by Sarah Lam – Part 2 of 3
It’s been two weeks since my egg retrieval. Earlier in December of last year, I wrote about my decision to choose and prioritize myself by freezing my eggs (read about my decision here). It was a long process that started in January with a few hiccups along the way.
Several of my friends froze their eggs in the past few years. My Seattle friends went through Seattle Reproductive Medicine, and based on their positive experience with their incredible staff, I also chose to freeze my eggs with them. I made the firm decision to freeze my eggs early in 2020, but COVID-19 hit in March and caused a long delay. Egg freezing is an emotional journey in itself, so when you layer on the complexity of COVID-19 lifestyle adjustments, it only increases anxiety. To adjust to COVID-19 protocol, my process was now mostly virtual.
My initial intake session was done virtually over Zoom in September, where I got to meet with my nurse, Tamara. She was my main point of contact throughout this process and I can’t say enough kind things about her. Throughout the process, Tamara was so calm and caring as she answered all my questions. In my intake session, she explained the basics of fertility, the egg freezing process, various medications, and helped set my overall expectations. I appreciated that she understood that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Everyone is unique, depending on your goals and body.
A week later, I went into the clinic for my first ultrasound to count my follicles (each follicle produces one egg) and get blood drawn to test hormone levels. A woman in my age group has an average of 15-20 follicles and to my disappointment, Tamara only counted 11. This was excruciating to hear because even though this was not in my control, I wasn’t prepared to emotionally experience the feeling of failing for having such low follicle count. SRM recommends you having 18+ eggs to freeze for a higher chance of pregnancy, and I was frustrated with knowing I would have to do two rounds of egg freezing to hit these guidelines. Before leaving the clinic, Tamara pulled me aside and suggested coming off of birth control to see if it was suppressing my follicle count. I agreed and we decided to hold off starting the process for one month. I sat in my car, cried, and texted my two friends who both successfully froze their eggs.
Thankfully, my body adjusted quickly coming off of birth control and I went in for my second ultrasound in October. I had to brace myself and not have the expectation that my follicle count would change. To my surprise, it came back higher and we decided to wait one additional month to see if the count would continue to change. In December, my follicle count had doubled from the initial ultrasound – I was so relieved and we began injections the day after.
During the course of my treatment, I was constantly going in and out of the clinic for ultrasounds and bloodwork so they could monitor how I was responding to the hormones and adjust dosage. In the first half of the treatment, I took two injections per day (Gonal and Menopur) to stimulate follicle growth. The goal is to grow as many follicles as you can in uniform. The injections weren’t bad, but Menopur has high viscosity and would sting. Bloating is expected and was visible by day 3. I’m typically not a fan of sweets, but the hormones made me crave sugar and I was hungry all the time. As the follicles grow in your ovaries, they become enlarged and any sudden movement can cause torsion – worst case scenario, you lose an ovary. To ensure I did not cause torsion, I was not allowed to do any intense exercise like jumping, running, or lifting weights. Not being able to exercise was the most difficult part for me and it completely threw me off my routine. I tried going on an easy hike with my friends on day 3 of injections, but it wasn’t enjoyable because I was worried about injuring myself and my ovaries. I made the conscious decision to keep myself safe and stop all forms of exercise. In a way, it was a nice change in pace because it let me tap into my creative side. I channeled that energy into painting, something that I haven’t dedicated enough time to this year.
The third type of injection, Cetrotide, is introduced during the second half of the treatment to prevent ovulation until the eggs are ready to be retrieved. Cetrotide was by far the worst of the medication because it would leave red welts at the injection site like an allergic reaction. It also caused me to become very tired and I found myself taking naps every day, which made me even more bloated. By this point, I was irritable from high estrogen levels and sick of all the injections. There was one morning where I completely broke down emotionally. I FaceTimed one of my best friends who also froze her eggs earlier in the year, who helped me collect myself. This is why it’s so important to have a strong support system, and even better if you have friends or family who have gone through this process.
After six days of Cetrotide, my follicles were getting close to maturity and ready for egg retrieval. The final shot is called “the trigger shot,” which is taken 36 hours prior to retrieval and is one last push for the eggs to mature. I had to test negative for COVID-19 before surgery and fasted for 12 hours since patients go under general anesthesia. The procedure itself is quick and takes roughly 30 minutes. The doctor retrieves as many mature eggs as possible for the embryology team to freeze. The doctor tells you how many eggs were retrieved as soon as you wake up and the nurse tells you how many were successfully frozen the day after.
My motto throughout my egg freezing journey was to be extra kind to myself.
My motto throughout my egg freezing journey was to be extra kind to myself. I forgave myself for things I could not control. I cared for my body by giving it the rest and indulgence it needed. I channeled energy to other areas of my life creatively through painting. I also learned to be thankful for the incredible support system that surrounded me. From my friends, family, the Seattle Reproductive Medicine team, and my supportive followers, I continually received words of encouragement that got me through this process.
Recovery has been going well and I’m continuing to digest and reflect on the entire process. In my next blog post, I will talk about my key takeaways and what I would have done differently.
~ Get to know Sarah Lam and follow her egg freezing journey on Instagram @fitbyslam and her blog.
If you are interested in knowing more about SRM’s Egg Freezing Program or attend a webinar open house, start here.