I am writing this on the heels of having our review consultation for a frozen embryo transfer. As we embark on this exciting adventure again, it has struck me that details from our previous experience is now a blur. This time around I want to document it for my own recollection and also to hopefully provide guidance for anyone else going through a similar situation to ours. My aim is to keep it as transparent as possible as far as our emotions and costs, although this time around should be significantly cheaper than the first because we have already gone through a bit of the procedure.
What I remember from our first pre-IVF journey
To start, my partner and I are a same sex couple, which means we are lucky enough to have wombs to spare. I had never really given it deep thought as to how difficult it is for male same sex couples to have biological children until we saw all the options we had. We first had to decide who would carry the baby. This decision was easy for us as my partner really wanted the experience of being pregnant and to be honest, I didn’t. Our next options were broadly IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in vitro fertilisation). If we would have gone the IUI route, as far as I understand, the procedure would have been a bit less complicated. My wife would have taken treatments to prepare her womb and when it was ready the doctors would inseminate her directly. But, we decided to take the IVF route. We liked the idea that our child to be as much a combination of ourselves as was possible. She would carry the baby and provide nurture while I provided the egg. Also she really likes my nose and wanted a smaller version to bite. This meant that there were a couple more steps to take.
First we had to sync up our cycles. She is pretty much a clock and I am whenever my ovaries feel like it. We needed to sync up because essentially we needed the egg’s development to not be interrupted by a different stage of our mensural cycle. After we had synced our mensural cycles through oral contraceptive, my wife started taking additional medication to make her body think it was pregnant and start to prepare her womb. I, mean while, started taking injections to enlarge my ovaries. The idea was to get my ovaries as large as possible with as many follicles as possible so when they give me the trigger to start producing eggs there are as many produced as possible. Now the details are what I am forgetting, but I believe this was about a month of injections. Other than the discomfort from the shots it didn’t feel like anything at first, but as we got closer to when we would trigger my egg production, it started to feel like I had two little water balloons in my lower gut. When everything was finally ready, about three month process, as my wife had to do an entire ‘dress rehearsal’ where she went through the whole process and they did a mock insemination. On the second go, we triggered my eggs to be produced. I think, this was about a week with me checking in every other day at the clinic. They had to do ultrasounds to make sure I didn’t go into ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This is exactly what it sounds like. Some women can start producing too many eggs and this can be very dangerous. When the egg making time was over, it was then time to harvest them.
I was told the procedure would be relatively painless, but if I wanted gas I could have it… I WANTED GAS! It was very painful, but in the end they were able to extract 17 eggs. We donated 8 of the eggs and kept 9 for ourselves. The eggs then went to be fertilised. OH! I totally forgot about the process of selecting the donor. We were first offered to peruse the fertility clinic’s bank of donors, but in England there is a lot of privacy protection for the donors. This meant that we only had access to very basic details about them: ethnicity, height, weight, eye colour, etc., but in other countries the sperm banks are allowed to give us more information. We ended up going with Cryos International in Denmark. We were able to access all the basic details about them plus things like a baby photo of them, a note in their hand writing, a voice recording, more detailed write ups from them about who they are and why they had chosen to donate, as well as the first impressions of the donor from a staff member. We wanted to have as many answers for our child as we could. We narrowed it down to a couple of candidates through the information we had, but we chose our winner based on the fact that his baby photo looked a lot like our niece.
Okay, back to fertilising the eggs. The eggs go through a process called blastocyst culture which aims for 3-5 days. It is expected that not all the egg’s fertilisations will be successful. They check the eggs at day 1, (for fertilisation) and days 2, 3, and 5 to review progress. If, for example, they don’t look like they are maturing in the way they might want by day 3, they might suggest to implant as many eggs as possible to give you the best chance of one of them sticking. Literally putting all of your eggs in the basket. Ideally you want to get to 5 day blastocyst as these eggs have the best chance of surviving. Between harvest day and day 1 we had seven eggs, on day 3 we had five viable eggs, and on day 5 we had 3 ‘top quality’ fertilised eggs. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the doctors assured us that 3 eggs to get to 5 day blastocyst was a very good result. They picked their favourite one and that’s what we used on insemination day.
I’ll never forget that day, back in the room I had done the egg harvesting by myself a few days earlier, we were allowed in together this time dressed up in gowns and hats. They showed us a picture of our five day old circle of cells and then they dipped the lights and we held hands and watched the ultrasound show where they had landed. My wife was a little worried to stand up at first but soon had to get over that as you have to attend with a full bladder!
The other two were frozen. After that, it was more or less a baseline pregnancy. We did get an early scan at 8 weeks (a wiggling frog with a beating heart) and because we were IVF, even thought we didn’t have a history of difficult pregnancies, we were put on a pathway that included more check ups and regular scans from the doctors. My wife gave birth to a healthy baby on 10 September 2019, after as she says one of the most comfortable periods of her adult life, she loved being pregnant, and she carried it well.
Fast forward to today, we are starting the process of getting pregnant for the second time. One of the things we learned from the first time is that it takes a lot longer than we thought. We were fortunate enough to get pregnant on the first cycle of IVF, but we were naive to the length of the process. We honestly thought all we had to do was find a clinic, find a donor, get a few shots, and a month later we would be pregnant. We actually started the process of finding the fertility clinic we wanted to use in April 2018 and weren’t able (without any complications) to get pregnant until December 2018. So we knew it could take longer to book the appointments than we thought, especially with all the covid restrictions today. The first step in this process, which we just did, is the review consultation. It took about a month and a half from when we first enquired until their first availability. During the review consultation we met with the doctor that oversees the clinic (over the phone). We went over our chosen process ‘frozen embryo transfer’, my wife as the birth mum again. She rattled off the drugs, tests required and process but promised an email would follow up with the details. In the mean time my wife needs to book a smear test and some blood tests to check her thyroid hormone levels due to a new diagnosis.
Review Consultation £210
Full Fresh IVF Cycle Costs: £7,024
Plus 1,370 eur - For two vials of sperm (We went for the top quality but actually you may not need this as it was numbers based and they embryologist doesn’t need many!)
Annual embryo storage for our two blastocysts £375
Reservation fee 387 euro - vial of sperm on hold incase any of these are unsuccessful so we can have full sibling babies