Infertility Pet Peeve: It’s “Transfer” not “Implant” Darnit

Dawn Davenport


Infertility pet peeve

When I hear someone say that an embryo was “implanted” into the uterus, it’s like fingernails on a chalk board to me! But why?

At the risk of becoming the political correctness police or the overly-controlling infertility advocate weirdo, I have one request (read: plea or heart-felt beg) to the journalists of the world: Please, please, please stop using the work “implant” when referring to the transfer of embryos during IVF (in vitro fertilization).

I’m the least likely candidate for the role of word nazi. I’m normally not that focused on using just the right words since I figure the end result of requiring such correctness is less talking about sensitive issues like infertility or fertility treatments. Heaven only knows, I want more, not less talking. But for some reason when I read an article that talks about a doctor implanting embryos during IVF treatment, it’s like fingernails on a chalk board for me.

It is not just small town papers that make this mistake. I’ve seen doctors alleged to have implanted embryos in the Los Angeles Times  and the New York Times , but the prize goes to CNN with the winning three “implants” in two sentences.

Since then, Miller [a reproductive endocrinologist] says, she implants only one or two embryos; on “very, very rare” occasions she’ll implant three. When she heard Nadya Suleman, the mother of octuplets in California, say her doctor had implanted six embryos, she was outraged.”

Now here’s the part that really doesn’t make sense. Yes, the term “implant” is medically inaccurate, but it’s not like it is in the realm of science fiction. My mental dialog when I see “implant” goes something like, “Well, who in their right mind would really think that a doctor could possibly take an embryo and poke it into the uterine line to make it implant.” Umm, well isn’t that pretty darn close to what doctors do with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) when they take a sperm and poke it into an egg and make it fertilize.

Yeah, I don’t really have a good excuse for my sensitivity, but I think it has something to do with the idea that whether an embryo actually adheres to the uterine wall and grows is such a hit or miss proposition—really something of a miracle. The word “transplant” makes it sound like something that is pretty routine …something within the control of the doctor. There are still some of the blessedly fertile (and ignorant) who believe that IVF is a guaranteed cure for infertility. You make embryos, the doctor implants them, and voilà—nine months later you have a baby. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So to the journalists of the world, humor me—embryos are transferred, not implanted.

What are your infertility pet peeves?

Published in 2012. Updated in 2015.
Image credit:Charlie Barker

11/11/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 26 Comments

26 Responses to Infertility Pet Peeve: It’s “Transfer” not “Implant” Darnit

  1. Avatar Elizabeth says:

    TOTALLY agree and I’ve never done IVF! It makes IVF seem like it’s such an assumed pregnancy, which it certainly is not. :/

  2. Avatar Jess says:

    I completely agree! I am not sure why it bothers me so much, but it does. Maybe because it is just wrong. We have to wait for the embryo to implant and by using the term incorrectly it seems to ignore that vital part of the process. The term implant is a done deal. You put in breast implants and they are there, not transferring them in hopes them implanting. And no, I don’t think that we are being sensitive, we just want accurate information coming from those that make it their job to report said info.

    • Jess, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that “implant” implies a done deal. It’s over and done, successful every time. It fails to capture the “crap shoot” that is infertility treatment.

  3. Avatar June Lewis, LCSW says:

    Thanks again!

  4. Avatar June Lewis, LCSW says:

    Dawn, I love your website/blog. Please add my pet peeve esp. for the media folks. Babies are NOT born ADDICTED to drugs, they are born DRUG DEPENDENT!!!!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Thanks June. I’ve never really thought about this one, but I see your point and it’s a good one. Thanks for educating us all!!! I don’t want this to get lost in the comments, so I’ll post your thoughts as a separate post on both FB and Twitter.

  5. Leah Welsh Lowe Leah Welsh Lowe says:

    I do agree with your assessment. If doctors could somehow implant the embryo, success rates would be through the roof.

  6. Sarah Blossom Larson Butler Sarah Blossom Larson Butler says:

    I agree with Laura. Honestly, I used this term when we were just starting out with ART too. I could forgive a one-time science reporter, but someone whose beat is medical journalism should know better. There must be tons of medical procedures that journalists get wrong, we just have the “luxury” of knowing the science of it so well.

