So a short while back I told you guys on Instagram (@dresmerelda) that I had chosen to freeze my eggs. It’s anecdotal but I wanted to show you guys not to buy in to the unscientific rumours that the vaccines affect your fertility. They don’t.
A number of you were interested in the process and so I’ll tell you my story. Before I start, I’m fully aware that I’m in a very privileged position to be able to afford this to start with. It’s not cheap (I’d saved for a while) and there are multiple ways to have a child that don’t mean you need to consider this. I have my own reasons for this (that I prefer not to discuss, fanx). They have ‘package deals’ on freezing your egg babies that make it cheaper (honestly), but you still need to pay about a grand for the meds for every cycle you undertake. So yeah. For the rest of this post, I’m only gonna discuss the process itself.
I had a lovely team at CARE fertility and a particularly lovely consultant. Social egg freezing is still not very common- most of the people going through this process are undergoing IVF or have a medical condition that makes them eligible for egg freezing (often on the NHS). The data on success rates therefore are largely based on people with pre-existing (severe) medical conditions. It’s tricky to then extrapolate that data to those without one and may artificially make freezing eggs look less good than it actually is (most IVFs will go to implantation within the same procedure). It’s also worth noting that there’s an ‘attrition’ rate at each stage of the overall IVF cycle. You may get 10 eggs in a harvest for example, but only 8 of those will be ‘viable’ and when you get to fertilisation, only 5 of those might be viable. Before you start you’ll have baseline scans and blood tests and that gives your consultant important information about what medication regime you’ll need. But all of this is discussed in detail with your fertility expert and on e-learning that you have to do ahead of time in order to consent.
Despite all of this information, I still think I was a bit naive. It hadn’t remotely occurred to me that I’d be undergoing the ‘main’ stages of the IVF cycle. Due to my own personal risks of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS- which I was particularly nervous of having previously treated a lady who had it), I had an amended medication regime from my doctor.
At first it was fine. For the first few days you inject a medicine into your tummy from day 2 of your period, according to your instructions. At about day 6 of my cycle, I started injecting a second medication in my thigh (all of these meds are subcut, like insulin injections- into the fatty layer of your skin). This was a preprepared syringe and the needle felt comparatively massive (it’s not really) and it was a bit more sting-y. It was fine really.
But then the fatigue kicked in. I suspect it’s similar to the fatigue that pregnant women go through at first but I have to say, on a background of being busy and not having had much sleep, I felt WIPED for about 3 days. And once that started to improve, the bloating started. It turns out that (TMI maybe) my left ovary is more accessible than my right, and also more ready to party. I had the unusual experience of being very aware of my left ovary for the remainder of the medication cycle- I think a growing follicle was irritating something and it felt like someone was elbowing me under my left rib. I felt like Alien. I could feel them blobbing about inside me while I walked. So I took to calling them my “alien egg babies” and opted to be gentle with myself!
It took me a little longer (14+ days) than most (12-14 days) to be ready to harvest my alien egg babies. From about day 8 they start scanning you every other day. They want follicles that are around 16-20mm in size: too small isn’t great and too big and you’ve missed them. By that point I felt ready to pop but thankfully I wasn’t dangerously over-producing follicles from the tests. I got instructions for my “trigger injection” that you take 36 hours preprocedure to make them easier to harvest. I did feel ready to have them out but there was just one more hurdle…
They have to LITERALLY STAB YOU IN THE VAGINA to do it.
Sorry. I’m sure there are nicer ways to put that but it’s the truth. They use local and then put a needle through the vaginal wall to reach the ovaries. If I could find a free image to explain then I would but I can’t. But it makes sense if you know the anatomy- the ovaries are outside of and diagonally above and opposite the vagina (the birth canal bit inside you).
Most places do this with you asleep. Where I am, they do it awake. There are numerous benefits to this- it’s a quick procedure and having an anaesthetic is a bit much: you can recover more rapidly without. They do give you lots of other things: diclofenac up your bum, IV paracetamol (honestly great stuff- medical tip: always say yes if someone offers it to you), a bit of temazepam to make you slightly whoozy and gas and air (entonox/laughing gas) during the procedure. Even so, I was kacking myself as it got closer. I did the stupid thing of googling and found other terrified wannabe mums on message boards.
