In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a process that requires a couple steps and about two weeks of your life, each time you do it. Although the first thing on your mind is will this work, you might also be wondering is IVF painful? After all, the process involves taking medication to stimulate ovulation, egg retrieval, fertilization, (this step isn't done to your body, but to your extracted eggs) and finally the embryo transfer. According to Mayo Clinic, some steps of IVF may range from discomfort to pain. Because everyone reacts to things like needles, ultrasounds, and vaginal catheters differently, pain is a hard thing to gauge.
But, on the other hand, when IVF does work, you're going to be faced with labor and childbirth, so, I'd suggest that you get comfortable with needles, ultrasounds, and vaginal catheters because those most likely will be involved in your birth. (Not to mention the mental anguish of parenting a teenager—remember how you treated your parents?) So, let me pause for a moment to talk about the relativity of pain. There are many theories about how people can navigate pain by using mind over matter techniques. The American Psychological Association even published a guidebook on how to use behavioral and psychological strategies to cope with pain of IVF. So with that in mind, here's a breakdown of what you can expect, pain-wise, at each step of the IVF process.
1. Induced Ovulation
If you're using your own eggs for IVF, you're going to need to make sure you've got more than your usual count—which is one egg per cycle. There are physical side effects to taking ovulation drugs, and they range from mild bloating to your ovaries swelling. It's not so pleasant, but it's also not painful. If, however, you do experience pain while taking fertility drugs, consult your physician immediately.
2. Egg Retrieval
You will probably be sedated for egg retrieval, at least according to Mayo Clinic and the message boards over at What To Expect. Of course, this is a decision to make with your doctor. There are a couple of different ways eggs can be retrieved, from a transvaginal ultrasound to abdominal surgery or laparoscopy. Cramping follows the procedure. But this part is NBD, and feels like menstrual cramps.
While the sperm and egg get busy (outside your body) feel free to lie back, and put your feet up (figuratively). This part of the process doesn't involve you, so it's totally painless!
4. Embryo Transfer
From awkward to painful, embryo transfers are the most intense part of the IVF process. Mayo Clinic reported you might be given a mild sedative to handle the cramping that accompanies the transfer. As for the transfer itself, it will happen through a vaginal catheter that has a syringe attached to it. (Note: you don't feel the syringe. You feel the pressure of the catheter. The syringe is depositing the embryo through your cervix to your uterus via the catheter.) Don't you love modern medicine? Anyway, after this step of IVF, pamper yourself. Not only is this the time when you can become pregnant, you've been through an ordeal.
5. Intrauterine Insemination
In some cases, a doctor will perform Intrauterine insemination, or IUI, which is a less invasive process of IVF. Basically, IUI is a quick procedure where a doctor uses a catheter to insert sperm into the cervix, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It's performed when you're ovulating, and takes less than ten minutes. Expect mild discomfort during the procedure, and as with any medical thing where fluids are being transferred into your body, there's a small risk of infection. Your doctor or reproductive specialist will let you know if you're a good candidate for IUI, or if you should undergo IVF.
As always, consult your physician about any feelings you might have about pain, what to expect, and to explore the best ways of coping with the physical side effects of IVF.