— I’mma share all the details in this post, so if you’re mightily uninterested in IVF/ egg freezing, best to scrunch this post up and lob it towards the bin.
Oh-ho I’ve learnt a lot about IVF babies that I didn’t previously care to know.
One thing I didn’t know, for example, is that eggs are not called eggs. They’re called oocytes! Whattt?? Oooo.
Another thing I didn’t know is that “IVF” is where you take a bunch of mature eggs and cosy them up with some bloke’s sperm in a test tube (or something), shake it up (probably not) and create embryos to either implant in you, freeze, or both.
In this instance, “some bloke” = Bloody Good Bloke, my man of many talents
who can now add “top notch fertiliser” to his LinkedIn profile.
If you just freeze eggs, it’s not called IVF.
Another thing I learnt… frozen embryos have a higher likelihood of resulting in a successful pregnancy than frozen eggs.
We had hoped to freeze some eggs and some embryos, but were advised that we would likely need to do 2 IVF cycles to achieve enough egg numbers for this. So we thought long and hard and decided, fuck it,
we aren’t millionaires… so we froze embryos only.
While reading through IVF pamphlets, we were flabbergasted to learn that for a 35 year old (me!), the stats say that you need to freeze 20!!??!? mature eggs (or 10 embryos from memory — don’t quote me on this) to have a 90% chance of having two “successful live births,” AKA babies, down the line.
Exponentially more eggs are required each year you are over the age of 35. 🤯
The drop off process is a steep motherflecker.
Every cycle costs between $6-12k for embryo freezing in Australia, depending on whether or not you qualify for a Medicare rebate for a “medically necessary freeze”. Usually this applies to people who have fertility related issues, like endometriosis or PCOS. This is decided by your fertility doctor.
I qualified for the Medicare rebate because I’ve been unwell with long covid for 2 years (and seems likely I may continue to be unwell long term). Despite the rebate, one cycle still ended up costing us $6k with all the medication and hospital and anaesthetist fees etc, plus $4.5k for genetic testing (not compulsory, but highly recommended). Genetic testing is only relevant if you’re freezing embryos, not eggs.
Say what, $10.5k WITH a rebate?! Yep. 🤯
We were told it was likely we’d need more than one cycle to get enough eggs, but we were very hopeful that by some miracle, one cycle would be enough. So we decided to go all in and optimise our fertility as best we could in the lead up to the first cycle.
To start, I dived onto my outdoor bean bag, popped my airpods in, and fired up the extremely lengthy but extremely helpful Huberman podcast on fertility.
As I listened, I whipped out my phone and noted down all the scientifically validated supplements that have been shown to improve egg quality, then ordered a tonne of prescription-only supplements.
We spent a further $400ish on fertility supplements, cripes!
We figured it was worth it if it might help us save $10k on a second IVF cycle.
I took these supplements religiously every day for 60 days before we were due to start the IVF cycle.
Here’s a list of the supplements I took here, in case you’re on your own fertility journey.
We also both stopped drinking and taking any drugs. Not that either of us regularly drink or take drugs anyway…
— But DID YOU KNOW?! — that smoking weed just ONCE, or drinking 5+ drinks on just ONE occasion ANY time in the 60-90 days before conceiving/ doing IVF can seriously affect sperm quality (for weed) and egg and sperm quality (for alcohol), as well as reducing the likelihood of fertilisation, and enhancing the likelihood of genetic abnormalities and birth defects?! 🤯
Sheesh. Nothing against weed or alcohol (particularly not margaritas), but I found it fascinating how much these substances can mess with our bodies, and how long these effects last.
I learnt a tonne in that podcast and highly recommend it if you’re on a fertility journey.
Something else I didn’t know is that you aren’t “losing” any of your egg reserve by doing an egg extraction. I had the worry that perhaps by extracting eggs during IVF, that I might “run out” of eggs sooner and that it might lessen our chances of conceiving naturally in future.
When you do IVF, you’re actually kind of rescuing eggs that would otherwise have been chucked in the bin by your body.
