Freezing My Embryos on My Journey to Becoming an REI
The decision to preserve my fertility was a matter of timing. I knew that due to my extended medical training (which included 4 years of medical school, a 4-year OBGYN residency and a 3 year fellowship in reproductive endocrinology), my family-building plans were going to be delayed several years by my own choice. I wanted to have options should my husband and I receive an infertility diagnosis in the future, so I decided to freeze embryos because I was with a partner who I knew I wanted to have children with one day.
If you’re interested in fertility preservation, here’s what I want you to know, based on my personal experience as well as my professional expertise as a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Spring Fertility:
Why More People Are Choosing Fertility Preservation:
Egg freezing (also known as oocyte cryopreservation) has gained significant attention since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) removed the experimental label from it and major corporations (Apple, Google, Meta, etc. started covering the expense for their employees).
The purpose of egg freezing is to allow women the opportunity to freeze eggs at their current age for future use, should they need them. Unlike men, women’s fertility naturally declines with age, slowly at first in our early to mid-30’s and then more rapidly in our later 30s and early 40s until we eventually have no remaining eggs in our ovarian reserve and go through menopause. Egg freezing allows women the opportunity to freeze eggs at their current age, should they need them for future use. While it is not a guarantee of success in the future, many women feel empowered after freezing their eggs because it allows them to have some control over their own reproductive process and perhaps takes some of the pressure off from having to find the right partner, right now.
Egg vs. Embryo Freezing:
Egg freezing involves freezing mature eggs that can be fertilized in the future, with either a partner or donor sperm. Women with a partner may elect to freeze embryos, which involves fertilizing the mature eggs with sperm and allowing them to grow into a blastocyst (day 5 or 6 embryo) and freezing at this stage. By creating a blastocyst, you also can elect to genetically test those embryos to assess whether they have a normal number of chromosomes and the sex of the embryo.
The advantages of creating embryos allows you to have more information up front because they have made it to an embryo. They were able to fertilize and grow and develop into a blastocyst. With eggs, you have less information up front, we do not know how many eggs will fertilize or whether they will develop appropriately. The major advantage of freezing eggs is that they are solely yours and you have the ultimate decision-making ability regarding those eggs. The eggs are solely yours and you have the ultimate power in deciding what happens with them. If you chose to create embryos and you and your partner break up, those embryos belong to both of you and you may lose control of those embryos. And as I said before, a woman’s fertility declines with age, while a man’s fertility stays relatively consistent, so freezing eggs affords women more options for the future.
Ok, about these injections…
While I am a physician, I had never personally had to inject myself with a needle so for me that was probably the most anxiety-provoking part. But, once you start the injections, the process gets significantly easier. You develop a sort of routine and it just becomes part of your evening. My tips (that worked for me) to minimize discomfort include icing the area of skin prior to injecting, alternating sides of injections every couple of days and pinching (hard) the skin where I was going to inject.
My other recommendation is to go through your medicines the night before and lay them out, so you feel comfortable with what you have. The box of medicines you receive is large and filled with vials and needles and syringes and can be very overwhelming, so it helps to go through it before starting.
How will I feel during the process?
For the most part I felt the same during the injections, but I did experience the two most common symptoms associated with the process, which are bloating and constipation. The amount of bloating you may feel is usually a direct correlation to your ovarian reserve. A woman with a large ovarian reserve (remaining egg supply) may notice more symptoms than someone with a lower ovarian reserve. During the egg retrieval you will usually be put to sleep, but you are still breathing on your own, and your physician will retrieve the eggs using a needle under ultrasound guidance. The procedure itself takes 5-20 minutes depending on the number of eggs you have. You will wake up and be able to go home about an hour later. We recommend taking off work the day of the egg retrieval since you did receive anesthesia and we don’t want you making important work decisions. After the procedure, you can expect to feel cramping, similar to your menstrual cycle, as well as some brown-red spotting. Women with a higher ovarian reserve may feel worse bloating 2-3 days after the procedure, but that should resolve within a week. You can expect a period 7-14 days post retrieval (timing depends on which injection you took to “trigger” ovulation) and it will likely be heavier than what you are used to.
Final thoughts after the process
After going through this process, I felt empowered that I was able to make a proactive decision regarding my reproductive health. I had no idea what my fertility would be once we decided to have children and I wanted to have options as I knew we were delaying child-bearing due to my education and starting my career. Egg freezing is not for everyone, but I feel strongly that all women should be educated on their options regarding their reproductive health and feel empowered to make an informed decision that feels right for you.