries, they are placed in the lab and fertilized with sperm. The resulting embryo is placed in a growing medium and incubated in a laboratory before being transferred to the second partner’s uterus.
Here is what the IVC process can look like for female same-sex couples. It starts the same way as an IVF cycle, with ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. The eggs are placed with sperm into a small device, then placed into either of the partners’ vagina for fertilization and incubation. After a short incubation period, the doctor will remove the device from the body and examine the quality and quantity of the embryos that have developed. Then, the doctor will work with the partners to decide on the number of embryos to be transferred to the uterus for pregnancy.
As one mom who carried the pregnancy in a female same-sex marriage using IVC said: “[My wife] got to carry him for the first few days and was a big part of the fertilization. And then, I carried him for 9 months, so that made it really special for the both of us, that we were both involved. She got to be a part of it, and I got to be a part of it.”