ultrasound of a pregnant woman
Welcome to our guide to reciprocal IVF treatment: digestible, comprehensive and medically reviewed. Whether you’re brand new to fertility treatment or a pro already, this guide is for you to better understand the ins and outs of reciprocal IVF treatment.
Dr. Salim
Reviewed by Dr. Rehan Salim
Medical Director at Lister Fertility
Consultant gynaecologist and expert in reproductive medicine
A few quick facts
Also referred to as “shared motherhood” or “intra-partner egg donation,” it’s a way for both members of a same sex couple to actively participate in a pregnancy.
As of October 2023, female same sex couples in the UK no longer have to go through hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and rubella testing before beginning fertility treatment.1
Same sex couples with one or more partner with an undetectable HIV viral load can access IVF treatments.2
To make it easy to understand, we’ll refer to the partner donating eggs as “the donor partner” and the partner carrying the pregnancy as “the carrying partner”.
hands of a woman, a woman taking a pill - collage stylea woman taking a bill and a couple holding hands

What is reciprocal IVF?

Reciprocal IVF can also be referred to as shared motherhood, intra-partner egg donation, co-maternity, or even shared parenthood. It’s a way for both partners in a same sex couple to be able to participate in conception and childbearing in a big way. At a high level, the donor partner goes through the egg retrieval process. Her egg is fertilised with donor sperm in a lab and implanted into the carrying partner, who will carry the pregnancy to term. 

How does reciprocal IVF work?

It’s important to visit a clinic for a consultation as a couple. A fertility doctor will review test and scan results to recommend the partner best suited for each role. If one partner has better ovarian reserve, the doctor may recommend that she donate the egg (“donor partner”) and the other partner carry the pregnancy (“carrying partner”).3

The couple will decide on a sperm donor, either from a sperm bank or someone they know, and order sperm. A fertility doctor and clinic staff will create a plan for each partner: first, the donor partner will begin medication to stimulate her ovaries and grow eggs. The carrying partner will begin medication later to prepare her womb to accept a pregnancy. 

The donor partner will go through stimulation to grow, mature, and retrieve healthy eggs, which involves hormonal injections and regular clinic monitoring. When the time is right, a doctor will retrieve the mature eggs, and an embryologist will fertilise the eggs with sperm to create embryos. Any extra fertilised eggs can be frozen and stored for later use.

Toward the end of the donor partner’s egg retrieval process, the carrying partner will begin medication that will prepare her womb for pregnancy. After the donor partner’s embryo has grown in a lab for a few days, a doctor will implant it into the carrying partner’s womb. A few weeks later, the carrying partner can take a pregnancy test, and if all goes well, she will carry the pregnancy to term.4

What are my reciprocal IVF legal rights?

The most important thing to know: If you’re using donated eggs or sperm, you’ll both have to fill out paperwork at your clinic before you go through treatment to become legal parents of your child. 

The second most important thing: You or your partner can withdraw consent to being a legal parent anytime before you go through treatment. After you’ve begun treatment, you should talk to your clinic to understand your options.

Generally, if you and your partner are married or in a civil partnership before your treatment started, you’ll both be legal parents, unless your partner didn’t consent to your fertility treatment.

If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership, only the carrying partner will be a legal parent at birth. That’s why it’s critical to fill out paperwork to name your partner as a legal parent. If it doesn’t happen before birth, you may need to go to court to legally become the child’s parent.5

After your child turns 18, they can learn about their sperm donor if they want to. Your sperm donor has no rights or legal obligations to the child.6

What are the success rates of reciprocal IVF?

It depends on the age of the eggs and the age of the person carrying the pregnancy. Because sperm donors from a bank are screened, there aren’t generally concerns about sperm quality or the ability to create healthy embryos. Some clinics report success rates over 80% for women under 35, and better than 45% for women of all ages.7

How much does reciprocal IVF cost?

As you might imagine, reciprocal IVF costs more than standard IVF, because both partners need medical care.

IVF Treatment process

Base cost of treatment:  
£7,200

a doctor holding a test tube

Additional procedures:

£850

Two needles and a doctor's hands

Medication:

£1,700

IVF Treatment process - needles, test tubes and doctor's hands

Total average cost:
£9,750

If you’re going through private IVF treatment, the cost depends on your clinic and the medication your fertility doctor prescribes. “Natural” cycles without medication are more affordable than “mild” or “Stimulated” IVF. Learn more about IVF treatment options.

Clinics’ listed prices can leave out essential procedures and medications, such as embryo freezing and storage for additional embryos created, sedation during egg collection and medication which can be up to £3,000 on top of your treatment costs.

IVF treatment process

The bottom line

Reciprocal IVF allows both partners to participate actively in the conception and birth of a child. The average cost of reciprocal IVF in the UK is £9,750, including medication and all essential procedures. If you need help financing your reciprocal IVF treatment, consider applying for a Gaia Plan, which will cover all your treatment costs and allow you to start treatment for as little as a protection fee.  

Common questions asked about IVF

Your fertility doctor will be able to answer your specific questions about your unique treatment plan, but there are a handful of questions that nearly every patient asks:

What are the risks of reciprocal IVF?
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Reciprocal IVF is generally very safe, and the risks are similar to complications from Standard IVF. Medical risks can include having twins or triplets or an ectopic pregnancy, where a foetus develops in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus and cannot be carried to term. There’s also a rare, but possible, risk of premature delivery8 and ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which can cause dangerous blood clots.9

Is reciprocal IVF painful?
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Everyone has different pain tolerances, and some experiences are less pleasant than others. Some parts of the process that might cause discomfort include giving yourself shots, recovering after an egg retrieval process, and mild cramping from an embryo transfer. The process can also be emotionally taxing. The Gaia community can be a great resource for people going through IVF treatment. Learn more about the community.

How long does reciprocal IVF take?
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It generally takes 4-6 weeks, like standard IVF treatment, but it depends on both partners’ menstrual cycles. If you’re a same sex couple, your doctor will likely prescribe medication to sync your cycles to suit the timing of your planned embryo transfer. 

Am I eligible for reciprocal IVF?

If you’re a same sex couple, reciprocal IVF can be a good choice for you. A doctor can best advise which of you would be best suited as a carrying partner and a donor partner. 

Depending on factors including your age, health, and fertility history, you might be eligible for a Gaia Plan to finance your reciprocal IVF treatment

Is reciprocal IVF suitable for me?

Reciprocal IVF is suitable for same sex female couples or trans men who want to become parents. Learn more about your options:

Still have questions about reciprocal IVF?

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How does the Gaia Plan work?

All fertility treatments

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