Now, a handful of doctors around the world is offering a gentler alternative. Among them is a Chicago-area fertility specialist reporting landmark success.
Like many newborns, Alexander Webb enjoys snoozing during the day. But in the eyes of his parents, Alexander isn't really so typical.
"We call him our miracle baby. He really is a miracle for us," said Cortney Webb, IVM patient.
She was losing hope of ever getting pregnant.
Traditional fertility treatments were proving to be too dangerous because Webb has polycysctic ovary syndrome, which means her hormones are out of balance, and that made her body overreact to fertility medications.
Enter invitro maturation - or IVM. It's a lot like invitro fertilization - or IVF - but with a gentle twist. IVM uses little to no hormone injections.
Fertility specialist Randy Morris says he's among the first to be pioneering the treatment here in the U.S. He offered the Webbs a chance to take part in a trial of IVM for free. Success came quickly.
"We were just beside ourselves that this actually worked," said Cortney Webb.
"This may still be considered experimental, and it probably will have that consideration for years to come. But I think we have arrived at the point where many patients can benefit from it," said Morris, a reproductive endocrinologist.
In traditional IVF, a woman is injected with hormones to stimulate the ovaries and ripen the eggs. With IVM, the eggs are removed when they are much smaller and are instead matured in a petrie dish in the lab. Just like IVF, the eggs are fertilized and then returned to the womb.
For the patient, there are fewer drugs, shots and hassles.
"We've done five IVM cases. We had three pregnancies. One unfortunately miscarried. But one delivered and we have one ongoing pregnancy," said Dr. Morris.
This sounds great, but IVM is believed to work for a smaller group of women.
The best candidates are thin, young women who have a lot of eggs. That would almost rule out women older than 30, who make up the majority of fertility patients.
Dr. David Cohen is not yet doing IVM. He thinks the procedure has promise but says for most people, IVF is still the best choice.
"If the goal is to pregnant and you want to have as many options as possible and as many attempts as possible you need to get a lot of eggs. And the best way to do that is to assure yourself a high chance of success is to take those shots," said Cohen, reproductive endocrinologist, University of Chicago Medical Center.
Twenty-five-year-old Megan and her husband David Lee could have gone the IVF route, but when IVM was offered they were game.
"We chose to give this a try just because it was less drugs and fewer shots and it just seemed to be a safer route," said Megan Lee.
On the first try, they were successful, and baby Tessa is due soon.
As for the Webbs, they hope their healthy baby inspires others to consider IVM.
"He looks like dad, definitely looks like dad," said Cortney Webb.
By eliminating the need for expensive fertility drugs, doctors say IVM can save patients about $5,000 a cycle.
There's not a lot of research yet on IVM, but one study did find pregnancy rates a little lower than IVF. So far, it's estimated about 400 babies worldwide have been born using IVM. But it is not a procedure that would be considered a good option for older women with a limited egg supply.
Dr. Randy Morris
Chicago, Illinois IVF and Infertility Office
900 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Naperville Illinois IVF and Infertility Office
636 Raymond Drive
Naperville, IL 60563
Plainfield, Illinois IVF and Infertility Office
15905 South Frederick Street
Plainfield, IL. 60586
Dr. David Cohen
University of Chicago Medical Center
Center for Reproductive Medicine and Fertility
333 S. Desplaines Street
Chicago, IL 60661
University of Chicago Hospitals
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637