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'Effortless IVF' is a new procedure that lets same-sex couples share the conception experience

Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter *both* got to carry their son.

'Effortless IVF' is a new procedure that lets same-sex couples share the conception experience

Deciding to start a family is a huge, life-altering decision, and for couples who need to use in vitro fertilization, that decision all too often comes with a huge, life-altering price tag.

As a same-sex couple, Texans Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter knew they would need to turn to IVF to start a family, and thanks to some new developments in reproductive technology, they were not only able to both carry their baby at different stages of pregnancy, but also save money and time in the IVF process.

The Coulters made international headlines this fall when news broke that they had both carried their son, Stetson (now 4 months old) thanks to a procedure called effortless IVF, and the INVOcell device, a small medical device that basically uses a woman's vagina as an incubator.

"I wanted to have a child that was biologically mine, but I didn't want to carry the child," Bliss tells Motherly. Her wife, Ashleigh (seen above holding Stetson), did want to be pregnant.

It's common for same-sex couples to turn to reciprocal IVF (also called "shared motherhood") when one woman wants a biological child but her partner wants to be the one to be pregnant. Reciprocal IVF sees one partner's eggs fertilized and then implanted in her spouse's body.

It doesn't come cheap (costs per IVF cycle range between $16,000 and $30,000, according to WinFertility), but for some couples, it is the perfect way to start a family.

The Coulters knew that's what they wanted, but when they heard about the work Drs. Kathy and Kevin Doody of the Center for Assisted Reproduction (CARE Fertility) were doing, they wondered if the method the Doodys pioneered, effortless IVF, could allow them to add a layer to their reciprocal IVF plan—and remove the need for a laboratory incubator by using Bliss' own body.

When the couple met with Dr. Kathy Doody to inquire about whether effortless IVF with the INVOcell device could be used in reciprocal IVF, they were thrilled to hear the doctor say she couldn't see why not. "We've done close to 200 effortless IVF cycles with heterosexual couples," Dr. Doody tells Motherly. "But this is a special opportunity that same-sex couples can share in."

Dr. Doody and her husband are passionate about helping more couples (both same-sex and heterosexual) access IVF by reducing the costs associated with the procedure. The effortless IVF method makes things more affordable by reducing sonogram and monitoring appointments and by using the patient's health, age, and weight to determine the dosage of medication (which reduces the costs of the medication and eliminates the need for appointments for medication adjustments).

"I think the onus rests on us as physicians, it is our obligation to figure out ways to help as many patients as we can rather than just stick to a very confined model of what we think IVF should be," Dr. Doody says.

"The way the cost is less is just not with the device. There are fewer visits, there's no blood work during their IVF cycle, [and] they have a fixed dosing protocol," she explains.

For the Coulters, having fewer costly appointments than are required with traditional IVF was a great bonus, but the fact that Bliss got to carry the embryo that would be implanted in Ashleigh was even better, and actually easier than they expected.

Regarding the INVOcell device, Bliss tells Motherly "there was no side effects, it didn't hurt at all. I continued to ride my horses like I do, and so that was pretty cool. That kind of took me by surprise in a good way."

After the embryo that would become Stetson was done incubating in Bliss and moved to Ashleigh, another welcome surprise came along. Although Dr. Doody seemed super confident about the likelihood of success, somewhere in the back of her mind Ashleigh has worried that it wouldn't work. "It was something that had never been done, honestly," she tells Motherly. "I was so shocked that it happened on the first try. I think that was the biggest thing for me."

The first time she felt Stetson kick, it all became more real. Finally, she and Bliss were going to be parents. A shared conception experience followed by an uncomplicated pregnancy and the birth of a healthy baby boy. It was an absolute dream come true.

Both the Coulters and Dr. Doody tell Motherly they hope the story of Stetson's conception not only helps same-sex couples share in the IVF experience, but that it also makes IVF more accessible to all couples who are working within a budget or live far from an IVF clinic.

As Dr. Doody points out, there are places in America where there isn't an IVF clinic in the entire state, and Bliss says that with the minimal appointments she and Ashleigh experienced, she could see effortless IVF being a good option for people who live far from a clinic and need to keep out-of-state appointments to a minimum.

