When I hit thirty-five, I could hear my “biological clock” blaring. The little whispers I had heard about freezing my eggs became a loud call. However, I knew so little about egg freezing and fertility preservation that it was challenging to even pick up the phone and call a clinic. Then, throughout the process of actually retrieving my eggs, I always felt like I was a few steps behind where I wanted to be. For anyone considering egg freezing, here are the seven things I wish I’d known to help me prepare for my egg freezing cycle and feel on top of each step.
Throughout the process of freezing my eggs, I never put it together that if I was going to use those eggs, I would have to go through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant with them! It was only later that I realized that what I’d gone through (ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval) was the first part of IVF, and that I’d need to continue with IVF to use the frozen eggs to create embryos and have a baby.
While my nurse at the fertility clinic gave me a hands-on tutorial on how to prepare the medications, I still felt overwhelmed when the time came to administer them myself. In fact, right off the bat, I wasted a dose of Gonal-F because I misunderstood how the Redi-Ject pen worked and released the dose before the needle even penetrated my skin. I felt so discouraged; I was just starting the ovarian stimulation process and – since the medications are so expensive – every dose felt precious. Luckily, I found some videos online that could walk me through the preparation of each medication and used them each night to make sure I didn’t miss any steps.
Because my ovaries were so enlarged with follicles, there was a small risk that an ovary could twist. My doctor suggested that I only engage in gentle movements like walking and yoga, and not do any bouncing exercises (like running) or inversions. I wasn’t up for much movement, anyway, since my ovaries literally ached! I took long walks… and got in touch with my inner couch potato.
I responded very well to the ovarian stimulation drug protocol… TOO well. Because I had so many follicles and was at risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), my doctor scheduled my trigger shot a little early, meaning that the shot I’d take to encourage my eggs to mature was scheduled a day or so before most of my follicles were the best size to retrieve. This also meant that while I had over 30 follicles, only 12 of the retrieved eggs were mature.
I was crushed to get that news after feeling so confident about my outcome. I wish I’d known that it’s completely normal to get fewer mature eggs than follicles during IVF, even if my experience was more extreme than most. I also wish I’d known that the fertility doctor could use the information from my first time egg freezing to give me a different medication protocol the next time to reduce my risk of OHSS and increase the number of eggs that were mature.
During ovarian stimulation, my schedule felt very full. There were many morning appointments for blood work (blood tests) and ultrasounds. In the evenings I had to make sure I was home at a certain time to administer the meds (hormone injections). On top of that, I was preoccupied with my body, what was happening inside of it, and what I hoped would happen. And while I’d known that the stimulation part of egg retrieval would be intense, I wasn’t prepared for how long it would take me to feel like myself again after the egg retrieval procedure.
While some of my friends needed just a day or two to recover after egg retrieval, that wasn’t the case for me. Though I didn’t have severe OHSS and didn’t require medical attention, I was still terribly uncomfortable. Some of the side effects I experienced were tiredness, soreness, bloating, and constipation! (Once again, my inner couch potato really got to express herself.) Luckily, my nurse had suggested that I purchase rehydration drinks and a mild stool softener. I used these for a week and a half until my body shed the extra fluid.
It meant a great deal to me to talk about the egg freezing process with my friends, especially the friends who had undergone egg freezing or IVF themselves. In fact, I didn’t know how many of my friends had gone through the same process until I was open about my own! Their kind questions and check-ins, especially after egg retrieval, made me feel like we were doing it together. Comparing notes also helped me understand that my experience was not universal, and that there’s a lot of variability in how people respond to medications, how their clinics prepare them for the process, and how they recover. With that information, I felt more prepared for my appointments and much less alone.
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