Time to make babies…
If you have yet to start your family, or are indeed halfway through when cancer rudely interrupts your life, you may be offered fertility treatment. This can be a round of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment to preserve embryos (eggs fertilised with your partner’s swimmers before freezing them) or cryogenically freezing eggs, or a portion of your ovary, just in case chemotherapy reduces your fertility.
IVF treatment involves hormonally encouraging your ovaries to produce lots of mature eggs at once (instead of just the one that you would usually produce each month). This is achieved by injecting yourself every morning with a hormone called buserelin for a specified period of time. Once that is done, it is then the daily buserelin injection, plus a Gonal-F injection every evening. The needles are VERY small, and while it the first one is very difficult, it does get easier and you’ll be a pro after a few days no doubt. Interspersed with the daily injections are pelvic scans and blood tests to monitor your hormone levels throughout the course of the treatment. When the last scan hopefully reveals that the collection of follicles in each ovary looks like ‘a lovely bunch of grapes’ (actual quote from one of our IVF doctors), you’re good to go. The egg ‘pick up’ is scheduled, and in order to release the eggs, you give yourself a final ‘trigger’ injection exactly 12 hours before harvest time.
12 hours later, you’ll find yourself nervously waiting to be taken through to get ready for the pick up procedure (your partner having dropped off his deposit when you get there). It’s a pretty minor procedure, but the thought of them going up there, with a long needle to aspirate the contents out of your ovaries doesn’t sound like a bag of fun.
The procedure starts off with a pill which is meant to be a sedative to relax you, and make it such that you’ll ‘still be awake and alert but won’t care what they’re doing’ (nurse’s words). What-the-hell-ever lady! The shunt in the back of the hand can still bloody hurt. Thankfully there are MUCH better drugs in theatre – a magical substance that makes you feel like you’ve had a couple of wines, or even a bottle (depending on whether you’re a cheap date or not). As you watch through your haze, the fluid from your follicles swishes past you via a long tube and is collected into a test tube by a lovely IVF nurse. They pass the test tube through to the embryologist in the lab next door, through what resembles a takeaway booth window. The embryologist then looks at them under a microscope and informs you right then and there if it contains an egg. It’s actually pretty cool!
You then spend a while in recovery sleeping off the good drugs, and because they don’t let you eat or drink anything the morning of the procedure, you’re may be provided with some refreshments. What is happening as you’re chowing down on whatever food you’ve been provided (or sent your support person across the road to obtain), is your collected eggs are being inseminated with your partner’s morning donation. The embryologists then start growing them up into embryos. Fingers crossed that after a few days, you’ll find out that some or all of your eggs were successfully fertilised, and then grew well enough to be frozen as 3 or 5 day frosties.
All going well, you will have some potential offspring stored in a freezer somewhere, ready to be used whenever you’re ready. It doesn’t matter whether you get them out after 1 year or 10 years, they still have the same chance of survival, which is good to know. It’s a great safety net to have, although of course its more fun to try and make one the old fashioned way first