Every year, about half a million babies are born from in vitro fertilization (IVF), which provides a promising option for those who are either struggling to get pregnant or simply want to put having a family on hold. The technology is exciting (while success rates vary, they usually float in the 30 to 40 percent range for women under 35) but also nerve-wracking. That’s especially true in light of recent news about fertility clinic mix-ups and malfunctions that have led to damaged eggs. And while issues like those are rare, they still happen. As a hopeful parent-to-be, they can be downright terrifying, too.
Enter: One fertility clinic that’s aiming to give future moms and dads a little peace of mind. Columbia University Fertility Center just developed a (free!) first-of-its-kind tool called the PreBaby Monitor for people who have their eggs or embryos frozen with the fertility clinic. How it works: After you’ve stored your precious goods, you head over to prebabymonitor.com, plug in your tank ID number, and you can see the real-time temps of the storage tanks holding your eggs or embryos (which are typically stored well below -150 degrees Celsius).
“For some patients, just knowing that they can check the temperatures helps provide a greater sense of security,” says Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D., director of Columbia University Fertility Center.
That said, don’t worry—it’s not on you to keep an eye on temps. “We have multiple levels of automated and manual safeguards and checks in place to alert us not only if the temperatures are off, but—because of the novel internet-connected scales that we developed—we can even detect a problem before temperatures start to rise,” says Dr. Williams. “The PreBaby Monitor is there to provide reassurance to patients, not as a part of our safety mechanisms.” (Of course, if you did log on and notice a temperature drop, you could call the number provided on the site, he says.)
But here’s the thing: While this kind of transparency may bring peace of mind to some, for others, it could bring on unnecessary stress (read: constant checking, worrying, and the likes—and that’s certainly not fun). That said, a Columbia University Fertility Center survey found that about two-thirds of people reported that this kind of tech would make them feel more reassured.
The best way to feel reassured, though? Choosing the best fertility center for you by asking the right questions, says Sheeva Talebian, M.D., a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at CCRM Fertility. Here, four to ask of any fertility clinic, whether or not you can check in on your eggs or embryos by way of a special monitor.
- Ask: Is this clinic a member of the Society of Assisted Reproductive Medicine (SART)? “Clinics that are members of SART are held to high standards and their IVF success rates are verified. Fertility clinics that aren’t SART members don’t have that same level of accountability and they don’t have to adhere to the same standards,” says Dr. Talebian. (Note: Both Columbia and CCRM are indeed members of SART.)
- Ask: What are your lab standards and protocols? “Most patients don’t realize how important the lab is and how much fertility clinic labs can vary,” says Dr. Talebian. “Very small details can play a big role in a patient’s success.” You could also ask the clinic to explain their standard operating procedure for the chain of custody of sperm, eggs, and embryos, she says. For example, CCRM uses a double-witnessing approach, which typically entails two embryologists verifying that all materials match before moving samples or performing critical procedures, she explains. As for Columbia: “We have multiple safeguards in place to maintain the chain of custody including actually having additional embryologists present at every step just to verify and monitor the very precious samples,” says Dr. Williams.
- Ask: Are all of your services done in-house? “It’s not uncommon for a fertility clinic to outsource testing to a third party,” says Dr. Talebian. But not having to go elsewhere to pursue any part of your fertility journey promises more safety, patient-to-physician connection, and less stress, she notes. “We take the safekeeping of our patients’ samples extremely seriously and do not outsource it,” says Dr. Williams.
- Ask: What are your success rates and how much experience does the embryology team have? “SART publishes success rates online and the CDC does as well,” says Dr. Talebian. “It’s important to remember that freezing isn’t about the freeze, it’s about the clinic’s ability to help you have a baby when you’re ready, so you should look a clinic’s live birth success rates.”