If you have to create a fresh embryo for your transfer cycle for surrogacy, you may wonder exactly how an egg cell is obtained. While it’s fairly obvious how a sperm sample is gathered for the in vitro fertilization process, harvesting an egg is more complicated.
Whether you are asking this question because your own egg will be harvested for a transfer cycle, or you will be using a donor egg for your fresh embryo, it’s important to understand every procedure of the surrogacy process. Remember, your reproductive endocrinologist can best explain what this process will look like for you.
Every egg retrieval may look slightly different based on the circumstances of the surrogacy and egg donor involved but, medically speaking, there are a few universal steps involved.
1. Stimulate the Ovaries.
A woman’s ovaries naturally produce one egg each menstrual cycle. However, because the egg harvesting process is so invasive, fertility specialists want to harvest more than one egg during each procedure and maximize chances of a successful pregnancy. In order to do that, a woman must take fertility medication to put her ovaries into hyper-drive, so that multiple eggs can be harvested at once.
There are a few drugs that women can take to stimulate ovaries — known as “follicle stimulating hormone” — but one of the most common is Lupron. In fact, this is the drug that prospective surrogates often must take, as well, even if they are just a gestational carrier.
At the same time that her ovaries are undergoing stimulation, a woman must also take other drugs to suppress ovulation and cause final maturation of the eggs. Once the eggs are ready, a fertility specialist will trigger ovulation and final maturation with the hormone hCG.
2. Monitor Follicle (Egg Structure) Size.
Before ovulation can occur, a fertility specialist will monitor the ovarian stimulation process. Each fertility clinic has its own regulations for the number of eggs needed and their desired size before the retrieval procedure can occur. Specialists will also monitor statistics like blood hormone levels, estrogen levels and estradiol levels.
In general, the ovarian stimulating process takes about 8-10 days.
3. Stimulate Ovulation with hCG.
Once the eggs are deemed ready for harvest, a woman is given an hCG injection. This stimulates ovulation and induces the final egg maturation. The actual egg retrieval process will be completed about 35 hours after the injection and right before the woman’s body begins to release the eggs.
4. Retrieve the Eggs.
A woman must be placed under anesthesia to harvest her eggs. Because the procedure is invasive, the anesthesia prevents her from feeling pain and discomfort.
Once she is asleep, medical professionals pass a needle through the top of the vagina to get to the ovary and the follicles. The needle sucks the eggs from the follicle wall and out of the ovary, and the surrounding fluid follows shortly after. The eggs are then taken to the in vitro fertilization lab where the eggs are identified, rinsed, and placed in small culture dishes. From there, the eggs are protected in incubators until they are ready for the in vitro fertilization process and eventual embryo transfer.
Typically, medical professionals will retrieve an average of 8-12 eggs during each procedure, which takes about 10 minutes. A woman will likely experience mild to moderate cramping after.
What’s Next — IVF
Typically, harvested eggs are put together with sperm about four hours after retrieval, but each clinic’s procedures vary. After a certain amount of time, the eggs are checked for fertilization and, if they have successfully been fertilized, they are cultured and monitored until they are ready to be transferred into the uterus.
If the in vitro fertilization process is occurring for surrogacy, the surrogate will be taking fertility medication to sync up her cycle with that of the egg donor or intended mother. Then, when the embryos are ready, she will undergo the transfer at the intended parents’ fertility clinic. She can remain awake during the procedure, which is fairly quick and painless. For surrogacy with a frozen embryo that has already been created, egg harvesting is not necessary, although a surrogate will still take preparatory medication.
Of course, every egg retrieval process is unique, and it’s important that you speak with your medical professional for more information on the procedures awaiting you. If you’re not sure whether you will require a fresh embryo in your surrogacy process, we encourage you to speak with a surrogacy clinic.
For more information on the surrogacy process in general, please contact our surrogacy specialists at 1-800-875-2229(BABY).