"The concept of effortless IVF is to make IVF more accessible to more patients," says Dr. Doody. Whether that means making reciprocal IVF a more shared experience for two mamas or reducing the burden of the investment on couples in general, she's keen to help more families experience the life-altering results of IVF with a less life-altering price tag.

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Becoming Mama™: A Pregnancy and Birth Podcast by Motherly

The essential pregnancy + birth companion podcast to the groundbreaking book, The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama.

Becoming Mama ™: A Pregnancy and Birth Podcast by Motherly is the essential pregnancy + birth companion podcast to the groundbreaking book, The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey, the evidence-based, women center book you have been waiting for.

Host Diana Spalding is Motherly's Digital Education Editor, a certified nurse-midwife, pediatric nurse and mother of three, and she wrote The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama. Each week of your pregnancy (and beyond), Diana shares insight, support and non-judgmental guidance about the things that matter most to you.

Please remember that Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This podcast does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Learn about all episodes of Becoming Mama ™: A Pregnancy and Birth Podcast by Motherly

Introduction

Becoming Mama™: A Pregnancy and Birth Podcast by Motherly is the essential pregnancy + birth companion podcast to the groundbreaking book, The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey. Meet your host Diana Spalding, Motherly's Digital Education Editor and certified nurse-midwife and learn more about what to expect in each episode.

Listen now:

Episode Overview Quicklinks:

# 1: Pregnancy and self-care

In the very first episode of the Becoming Mama Podcast, you'll meet your host Diana Spalding and learn more about what to anticipate in each episode.

Diana talks about the importance of self-care through pregnancy. We live in a society that makes us feel like self-care is selfish, but really it is the least selfish thing you can do, especially when you are on the brink of motherhood.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: If I wrote your 'before you were born' letter now, here's what I'd say

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# 2: Getting pregnant

In this episode, Diana talks about getting pregnant, and one of the most important concepts to know when you're trying to get pregnant: Timing is everything. Plus, you'll learn about an important sign that you are ovulating.

Sign up for our newsletter and get Motherly's fertility worksheet.

Listen now:

# 3: Miscarriage

This episode is dedicated to women who are experiencing a miscarriage if listening feels right. Miscarriage is perhaps the most intensely personal experience a person can go through. There is no right way to feel, except the way that comes up for you naturally—just know that you are deeply and lovingly held and supported.

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# 4: Week 4: Foods to avoid

If you've just found out you are pregnant, in addition to hundreds of feelings (!), you may be wondering about what you can and cannot eat. In this episode, we'll give an overview of the foods that experts usually recommend avoiding during pregnancy.

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# 5: Week 5: Choosing where to get prenatal care

It may seem impossibly early in your pregnancy to start thinking about birth! But where you give birth influences where you get your prenatal care, and you'll be having your first prenatal appointment soon. In this episode, Diana will give an overview of your options.

Listen now:

# 6: Week 6: Baby development

This podcast is about you, but you are probably curious about what your bay is up to in there. This week, check in and see what is happening with your baby's development at 6 weeks pregnant.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: How pregnancy taught me to love my body

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# 7: Week 7: Pregnancy village

Pregnancy is an amazing but vulnerable time. So it's essential to surround yourself with people that lift you up. In the episode, Diana shares some ideas when considering who to have in your pregnancy village.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: Motherhood helped me learn who my real friends are

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# 8: Week 8: Pelvic exams

It's week 8, which means you may be having your first prenatal visit pretty soon. In this episode, Diana discusses what to anticipate at that first visit, and shares some tips on making pelvic exams more tolerable.

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# 9: Week 9: Pregnancy nausea

If you are following week by week and are nine weeks pregnant, nausea may really be starting to take hold, as it does for most pregnant women. Diana shares some ideas to make it better and offers emotional support for this very difficult symptom.

