TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - Michelle and Chase White of Tuscaloosa are the first couple in the state of Alabama to become pregnant using a new fertility treatment called INVOcell that could be a game-changer for millions of couples struggling to conceive.
"It still doesn't feel real," said Michelle. "I remember going home thinking 'this is insane.' I am actually doing what my body is meant to do in a little bit of a different way, but I finally had that opportunity."
Now, 20 weeks along, the Whites are sharing their fertility story in hopes others wanting to start a family will realize they are not alone and there are more options than ever. INVOcell, offered by Alabama Fertility Specialists, is about half the cost of tradition IVF and can be twice as effective as a natural pregnancy rate.
"It's a new procedure that allows a little middle of the road option," said Dr. Beth Malizia, the first reproductive endocrinologist in Alabama to be trained in using the INVOcell device. The practice also employs an embryologist trained in the technique. "This is a lovely option that gives patients even more flexibility in terms of choices for care and choices for treatment."
Approved by the FDA in 2015, INVOcell places eggs retrieved from the mother with sperm in a small plastic device that is then inserted into the vagina. Rather than growing an embryo in an expensive lab, the mother then acts as the incubator for life to come together. After several days, the device is removed and if an egg was fertilized, it is then placed back into the mother's uterus. The method is a gentler approach to fertility treatment than a more aggressive IVF that requires more medications, doctor visits, and expenses.
"Initially, we trialed INVOcell in two women and are thrilled to have gotten a pregnancy out of it on the first try," said Dr. Malizia. "We are very, very excited about that rate. It's fantastic."
The less-expensive option opens the door to fertility treatment for new patients who have not been able to afford the $8,000- $10,000 cost of a single round of IVF. It is also an option for female same-sex couples who would like to share the experience of being pregnant with one woman incubating the embryo and the other ultimately carrying the child. Women with a history of ectopic pregnancy or who have had their tubes tied could also be candidates for INVOcell.
"It's used in other parts of the world but it's a really interesting option for places without a lot of access to fertility care because it can be done without a full IVF lab," said Dr. Malizia, who traveled to Texas twice for special training before offering the treatment at her practice in Homewood.
"I was shaking and nervous when I came back to find out if we had an embryo," Michelle says of her follow-up visit to Alabama Fertility Specialists. She soon texted her husband, who is a forester, the good news. "He said he was dancing in the woods!"
The mother-to-be memorized the dates of each milestone from the time she decided she was ready to have a baby (December 2015), to egg retrieval (February 2, 2018), to hearing her baby's heartbeat for the first time (March 6, 2018) but is most anxious to reach October 26th- her due date.
"Not only am I, of course, thankful for this child but for the opportunity to be a part in starting a larger conversation and advocating for others," Michelle told WBRC. "There are options and it (infertility) is not as scary and disastrous as you're made to believe in the beginning."
"I think the biggest message that we always try to get out there in the fertility world is to just come see us," says Dr. Malizia. "Patients hesitate to make that phone call or appointment, but most insurance companies will cover initial visits, blood work, all that sort of stuff. There are a lot of easy, inexpensive options we can try too. You don't have to jump right into IVF or INVOcell the minute you walk in the door."
For more information on INVOcell or to find a clinic that offers it near you, click here.
For more information on Alabama Fertility Specialists, click here.