Finding my Fertility (Stage 7)

It’s nearly October and we’re reaching the end of the first leg of this journey.

So far, I’ve broken my fertility story into six stages: you can read Stage 6 here, Stage 5 here, Stage 4 here, Stage 3 here, Stage 2 here and, first, Stage 1.

For me, the final stage has been egg collection and embryo creation. On the day of the procedure, I’m taken into a small, private room and then change into a hospital gown – pants off, please, but I can keep my socks on (a good look, I think you’ll agree). The nurses take various obs like my temperature and blood pressure but for some reason, there are five attempts to insert a cannula before we have any success (this has rarely been an issue in the past; thank God I’m not afraid of needles). I repeat my name and date of birth to every person who walks into the room almost to the point I think I’ve given the wrong date.

When I’m in the room, I’m surrounded by female medical staff. Whilst I’ve never had an issue with male doctors and nurses and haven’t ever requested a female doctor, I’m relieved as I lie back in the reclining bed, put my legs and feet in the stirrups and show the entire room my entire vulva. Everyone is kind and positive, we’re hoping for a good yield, but there are no guarantees and no pretending this will be completely pain-free. Fentanyl is passed through into the cannula and I feel drowsy and very drunk. Naturally, I’m asked to relax my legs (“let them flop open”) and take some deep breaths into the oxygen mask.

As anyone who’s had a smear test knows, it’s not overly pleasant having a cold speculum or vaginal ultrasound probe inserted into your vagina but we get used to it. There’s a needle attached to the probe which passes through the vaginal wall and into all of the follicles on both ovaries (one ovary at a time). I’ll be honest and say I was surprised at how much it hurts. Despite feeling drunk and drowsy and having a high pain threshold, I feel the needle go into each follicle and pull out, and then into the next and again and again. The wonderful anaesthetist holds my hand – which is more of a relief than the fentanyl.

When the needle penetrates each follicle, it drains the fluid in that follicle into a test tube which then is taken to the embryologist (in the same room) who examines the fluid under a microscope to see if there’s an egg in the fluid and retrieve it. The whole procedure takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

At the end of the procedure, I’m told how many eggs the surgeon retrieved and whether they look to be good quality or not (they do). Then I walk back to the private room to recover. As expected, I have some period pain and a little bleeding, have my blood pressure monitored regularly and once I’m feeling less drowsy, I’m given tea and biscuits (gratefully as I haven’t eaten or drunk all morning). During this time, the embryologist checks the quality of the eggs and feeds back on the news. She comes into the room and reiterates how many eggs were collected and asks whether I want all monitored to freeze as eggs, all inseminated with the donor sperm I’ve purchased or a combination. I’m still feeling a little woozy, so I ask for 10 minutes to think about it. I consider calling my parents to ask for their opinion but then reason it’s my body and hopefully my future babies, so I make a decision.

After about 20 minutes I can then go home and we wait. I feel tired, nauseous and have period pain but otherwise, I’m okay. The eggs and embryos are monitored overnight. To my relief, only one egg isn’t viable to freeze and all embryos I had inseminated fertilised successfully.

Over the next few days, there is careful monitoring of the embryos (the eggs are in the freezer now) to check they reach the right stage of development to survive the freezing and thawing process before implantation at a later date. Ideally, the egg will have divided into over 100 cells by day 5 or 6 and reach the blastocyst stage. I’m over the moon to receive a call from the embryologist saying all eggs that were fertilised developed well as it’s common for some fertilised eggs not to mature to this stage.

So now I have eggs and embryos in the freezer. Speaking with the embryologist, we would be wise to go through another round of egg collection so I have more in the freezer (as some don’t survive the thawing process, some won’t be fertilised, some won’t implant – etc, as the attrition rate is higher with frozen eggs than embryos). After a withdrawal bleed and a ‘normal’ period, I’ll be back in the clinic for scans and jabs in October. Perhaps a short post after all of that is over but what a haul it’s been.

Fingers crossed for some babies in the future.

As always, I’m aware all women’s experiences of IVF and egg collection are unique, this is a way of adding to the body of experiences.

Image by Hans via Pixabay.

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