  7. Laura Upton Laura Upton says:

    It makes me cringe also! I do overlook it when a friend or family member says it; but I agree that the media should be diligent enough to do the research and use the proper term. I think it bothers me because of the inference that follows: if during IVF the embryo is “implanted” by the doctor, then it seems like EVERY IVF would work! However, we know this is not always the case, since it is transferred, and implantation either happens or it does not.

  8. Leah Welsh Lowe Leah Welsh Lowe says:

    That one drives me crazy, too. I give it an eye roll and move on.

  9. Sue Taylor Sue Taylor says:

    Oh YES, YES, YES drives me nuts too! I think using the correct terminology is important. I don’t usually correct someone over it, but I it does make me cringe – mostly if I hear someone in the media using it incorrectly. There is already so much mis-information, they should get medical terminology accurate if they are professional reporters.

  10. Avatar Lisa says:

    Hi from ICLW! I so loved this post! I agree one hundred percent and appreciate the way you presented your stance.

  11. Avatar Brandon says:

    I think “implanted” is a word everyone can immediately understand. “Transfer” works just as well, but egg donation is a relatively misunderstood practice to begin with, so I am ok if media doesn’t exactly use the right terminology as long as they are showing ample respect to the process and those of us who have decided to use it. Of course I can sympathize with pet peeves 🙂 . . . thanks for the great blog post!

  12. Avatar Karen says:

    No, we’re absolutely not being too sensitive. Incorrect terminology leads to incorrect comprehension = ignorance (as you so well pointed out!) and hurting the people even more who are already suffering.
    I wouldn’t say there are still ‘some’ who believe IVF is a guaranteed cure for infertility. Based on my experience I would say the vast majority (of the fertile) believe it’s going to be a given positive. Suggesting the dr has control over the situation because he/she implants the embryo doesn’t help this miscomprehension.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      OK Karen, you have obliterated any feelings I had of being overly picky. I guess what gave me pause was when I started to really think it through and I thought of ICSI, I realized that their misconception wasn’t totally unreasonable. I guess this really does speak to the miracle that is ICSI.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Now this is just me talking out loud here, but here’s why I think this term is used (as an MD, and as a woman who’s also had IVF). When a woman is able to become pregnancy via the usual means, her egg is described as ovulating, traveling down the fallopian tube (the site where the sperm and egg most often hook up), and upon arrival in the uterus, the (newly formed) embryo is described as implanting ITSELF into the wall of the uterus. By implanting, embryo then stimulates all kinds of hormonal and physiologic changes. I think this term is used because the goal is to mimic the usual cascade of events—-perhaps “attempted implantation ” would be a better turn of phrase?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Anonymous, I see you point, but in both cases (natural conception and IVF) the embryo must implant itself without outside assistance. On a recent Creating a Family show on “Who Should Consider Single Embryo Transfer” with an embryologist and RE, we found out that the embryo is approximately 5-6 days old when it enters the uterus during natural conception. (You can read the highlights of this show at or click on the show to listen/download.) Hence, one of the reasons why they thought it was preferable to transfer at the blastocyst stage vs. at 3 days. I realize that is not really relevant to this discussion, but I thought it was cool and I’ve been dying to tell someone. You are now my someone. 🙂

  14. Avatar Margo says:

    Thank you Dawn!
    Being one of those who has transferred several embryos and I am still waiting for an implant, I really appreciate your comment. Next transfer mid-November and hoping this is the one that will snuggle in and decide to stick around.
    Best wishes, Margo

  15. Leah, I used to automatically assume that any media that incorrectly said that doctors implanted embryos was not worth reading, but unfortunately, some of the “best” make this error. Do you agree with my assessment of why it bugs you so?

  16. Avatar Keiko says:

    Hear hear! SUCH a pet peeve of mine. Thanks for this post!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      But Keiko, do you also feel like maybe we’re being a little overly sensitive? When I really sat down and analyzed it, it seemed…well, maybe a bit over the top.

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