When going through IVF, after you've taken drugs to induce ovulation, you have to undergo an egg retrieval procedure so that your eggs can be taken out and fertilized in a laboratory using the sperm of your partner or from a sperm donor. Basically, egg retrieval or egg "harvesting," as it's also known, involves using a very thin needle to remove mature eggs or "oocytes" from your ovaries. The procedure takes place in your fertility clinic and is carried out by a trained fertility specialist.
You've already been given drugs to make the follicles in your ovaries produce eggs. Now you need more drugs to make these follicles release the eggs. This drug is called hCG and is usually administered in the form of an injection. It makes the eggs growing inside the ovaries loosen from the follicle walls. The eggs then "float" freely in the liquid inside the follicles. Approximately 35 to 36 hours after the hCG injection has been given, you'll be brought into your clinic for the retrieval procedure. Throughout the days preceding retrieval, the progress of the eggs in your ovaries will be monitored by means of ultrasound exams and blood tests.
Your partner will need to provide a semen sample on the same day as the retrieval procedure takes place. He will usually be given the choice of doing this at home or in the clinic. If he opts for the privacy of your own home (which many men prefer) you'll need to be able to get the semen to the fertility clinic within around half an hour.
Sedation And Preparation
Retrieval is a minimally invasive procedure normally carried out under mild sedation or local anesthetic. When you arrive at the clinic, this will be the first step. The area around the genitals and inside the vagina will also be cleansed in preparation for the procedure.
When the time comes to retrieve the eggs, a doctor will insert a thin needle into both ovaries via the top part of your vagina. The needle will have an ultrasound probe attached, which allows the doctor to watch what he is doing on an ultrasound screen. The needle is used to suck out or "aspirate" the fluid inside the follicles containing the eggs. The hope is that the eggs are sucked out together with the fluid.
The eggs are then gathered in a test tube and whisked off immediately to the laboratory for fertilization.
Recovery from the procedure may take a couple of hours. You'll usually be told how many eggs were successfully collected before you leave. The next day, you should be able to find out how many fertilized embryos are available for the next stage of the IVF procedure, which is embryo transfer.
The risks associated with egg retrieval are minimal. They include infection, bleeding and accidental damage to organs surrounding the ovaries. Speak to your fertility doctor if you are concerned.
Although not yet widely available, the technology to freeze eggs for use in further IVF cycles does exist. Check out our section on egg freezing to find out how this works and why you might want to make use of this option.