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# 10: Week 10: Baby development and nutrition

It's time for a little "what is your baby up to" update! The 10-week mark of pregnancy is an exciting milestone because it is the last week of the embryo stage. We'll also talk about your concerns related to nutrition when you have pregnancy nausea.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: The most surprising thing about my pregnancy was how powerful I felt

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# 11: Week 11: Sex and intimacy

Sex and intimacy during pregnancy can feel mysterious—but it doesn't have to! In this episode, Diana talks about how to stay safe, how to (gasp) enjoy it, and shares a note on feeling comfortable about your body with your provider.

Listen now:

# 12: Week 12: Registry

This is the time when many parents start to think about their registries and the items they'd like to acquire for their babies! In this episode Diana shares some tips for creating the perfect registry.

Check out Motherly's Essential Baby Registry!

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# 13: Week 13: Pause and reflect

Let's pause and reflect on everything in your life that's led you to this very important moment in time. And, Diana encourages you to try to "release the not enoughs, the can'ts, and the doubts," so that you can step into your true self and power.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: Our kids are watching—let's teach them how to love who they are

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# 14: Week 14: Pregnancy and work

Making the decision about what work looks like for you after the baby comes is super personal. In his episode, Diana addresses a common concern for women: telling your employer or co-workers that you are pregnant.

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# 15: Week 15: Baby development and baby kicks

Let's check in on your baby's development at week 15. Diana also shares a way to bond with your baby this month, and some info on when you'll get to feel those first baby movements.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: This is the last time I'll ever be pregnant

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# 16: Week 16: Exercise and cravings

In this episode, Diana reviews the benefits of exercise during pregnancy and shares some insight into pregnancy cravings—why we have them, and some ideas for healthy foods.

Listen now:

# 17: Week 17: Parenting

It may seem far away, but remember that at the end of all of this, you will have a baby! In this episode, Diana talks about beginning to think about how you'll want to be a parent to your child—and the most important piece to remember.

Listen now:

# 18: Week 18: Defining your values

Values are essentially your guiding principles—the concepts that are the most important to you as you go through your days and years. Defining those values during pregnancy can be incredibly helpful so that you can stay true to yourself as you transition into motherhood.

Listen now:

# 19: Week 19: Baby development and sleep

Let's check in and see what's going on with your baby! And, Diana shares tips on getting enough sleep as your pregnancy progresses, your belly gets bigger, and sleep is harder to come by.

Listen now:

# 20: Week 20: Ultrasounds, and when they find a problem

Many women have their big anatomy scan, a long ultrasound that looks at all the parts of the baby around this week. Sometimes, ultrasounds reveal a concern. This episode is focused on supporting you should that become a part of your story.

Here is The Motherly Podcast episode with Kristen Bell that Diana mentioned.

Listen now:

# 21: Week 21: Doulas

Doulas can be an incredibly powerful member of your team. In this episode, Diana talks about what doulas are, how they can help, how to choose one, and how doulas can be instrumental in improving disparities in maternal health.

Listen now:

# 22: Week 22: When pregnancy is hard

Pregnancy is amazing—but sometimes it can be very hard. In this episode, Diana offers support and love to women experiencing difficult pregnancies (for any reason).

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: Dear mama: You're not doing it wrong, it's just *that* hard

Listen now:

# 23: Week 23: Birth overview

It's time to start talking about birth! Diana gives an overview of what happens during the first, second, third and fourth stages of labor, and what you might experience during each of them.

In response to COVID-19, Motherly's Becoming Mama ™ Online birth class is free.

Listen now:

# 24: Week 24: Baby development and hobbies

In this episode, we'll check in with your baby's development, and talk about the importance of having fun—both during pregnancy and in motherhood.

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# 25: Week 25: Preterm labor

In today's episode, we are going to talk about preterm labor—the signs and symptoms, and what to do if you are worried that you might be going into labor early. Plus, Diana shares some support for warrior NICU mamas.

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# 26: Week 26: Relationships

Let's talk about relationships. You are approaching the end of the second trimester, which means that things are getting very real. If you have a partner, let's think about what your relationship is all going to be like when the baby is here.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: Dear husband, I miss you

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# 27: Week 27: The placenta

The placenta is a wildly cool organ, with very important functions during pregnancy—and some very interesting potential uses after.

