This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Decisions, decisions: a few thoughts about deciding how many embryos to transfer

One of the difficult parts of an IVF cycle comes near the end when the decision about how many embryos to transfer back must be made.  From a medical standpoint, this decision can be difficult because there are no hard and fast rules; every individual situation is different and involves multiple factors such as embryo quality, maternal age, prior treatment history, etc.

From a psychological standpoint, the decision about the number of embryos to transfer can be tricky as. Well.  Usually, these decisions need to be made quickly because the information about the embryos is only available right before the transfer. Further, by this point in the cycle, emotions and hormone levels as running high, making clear and rational thought a challenge.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that by the time a person is usually facing their IVF transfer, they have been dealing with infertility for a while.  Thus, they are naturally desperate for the whole thing to be over and done with as soon as possible.  The idea that putting another embryo or two back might increase their chances of success, meaning they could be on their way to parenthood very soon, is quite seductive.  If financial issues are a concern, an increased chance of success in fewer cycles is also a strong motivation.

I hear many clients tell me that their ideal outcome of an IVF cycle would be twins.  "Two for the price of one," and "buy one, get one free," are common refrains.  I totally understand that sentiment.  I think I may even have said those things regarding my own treatment at one point or another.  However, part my practice involves working with people who have experienced perinatal loss and/or who have given birth prematurely and whose children have spent an extended time in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Many of these people began their path to parenthood via IVF, and transferred multiple embryos.  There experiences in the NICU are often extemely difficult, traumatic, and of extended duration.  All of them have expressed a wish that someone had really helped them understand the risks associated with multiple pregnancies before their IVF transfer.

In addition, even if things work out medically, my work with the parents of multiples has taught me that having twins or triplets can sometimes be hard on a relationship as well, especially if there are other life stressors occurring simultaneously.

I don't mean to be full of doom and gloom here, as I know many healthy and happy families with twins and triplets.  But I do urge people to really educate themselves about the medical and psychological risks associated with multiple pregnancies before they get to transfer day, so they are prepared.  The good news is that with today's improvements in embryo freezing technology, single embryo transfer is a more viable option with a greater chance of success.

Sometimes the decision about how many embryos to transfer is made for you by the situation; you may only have one viable embryo, or the quality of the embryos may suggest transferring multiple embryos.  If you do end up with a choice, then you need to weigh the risks of multiple pregnancy against the emotional and physical wear and tear of doing another frozen embryo transfer.  After seeing the problems that can arise with multiple pregnancies, I find myself recommending single embryo transfer more often these days.

Of course, the decision about how many embryos to transfer back is a personal one, and can only be made by you and your partner.  Just be sure that you have all the facts, so you can make the choice that is best for your situation.


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  3. IVF patients should strongly consider having a single embryo transfer due to the safety of having single child at a time. In the blastocyst transfer fewer embryos are transferred to the uterus and this reduces the chances of multiple pregnancies.

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