As we all know, the best way to get pregnant is to have lots of sex – but if that’s not doing the trick, you might find yourself looking at various methods of assisted conception. Sometimes you’ll hear these treatments referred to as Assisted Reproductive Technology (or ART).
This can involve anything from simply giving the whole process a bit of a nudge to full-on medical involvement with the conception.
There are various ways in which assisted conception can take place:
This is used as a precursor to other courses of action such as IVF but can be used on its own if your egg production is the key issue. You’ll be prescribed clomiphene (or clomid) to take for a series of days each month to stimulate egg production.
Semen is treated so that the sperm count is highly concentrated in the fluid that is then placed in the woman's uterus. This is quite non-invasive and is a useful method when sperm count is low. (That is, the semen doesn’t include a great number of motile or healthy sperm. It is possible to use a donor's sperm for this.)
In vitro fertilisation is probably the best-known method of assisting conception and many people mistakenly tend to round up all treatments under this one name. Eggs are taken from the ovaries of the woman (or an egg donor) by surgery and then allowed to fertilise in a laboratory with sperm (from the woman's partner or, again, a donor), and then placed directly into the uterus by surgery. Egg collection is a short process that should not be painful and will take less than half an hour.
This is like IVF but here the sperm is actively injected into the eggs under laboratory conditions, and they are left to fertilise. If the eggs are successfully fertilised through the ICSI process, they’re placed into the uterus by surgery. ICSI stands for intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection and is regarded by some doctors as preferable to IVF in instances where the male sperm is deemed to be particularly 'subfertile'.
Eggs (one or possibly more) are taken from an ovary and a mixture of the egg and sperm is then placed directly into the fallopian tubes in the hope that fertilisation will occur. GIFT stands for gamete intra-fallopian tube transfer. Unlike IVF, this process does require surgery under general anaesthetic. When the eggs and sperm are left to fertilise in a laboratory, this process is called ZIFT (zygote intra-fallopian tube transfer). Both of these procedures will be carried out only if the fallopian tubes are healthy and working effectively.
Your doctor will discuss any form of assisted conception fully with you and it may be the case that you later go on to have another child without any treatment at all. However, these treatments are no guarantee of successful conception and, as with regular conception, the chances of success do drop as you get older.