As I understand it, every menstrual cycle, all/most of your follicles release an egg, and then only one egg (usually) makes it to full maturity to be released at ovulation. All the other eggs get binned to make room for the next batch of eggs.
During an IVF cycle, you artificially inject yourself with follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which does what the name suggests, it stimulates all your follicles to mature all the eggs at once, in preparation for extraction.
So there you go, no extra eggs are harmed in the making of frozen embryos, just the ones that your body would have chucked out anyway.
So. By now I’d taken handfuls of fertility pills for 60 days, and the time had come to start injecting myself in the stomach with FSH.
My period arrived and I called the fertility clinic and shouted “All systems go, 10-4, do you copy roger?”
They told me to calm down.
The next day, I whipped out the first needle to try to work out WTF to do with it.
One needle went into a little glass vial and then mixed X + Y = MC² and then another needle went into that and then that needle went into me as I grinned and pretended I was a doctor.
I was nervous about whether I’d be able to inject myself.
I don’t have a fear of needles, but I’ve also never had to put one in myself before…
All I knew was that I’d tried giving myself a bikini wax that one time in my youth, but no matter how much I psyched myself up, I could NOT bring myself to pull off the wax strip. I was worried the injecting situation would be similar.
In the end, while injecting myself in the stomach wasn’t the most fun activity I’ve ever participated in, it was much easier and less painful than I’d expected.
Injecting myself kinda made me feel like a boss.
The hormones definitely launched my emotions into rollercoaster mode though.
Some days I felt fine, some days, very un-fine.
I felt pretty panicked about lots of things in my life that suddenly weren’t so panicful a month later.
After a few days of injections, I started to feel uncomfortable, like I had rocks in place of ovaries.
Nothing major, but I commenced lying down doing not-much.
Things escalated much more quickly than I expected, and by day 8 of my cycle, I went into the extremely pink, extravagantly decorated rooms of Number 1 Fertility for an ultrasound.
“Wow, I can see 22 large follicles, that’s more than I’ve seen all week! You’re doing great! They’ll probably “trigger” you soon!”
I had no idea what this meant, but I felt mighty proud of my follicles.
Two days later, the nurses (who were in touch by phone constantly through the cycle) instructed me to inject myself with the final three syringes in the box with a big orange “TRIGGER” label on it.
Welcome to my stomach fat, Decapeptyl!
By day 11 I was in hospital, waking up to a bloke in scrubs telling me he was off to see the Barbie movie that weekend, and also Oppenheimer, neither of which I’d heard of.
“Oh, and also,” he added, “31 eggs were retrieved, and this is an abnormally high number, well done etc, etc, you’ll probably be in a fair bit of pain because of how many eggs were retrieved. Make sure you rest up for a week, and also here have some strong painkillers, you’ll probably definitely need them.”
In the end, I wasn’t in that much pain at all, just uncomfortable and bloated for a few days. I didn’t need the serious pain killers, just a wee bit of panadol for the first couple of days.
The whole IVF process was a lot easier than I expected. (I had been prepared for the worst).
Once the 31 eggs were extracted, it became a race to the finish line (for the eggs that is — I was busy lying down.)
Of the 31 eggs, 25 were mature.
Over the next few days, the embryologists kept us posted as to how our egg babies were progressing.
By day 6, freezing day, we had 12 fertilised embryos, a number that well exceeded what we were told was likely.
Fuck yea, overachieving embryos!
The clinic then sent some cells from our little 6 day old cell-babies all the way to the UK for genetic testing, and of the 12, we now have 9 frozen embryos, some genetically “normal”, and some unknown/weren’t able to be tested.
Of the genetically “normal” embryos, there’s about a 50% chance of them successfully resulting in a pregnancy. The steep drop off at every stage of extraction, fertilisation and implantation is mind boggling!
I’m not sure what the future holds for us or for our frozen embryo-babies, but I’m happy with our decision to do IVF.
It feels like a great relief.