Egg Math: From 11 Eggs to 1 Embryo

posted by Brigitte Adams January 31, 2017
Egg Freezing Success rates
Eyes Wide Open

When I froze my eggs I knew that there were no guarantees.  I went in with my eyes wide open fully aware of the risks, as well as the lack of data, for a procedure that was at the time still  experimental.”  I agreed to the odds, anyway.  In retrospect, over the five years that my eggs were on ice I began to think that the rules didn’t apply to me.  After all, I had been proactive.  My clinic and lab were cutting-edge. Eleven eggs was a solid number. My eggs would yield at least two healthy embryos.  Right?

Wrong. 

My frozen egg count went from 11 to 1, a 90.9% nose dive, over the course of six days.

Here’s how it played out:

math

I’d just arrived in Hong Kong to spend the holidays with my parents, at the house I grew up in, when I received the following email from my clinic:

Hi Brigitte: We held your embryos overnight until day 7 but, unfortunately, the remaining embryos have stopped growing.

The one day 6 5BB embryo was frozen yesterday and the biopsied piece will be sent for CCS testing today.  You can expect the results after the New Year.  Your nurse will call once she receives the CCS results.

I waited a few minutes to tell my family.  I was angry, sad and confused and convinced that this one embryo would not be viable.  Why would it be?  The guy never materialized.  My career had veered off course. Before I could use my eggs two fibroids needed to be surgically removed.  Then aggressive arthritis necessitated a total hip replacement last November.  It seemed like every time I made a step forward I was blasted three steps backwards.  And, I was not sure I could get up again.

My 5 Stages of Grief

  1. Denial and isolation: After receiving the email from my clinic, I spent the next 48 hours in my room alone.  I did not want to talk to anyone or do anything.  I wallowed in my sadness while Bing Crosby sang White Christmas in the living room. Was this really happening?
  2. Anger: When I did emerge I was angry.  I was mad at myself for not freezing two cycles.  I was mad at my Doctor for not suggesting it.  I was mad I ever got divorced.  I was mad I clocked so many hours at jobs I hated.  I was mad I waited so long to use my frozen eggs. Mad, mad, mad.
  3. Bargaining: I started to play an if/then scenario with God.  If this one embryo was normal, I would never ask for anything again. If this one embryo worked, I would be the most devoted and loving mother.  This child would make a difference in the world.
  4. Depression: My old friend then reared its ugly head.  Why stay positive?  The one remaining embryo will never have 23 pairs of chromosomes.  It’s a 50/50 chance and luck had not been my friend for a few years now.
  5. Acceptance : Then I hit the last stage, acceptance.  I tracked down a Reproductive Endocrinologist I know (someone with much more empathy than my own Doctor), who called me from the slopes of Telluride. He said: “Look, Brigitte, you did the best you could at the time. And, if the embryo is normal, your chances took a very big leap from presumed zero to about 65%. It is not 100% but better then an average donor egg cycle.”
Embryo is Normal!

The next day I got the news that my one remaining embryo is NORMAL.

Here is what my nurse wrote:

Brigitte: I do not typically send CCS results by email.  However, I know that you are in Hong Kong and not able to be reached by phone (I tried)… With that said, your frozen embryo came by CCS NORMAL!!!  I know the steps leading up to this were devastating for you, and wanted you to have this good news as soon as possible.  I hope you are having a blessed time with your family and happy holidays!

At that moment, I realized that to move forward on this journey I needed to stay positive – no matter what.

Not All Fertility Stories Are Tied Up With Pretty Bows

When I relaunched Eggsurance last May I had finally decided to use my eggs and was committed to telling the final stage of my story.  I felt it was important to chronicle my thaw-to-transfer process as the majority of women’s stories to date focus solely on freezing. 

Now, eight months later, I realize that I was unprepared physically, mentally and spiritually for phase two of my fertility journey.  I naively assumed that the path to pregnancy would be more straightforward (and faster) than it has turned out to be. The best content is typically produced from challenging experiences, however, over the last few months, I have been too raw, anxious and confused to blog.  However, after I read the following email from my wonderful friend and fellow egg freezer Carolyn (as well as mother of TWO sets of twins), I got into action:

Stories that are all tied up with a bow are not as interesting as those that take unexpected, even ironic, turns. You may feel like a fool – you are absolutely not. Get that thought out of your mind and replace it with this: You are on a journey and sharing your experience that many women will identify with and relate to.  You’ve been open several times, in interviews and in print, that this is not a guarantee. Egg freezing is one of those fuzzy topics without much data.  Everyone is guessing.

Let’s assume the worst for this scenario. You freeze your eggs, try to use them and it doesn’t work. There is still hope and always another path. You are reporting your truth, with vulnerability and grace, and it will be a beautiful story. (Think Mei Mei Fox’s “scrambled eggs.”)

Even more important than beautiful, your story will be informative. Women will benefit from your account and may consider freezing earlier, freezing more than once or coming up with a contingency plan, even if only theoretical.  Thinking back to my own experience and angst, the way that I got through it (as most infertility patients do in treatment) was by having a solid Plan B, as well as a Plan C in the works. This enabled me to move forward even after a “failure.”

