Ovulation is the monthly release of an egg from the ovary, and it happens at random. Most women have two ovaries, a right, and a left ovary. Ovulation could happen each month from either one or the other ovary. When one ovary has been removed, or if a woman is born with only one ovary, then the remaining ovary usually takes over the entire process of ovulation, releasing each month on average an egg from that single ovary.
Getting pregnant with one ovary is not only possible but usually no more difficult than with two ovaries. More important is whether the fallopian tube is intact. A fallopian tube a small tube that connects the ovary to the uterine cavity. If the fallopian tube is missing, if there is no fallopian tube between the ovary and the uterus, or there is scar tissue and the tube is not functioning, then natural conception is very unlikely.
In order to get pregnant, there are three necessary components that must be present:
- Healthy sperm cells, which are produced by the male and deposited into the female reproductive tract
- A healthy egg cell, which is released by one of the ovaries each month.
- The fallopian tube, which connects the uterus with the ovary and allows the sperm to move up towards the ovary, to get fertilized, and to move down towards the uterus for implantation.
Ordinarily, a woman has two ovaries that are connected by the fallopian tubes to either side of the uterus. The ovaries take turns, though not in any particular order, releasing an egg, a process known as ovulation. The released egg travels down the fallopian tube and enters the uterus. If present, sperm cells will fertilize the egg in the fallopian tube, before it enters the uterus.
If a woman is missing one of her ovaries, the remaining ovary will continue to ovulate each month, making pregnancy possible. Continue to have sex around the time of your ovulation, ideally a few days before. There are a few different ways to determine when you are about to ovulate: ovulation predictor kits, tracking cervical mucus and taking your basal body temperature each morning. Some women are also able to feel ovulation.
If you aren’t pregnant within one year, or six months if you are over the age of 35, you might want to consult with your obstetrician or a reproductive endocrinologist to make sure there isn’t another reason why you are having difficulty getting pregnant.
If the fallopian tube is absent, however, the egg is unable to travel toward the uterus, and fertilization cannot take place.
In extremely rare circumstances, the egg (which is released into the abdominal cavity and absorbed by the body if no fallopian tube is present) can float through the body fluids and actually encounter sperm cells. As mentioned, this is extremely rare and would put the woman at risk for an ectopic (occurring outside of the uterus) pregnancy. This is a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated at a hospital immediately.
If a fallopian tube is missing, IVF or in vitro fertilization is required for a woman to get pregnant. In this case, the ovaries are stimulated by medication to produce lots of eggs, which are then surgically removed. The eggs are fertilized in the lab with her partner’s sperm and the resulting embryos are transferred back into her uterus.
The good news is that in either case pregnancy is achievable, though in certain situations fertility treatments may be required. If you are unsure whether you’ll be able to get pregnant on your own, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a fertility specialist.