Artificial insemination (AI) is a relatively simple process, one begun by J. Marion Sims in the 1850s, though it was considered highly controversial then. There are currently two methods of AI in employment; the most common method is intrauterine insemination (IUI) and the other is intracervical insemination (ICI), which is also referred to as intravaginal insemination. The first step in the AI process is to select a sperm donor, and then begin the process of taking fertility drugs while being carefully monitored by one’s doctor to ensure conception. This process can take months before the body is ready to accept the donor sperm. Once the time is right, a speculum is inserted into the vagina, as if in a normal pelvic examination. Using a thin catheter and syringe, the donor sperm is then injected into the uterine cavity. If a woman has opted for ICI instead of IUI, a soft catheter is used to inject the sperm into the cervix. After insertion, a sponge cap is placed inside the vagina to keep the sperm inside or near the cervix. AI is typically the method chosen if the male partner is infertile or if he possesses a low sperm count or if the couple is a same-sex female couple.7
The second method of conceiving outside of regular means to overcome infertility is the process of in vitro fertilization. Developed by Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, IVF is a drawn out process, which begins with a woman taking clomiphene citrate, a synthetic hormone during her first menstrual cycle after IVF has begun. The hormones induce the woman to produce many more eggs than would normally be released during a regular ovulation; she can produce up to twenty-two eggs in an IVF cycle. Once released, the eggs are then extracted from the woman in a surgery called laparoscopy, during which the woman is placed under a light anesthesia. The surgeons then make two small incisions to locate the ovaries; once located, the ovaries are held still with forceps and a hollow needle is inserted to extract the eggs. Once extracted, the eggs are placed within a test tube. The male partner of the woman is then asked to give a sperm sample, or, if no partner exists or if the couple is a same-sex one, the donor sperm is added to the test tube containing the eggs. The fertilized eggs are then placed in an incubator. Eighteen hours after fertilization, the egg will have ideally multiplied into a two-celled organism, and the replication process continues from there. In most IVF centers, the embryos are implanted into the woman at the four or eight cell phase. The process of inserting them is the same as the process of AI. A woman lies on her back as for a regular pelvic examination, and a catheter is used to implant the embryo in her uterus.8
Though there is no definitive cure for infertility, treatments such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization aid in conception for couples who would otherwise have extreme difficulty producing children 100% naturally. For completely sterile couples, adoption remains the only option as of yet, but there is hope that, in the constantly changing world of medical advancements, a solution will yet be discovered. If Baby Louise Brown could beat the odds and survive the IVF and embryo transfer process, then there is hope for infertility treatments yet.