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# 28: Week 28: Fetal movement

It's important to pay attention to your baby's movement—in this episode Diana shares one way to keep track. Plus, she invites you to marvel at this important pregnancy milestone—the third trimester.

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# 29: Week 29: Baby development and umbilical cords

Let's do our first check in to see what your baby is up to in the third trimester. Plus, Diana shares some comforting insight into the common concern of umbilical cords being wrapped around the baby's neck, as well as information on the practice of delayed cord clamping.

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# 30: Week 30: Nourishment and movement

Anemia can be more common during the third trimester, so let's talk about the symptoms, and some ways to increase your iron intake. We'll also talk through diaphragmatic breathing—how to do it, and why you might want to.

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# 31: Week 31: Breech and transverse babies

In this episode, Diana discusses breech and transverse baby positions, ways to encourage them to move to a head-down position, and what to anticipate if they don't.

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# 32: Week 32: Fear

Today, we are going to talk about fear, specifically the fear of birth. Diana discusses when to seek help for fearful thoughts, and share some ideas for making your fear feel less powerful.

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# 33: Week 33: Baby development and birth plans

Your pregnancy is 33 weeks along, so let's check in with their development. And, Diana talks about why you might want to consider developing a birth plan for your upcoming birth.

Sign up for our newsletter and get Motherly's birth plan worksheet.

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# 34: Week 34: Pain and the epidural decision

Today we are going to talk about pain and the epidural decision—in a completely non-judgmental way, of course.

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# 35: Week 35: Immediate postpartum and postpartum bleeding

We've spent time in recent episodes talking about birth, and today we are going to talk about what happens just after birth. Plus, Diana talks about what to anticipate when it comes to postpartum bleeding.

Listen now:

# 36: Week 36: Prepping for postpartum

Start thinking about ways you can create a postpartum haven for yourself—a place where you can just rest and heal and take care of your baby in a way that feels like you are being cocooned in love and nurturing goodness.

Check out Motherly's Fourth Trimester Challenge with LiveItUp!, hosted by Motherly co-founder, Jill Koziol.

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# 37: Week 37: Baby development and big babies

In this episode, Diana checks in with your baby's development one more time, and shares some comforting words regarding the common concern around giving birth to a big baby.

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# 38: Week 38: Cesarean births

Diana discusses what happens during a Cesarean section, and reminds us that Cesarean births are very much births.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: My birth story: A scheduled repeat C-section

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This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 39: Week 39: You can do this

You. Are. So. Close. Let Diana offer you some inspiration and comfort as you get ready to give birth. You've got this.

Here is the Letter to my Baby Meditation that Diana mentions in the episode.

Listen now:

This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 40: Week 40: Going past your due date

Most first time mamas go past their due date—but that doesn't make it easy. In this episode, Diana offers some encouragement, and a way to stay positive during this potentially tough period of time.

Here is the article Diana mentioned in the episode: To the mama about to give birth—there's magic in the waiting

Listen now:

This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 41: Week 41: Baby blues and postpartum mood disorders

Today, Diana talks about your emotional wellbeing after giving birth, specifically the baby blues and postpartum depression and anxiety and other mood disorders.

Check out Motherly's guide to postpartum mood disorders.

Listen now:

This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 42: Week 42: Postpartum physical recovery

Let's spend some time talking about your physical recovery from birth, specifically your vagina and pelvis.

Listen now:

This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 43: Week 43: Bonding with your baby

In today's episode, Diana talks about the sweet new addition to your life, and some ways that you can bond with them.

Listen now:

This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 44: Week 44: Feeding your baby

Today we are going to talk about feeding your baby, and what is perhaps the most common worry is among new parents—how do I know that my baby is getting enough to eat?

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This episode is sponsored by Target. Shop Target Baby Month Deals now and get 10% off one Nursery Furniture item from 9/13/20-9/19/20 by entering "BABYMONTH" in your checkout cart. *exclusions apply, must be capitalized when entered.

# 45: Week 45: Becoming a mama

In this final weekly episode, Diana spends a few moments talking about evolution, specifically the way that your life and your motherhood journey are going to continue to evolve.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

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Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

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With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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