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Last Updated on: December 14, 2023

Are you curious about what it is like to become a surrogate? Have you started looking up information online?

Many articles you will find about surrogacy will likely talk about age or medical requirements, costs, and legal procedures. (We’ve written on these topics ourselves!) But there are fewer articles discussing the IVF process in gestational surrogacy, what it entails, or how to increase IVF success rates, including with a successful embryo transfer.

Embryo transfer is when embryos find their home within the surrogate mother’s uterus, marking the beginning of a pregnancy. 

What is the IVF Process?

IVF stands for in vitro fertilization, and it is a fertilization process in which an egg and sperm are combined in vitro. IVF involves a series of procedures, including keeping track of a woman’s ovulation cycle, stimulating her ovulatory process, taking ova from her ovaries, and fertilizing them in a controlled and monitored medium in an IVF laboratory.

Here are the steps in the IVF process in more detail:

  1. Ovulation induction – The ovaries are stimulated to produce multiple eggs instead of the typical one egg per month.
  2. Egg retrieval – A procedure called transvaginal ultrasound aspiration is performed to get the eggs. It involves inserting an ultrasound probe and a thin needle to remove the eggs from the follicles.
  3. Sperm retrieval – A semen sample from the male donor is taken to the laboratory to separate the sperm from the seminal fluid.
  4. Fertilization – There are two ways to do fertilization. Whether mature eggs and healthy sperm are combined and incubated or one mature egg is injected with one healthy sperm.
  5. Embryo transfer – A few days after the egg retrieval procedure one or more embryos are placed into the surrogate’s uterus using a syringe and a catheter inserted into the vagina.

The IVF process takes two to three weeks to complete and may need to be done more than once.

What should a surrogate expect from the embryo transfer?

Usually, once the egg and sperm are fertilized and monitored for viability, they are transferred to the surrogate’s uterus within a few days. Sometimes more than one egg is transferred to increase the likelihood of implantation. If implantation is successful, the surrogate is pregnant, and the IVF process is complete. If implantation is not successful, the embryo transfer process may be repeated with additional embryos or the IVF process may need to be repeated to get more embryos for implantation.

What Is Involved in an Embryo Transfer?

Embryo transfer is a crucial final step in the IVF process, including both fresh and frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles.

FET, in particular, refers to the process where a cryopreserved (frozen) embryo is thawed and transferred to the surrogate’s uterus. This approach is increasingly common due to its flexibility and success rates. Before beginning an FET cycle, medical and psychological screenings, as well as legal agreements, are already in place.

Here’s what’s typically involved in an FET cycle:

    1. Preliminary Stages – Before beginning an FET cycle, the surrogate has already undergone thorough medical and psychological screenings to ensure her readiness as part of the surrogacy process. Additionally, legal agreements are in place between the surrogate and the intended parents. These agreements cover important aspects such as compensation, schedules, insurance and health safety measures, and are essential for protecting the interests of everyone involved.
    2. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) – Eggs are retrieved from an egg donor or the intended mother, and sperm is provided by a sperm donor or the intended father. In a laboratory setting, these eggs and sperm are combined to create embryos. An embryologist closely monitors the development of these embryos over several days, assessing their quality for potential transfer.
    3. Fertility Medication – Your Medication protocols will vary depending on your doctor’s specific treatment. Once embryos are available, you’ll typically start with birth control pills to synchronize your menstrual cycle and/or Lupron injections to prevent ovulation. Following the cessation of birth control, estrogen therapy begins, either orally or through injections, and continues for 2 – 4 weeks before the transfer and around 8 – 10 weeks after. About 5 days before the embryo transfer, progesterone treatment is initiated, mainly through injections, and is maintained for 8 – 10 weeks post-transfer.
    4. Monitoring Appointments – You’ll undergo several monitoring appointments, including blood work and transvaginal ultrasounds, to ensure your body is prepared for embryo transfer. The frequency and number of these appointments vary based on the doctor’s protocol and the success of the transfer.
    5. Embryo Selection – If the intended parents have multiple embryos the intended parents will submit their specification to the embryologist. The embryologist will select based on that criteria, such as the highest-grade female embryo.
    6. Embryo Transfer – A catheter is inserted through the surrogate’s cervix into the uterus. The embryos are loaded into the catheter and released into the uterine cavity. The process is relatively quick and painless.
    7. Blood Test – A blood test to measure hCG levels is conducted post-transfer to confirm pregnancy. This test is repeated several times to monitor the hormone’s appropriate increase, which is critical for confirming the success of the embryo transfer and monitoring the surrogate’s early pregnancy health.
    8. Pregnancy – Once the pregnancy is confirmed, your surrogacy journey begins with continued medical care and monitoring throughout the process.

Myths vs. Facts About Embryo Transfers

Now, let’s explore some common misconceptions about embryo transfer and how the experience puts surrogate health and well-being at the forefront.

Myth: Embryo Transfer Poses Significant Health Risks

There is a common misconception that embryo transfers are high-risk procedures when, in reality, they are generally quick, easy and safe procedures. Medical professionals monitor the surrogate through every stage of the process – thoroughly evaluating surrogate health beforehand, closely monitoring any fertility medication side effects and using real-time ultrasound imaging to guide the embryo transfer process. The procedure is performed by experienced medical professionals, often under the supervision of reproductive endocrinologists and embryologists.

Fact: Embryo Transfers are Minimally Invasive

The procedure of an embryo transfer is non-surgical and minimally invasive. The physician or reproductive specialist gently inserts a thin catheter through the cervix and into the uterine cavity with the guidance of real-time ultrasound imaging. The catheter contains the embryos, and once successfully inserted, the embryos are released.

Myth: Embryo Transfer Will Lead to Long-Term Health Issues

The myth that embryo transfer can harm the surrogate’s reproductive organs is not supported by scientific evidence. The non-invasive procedure is carefully executed by skilled professionals under medical professional supervision and involves routine monitoring after completion of the procedure.

Fact: Embryo Transfers are Relatively Painless

Embryo transfers are relatively brief and painless procedures, so much so that they are performed without the need for anesthesia in most cases. They only take a few minutes to complete, and any mild discomfort is temporary. Sometimes, the clinic can offer a mild sedative or pain medication to ensure a comfortable experience if needed.

Become a Surrogate with Joy of Life

When exploring the opportunity to become a surrogate, it’s essential that you engage with medical professionals to fully understand the facts about embryo transfers and dispel any misconceptions. This low-risk, low-pain procedure is performed by highly skilled professionals, and surrogates are closely monitored before, during and after to ensure health, safety and comfort. 

Learn more about how you can become a surrogate with Joy of Life Surrogacy, or apply today.

Joy Millan

Author Joy Millan

I’m Joy, the founder and CEO of Joy of Life. With a professional background as a fertility clinician, I’ve spent thousands of hours working with surrogates and intended parents alike. As a mother of two, I often wished for more support and a deeper commitment to care for those embarking on non-traditional family-building journeys. This is why I established Joy of Life: to create a more robust, compassionate experience in parenthood for both parties involved with surrogacy. In 2021, I stepped back from daily operations at Joy of Life to fight cancer. Fortunately, the combined 20 years of experience from our incredible team has allowed me to focus on my health & recovery. I continue to provide company guidance and serve as the head liaison for our network of doctors, clinicians and caregivers.

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