For couples who have been battling the dragon that is infertility in hopes of having a child, the idea of having twins or even higher-order multiples can sound like a dream come true. Once you’ve taken on the time, expense and painful daily injections necessary in order to undergo a round of in vitro fertilization, when it comes time to decide how many embryos to transfer into the uterus, many couples opt to put back more than one in hopes of increasing their odds of getting pregnant. But some IVF experts are speaking out against multiple embryo transfers, claiming they increase health risks to both the mother and the babies.
There’s no guarantee that any embryo will take, so by putting more than one embryo into the womb, you’re trying to stack the cards in your favor that at least one of them will stick around for nine months. For couples who’ve already invested so much in the process, trying to increase their chances of having a baby makes sense. But doctors say when the transfer results in a multiple pregnancy, the potential list of complications increases. Moms carrying multiples have to worry about an increased chance of miscarriage, placenta issues, gestational diabetes and blood pressure issues. Being put on bed rest is also common. And multiples are often born premature, which can provide its own set of challenges, both short-term and lifelong for the babies themselves.
My 3-year-old twin boys were conceived via IVF. I remember vividly the moment when my doctor first mentioned the possibility of twins to me. After wanting a family for so long and not being sure that I’d ever be able to conceive, the idea of having not one, but two babies was like winning the lotto. But part of the reason I was so willing to have two embryos put back was I didn’t do my research. My doctor failed to mention just how risky a twin pregnancy could be, and being in my 20s and completely naive about what your body goes through while pregnant, I jumped at the chance to transfer two embryos.
Despite the fact that I was in great physical condition before getting pregnant, my twin pregnancy did not go smoothly. I went into premature labor at 27 weeks, and spent the rest of my pregnancy in and out of the hospital on strict bed rest. I developed cholestasis of pregnancy, a condition in which your liver can’t filter the bile being produced by the babies. Fortunately for me, there was medication to stop me from getting sick. But for the babies, every day they remained in the womb, the risk of them being stillborn as a result of the cholestasis increased. When my boys were born prematurely at 33 weeks via emergency C-section, they headed to the NICU, where they stayed until their lungs were mature enough to breathe on their own.
Obviously, I love my kids to the moon and back, and I can’t imagine my life without them. I wouldn’t go back and change what happened now because if I did, the boys that are currently feeding me plastic bananas wouldn’t be here. I know I got lucky. My kids are healthy. They don’t have any long-term health issues as a result of their premature births. But I can’t help but wonder sometimes if my pregnancy and their birth experiences would had been different had I opted for two separate pregnancies rather than transferring two embryos during IVF knowing that there was the chance of having multiples. Couples undergoing IVF should be made aware of the risks that come with carrying multiples, the ones that are more serious than the fact that once they’re born, you’ll forever be asked, “Are they twins?”