Now, before ANY procedure, I always tell my patients: “your imagination is ALWAYS worse than the reality.” Thankfully, I’m right. I also found on said google search a lady who said the same thing- it’s not the most fun you’ll ever have but it’s not absolutely horrendous. She could have her partner in with her watching the screen but Covid meant I had to go in alone (I had a friend with me as you can’t drive when you’re off your face, apparently).
Cycle 1’s procedure was absolutely fine. It took what felt like 5 minutes (my friend concurred it wasn’t much longer than that). I felt that annoying alien egg baby drain and that was a relief. I got lots of eggs and only 1 wasn’t good enough. But I needed more to get to the magic number of 20 (which studies state is optimum- more doesn’t particularly help but they’ll freeze as many as you get).
Post procedure I was pretty much back to normal, all bloating gone, in a matter of days. As the drugs leave your system there’s a surprise period but it wasn’t even painful. (Note that if you get a lot of bleeding sooner or you’re not sure, speak to your nursing team as you don’t wanna miss the rare post-op bleeding).
On to Cycle 2. I didn’t leave much time between cycles and in retrospect, I would probably leave longer. Most IVF cycles will have a few months (and emotional ups and downs) between cycles. Obviously trying to get pregnant is hard on your body but I hadn’t appreciated that maybe being stabbed internally multiple times in a short space of time was also possibly a bit much.
At least for cycle 2, I knew what to expect. The fatigue wasn’t as bad as I ensured I got some rest beforehand; I managed gentle exercise until I felt too bloated; the meds were easier to deal with. And I wasn’t scared of the procedure…
Now, as I said, my left ovary is more accessible than my right. This time round though, my right ovary was partying much harder. The first time around my right was more sore than my left during the procedure. This time around, most of the follicles were on the right… I’m not gonna lie, it was far less pleasant than round 1, and my recovery was slightly longer as I just felt bruised inside.
However, if you asked me: “Would you do it again if you hadn’t had enough eggs?” then the answer would easily still have been yes. I just would have given myself a bit of a break first. Again, the team were lovely and I opted for a bit of codeine afterwards on top of the other fun stuff I’d had, and that helped. And it’s not like I needed more than paracetamol and ibuprofen afterwards for the rest of that day. So honestly, it is fine. If I’m hoping to have kids, women have endured FAR FAR worse on that front.
Here’s a pic of me post-procedure in nicely coordinating colours to prove that worse things happen at sea. I’m even smiling (I think the codeine had kicked in).
Final bits of info: emotional support. They offer a lot of this (counselling and such) but I didn’t take them up on it. I talked to loved ones as this sort of stuff does hit a raw nerve and I felt like I was doing it alone compared with what most IVF-folk experience. I’m very good at compartmentalising and so I did a fair bit of this (not advisable generally but hey ho). I’m not pinning any hopes on this whole thing and at 2 years I have to pay further to extend the freezing (the max in the UK was 10 years of freezing if you don’t have a medical condition, but that has recently been changed I believe). I have no idea what position I’ll be at in 2 years’ time and I may yet choose to adopt instead or even not have kids at all- I don’t know. But I will say that this is an emotional experience and not because of the hormones (which weren’t actually too bad, I’ve felt less sane with PMT). So do make sure you have some support, not least because you need someone to drop you to and from the procedure. But also just generally- much of this is geared towards IVF and having a baby. All of the literature and the signs in the waiting room talk about a mythical baby you’re supposedly working towards. It’s meant well but it’s a little triggering. Particularly if you’re not even at the point of trying for one…
And finally, beware that you have to avoid (vaginally penetrating) sex for a while post procedure. Essentially they don’t harvest from all follicles and they could knock one that then floats about and there’s a risk of ectopic pregnancy. It’s the sort of small print thing that I think is rather important to remember so there you go.
And finally, for all those nonsense anti-vaxx rumours- I got over 20 eggs in only 2 cycles. There’s NO EVIDENCE OR REASON to believe that vaccines affect your fertility.