Sounds like a contradiction, but there actually is a “natural” version of the high-tech fertility treatment, in vitro fertilization (IVF). While almost every IVF program uses powerful hormones and medications to stimulate the ovaries, natural-cycle IVF (NCIVF) is used specifically for women who can’t (for instance, because they’ve been treated for breast cancer) or don’t want to take fertility drugs.
In NCIVF, a woman’s body is left alone to ripen the usual one egg a month, which is then harvested to be fertilized with sperm. The resulting embryo is implanted in the uterus a few days later (or can be frozen).
Somewhere in between the customary IVF protocols and NCIVF is mini-IVF, also called minimal-stimulation IVF or MS-IVF. In mini-IVF, doctors use only the oral drug clomiphene citrate (Clomid)—and no injections—to stimulate the ovaries.
Instead of suppressing a woman’s natural cycle, the way most IVF procedures do, mini-IVF, like natural IVF, takes advantage of a woman’s own cycle, with the result being ovulation induction with fewer drugs.
In fact, the very first IVF cycles back in the 1970s were drug-free, but as the technique evolved, doctors discovered they had better success rates when stimulating the ovaries to produce more than one egg each month, and implanting multiple embryos in the uterus with each cycle. Now, with doctors trying to reduce the number of multiple births, and with techniques improving to select embryos with the best chance of success (so that eventually doctors will typically only implant one embryo at a time), fertility procedures like natural-cycle IVF and mini-IVF are gaining new proponents.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Conceive Magazine.