My FET: February 23

Where am I now?  I started Lupron shots seven days ago gearing up for my February 23 frozen embryo transfer (FET).  Tomorrow kicks off the estrogen replacement protocol.  A Fedex box with Vivelle, Endometrin, Progesterone in Oil and needles of every gauge is stashed under my bed. 

I taped this picture of my mom and me to my bathroom mirror and study it while I brush my teeth.  Hopefully I will be holding my genetic child that way in a few months.  If not, I will then map out Plan B and maybe in C.

Egg freezing success rates

PS:  Some of the terms (CCS, 6BB embryo, Day 6 blastocyst) may be new to you.  I am currently working on updating the “Using Your Eggs” section of Eggsurance as I go through each stage of this cycle.

7 Comments

Death ... and Taxes » eggsperience March 9, 2017 at 10:12 am

[…] problems that had to be resolved before they could transfer any embryos. She also had to endure the brutal egg math when thawing her frozen ice-babies. To the end result, not working after years of banking on this […]

Reply
Ali February 5, 2018 at 5:42 pm

This basically sums up my experience.

At newly 37 I did one $10,000 out-of-pocket egg retrieval at a cutting-edge clinic using the new faster freeze method.
Froze 10 mature eggs, 1 not mature.
Paid $500/yr for 5 years to store them for 5 years (another $2,500).
Returned at 41.5 and proceded to thaw and fertilize them.
Only 3 survived thawing last week (so far paid almost $6,000). This completely blindsided me. I had been told 80-95% should survive.
Luckily all 3 fertilized and developed into blastocysts/embryos.
Currently awaiting to hear how many of those are normal (another $1250 for the testing), but I have been forewarned it is not likely to be all 3, possibly 0, lucky to get 1.
(And this is of course before accounting for failed implantations.)
There will then be all the costs of unfreezing any normal embryo(s) and implantation.

Which basically means it was pointless to do a retrieval and freeze back then because any advantage of more eggs due to young age was negated by freezing/unfreezing and it was a waste to pay for the freezing and storage. We’ll probably end up with more embryos from my fresh eggs now, if I do an egg retrieval.

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Ali February 5, 2018 at 5:43 pm

p.s. I wish I could see the dates of your blog posts – those don’t show.

Reply
Brigitte Adams February 5, 2018 at 7:43 pm

Sorry about dates… glich in WordPress. Will add manually. Above blog from March 2017 – soon after my chemical pregnancy.

Reply
Brigitte Adams February 5, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. There are so many unknowns once you start Part 2 of egg freezing. I know how you must be feeling – you did everything you could.
I am very hopefully that all 3 embryos will come back normal.

Reply
Ali February 9, 2018 at 11:11 pm

Thank you for your kind words!

Update: 1 embryo (genetically-tested as viable, frozen since fertilization)
Total Cost to Date: $25,000
Will cost $5,000-5,500 to thaw and implant or “transfer”… and that only has a 50% average success rate.
Time Cost: The egg retrieval was basically a 1-month part-time job, everything leading up to IVF has been a 1-month part-time job, sounds like the implant cycle will be another two weeks of it. (Huge time cost part due to L.A. traffic, part due to unclear communications from nurses and billing, part due to the actual appointments, typically 3-4/wk.)
Seems likely we may spend $30,000 and countless hours for nothing.

I have no hard fertility issues, hormones still good. By the time my partner in this was ready to commit to making a family with me (less than 3 years in), I was almost 41 and we soon decided we would rather use my younger frozen eggs than try naturally, that way they could be genetically tested first, and we would be able to have twins so I would only need 1 maternity leave. (And to anyone who’s gonna write a comment about not worrying about telling your boss you are pregnant, I first-hand know about pregnancy discrimination, so do most my working friends, and I have seen what it’s like when your boss sets out to fire you for it. That’s the next #metoo movement for this country if we don’t want all women to end up infertile because they can’t afford to have children sooner – no sympathy at work for anyone who dares get pregnant.)

At the moment I feel like freezing eggs was a waste, certainly would not have paid $25,000 for one frozen embryo. I make about $60,000/yr in an expensive city so this is a financial nightmare for me with no end in sight. We definitely want two kids, so now we will do a 2nd egg retrieval (with freezing and testing, etc). We should have never counted on those eggs. I could have not worked last year for what this will end up costing us. We needed the money, but in retrospect, it’s a wash.

(I found old receipts and actually my egg freezing totaled $12,600 with the costs of medication – I had no insurance for this back then, now we do – and egg storage was $525/yr so $2625.)

Curious what sort of discounts on future procedures or other recourse was negotiated for the various disasters mentioned in the recent Washington Post article about egg freezing and your heartbreaking story? So far nothing has been offered to me… feel free to private message me at the email I gave for this if you have any advice on that (or make another post!).

Reply
Brigitte Adams February 11, 2018 at 9:11 pm

Unfortunately, there is no recourse for damaged egg shipments or failed egg freezing. Although I knew egg freezing was not a guarantee, I did not feel I was adequately advised on probably health of my eggs, necessity to do a second cycle, etc.. I think more stories like ours will come to light and other women
will then be armed with better questions, concrete data to make informed decisions on something that is not a guarantee — but can definitely be balanced with a more informed view based on their personal egg health, financial resources, age, etc..

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