Pre-egg pick-up selfie.
Let’s Talk About Eggs, Baby
MILLINER MUSINGS - Mich L. Dulce (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2017 - 12:00am

Having a child is probably the thing I want the most in life. Okay, fine, that’s not entirely true. I also want the husband, the wedding, the family, the big white dress, the party, the walk down the aisle to the tune of Maps, the bouquet throwing, the honeymoon. I want the entire shebang and I’ve got it planned in my head down to every detail. However, the whole “husband” thing isn’t something I can control and do by myself. To this day I can honestly say that I’ve never even been with someone that I could imagine spending the rest of my life with, much less be the father of my future child. I would hate to settle for someone and make the wrong choice life partner wise just because my ovaries are aging like a ticking bomb. I want to be a mother when I am ready to be one so I can be the best mother that I can be.

Truth is, I can’t even say I’m anywhere close to being ready for a baby at this exact point. I’m still jumping around the world, still pursuing my career, still haven’t found the man of my dreams, still need to be financially secure and buy a house and decide where to settle. Saying all of that is enough to give me an anxiety attack. At the age of 35, I feel like I can barely take care of myself; so how am I supposed to give life and take care of another person? I watch my friends with their children and how they are so selfless, and I think about how my mom is the same with me. I don’t think I’m at that point yet, that I can give up the life I currently live for someone else, despite my age and body giving me hints that now is the time. 

Fortunately, we live in an age where we as women are so lucky to be able to take control of our bodies and our fertility and take steps to not be pressured by our biological clocks. It amazes me to no end that we have this option, when, for countless generations before us, this was not something that was even on the table.

I first looked into egg freezing in March of last year. I was a few months shy of turning 35 and while I had always thought about freezing my eggs, it was only then that I decided to really seriously plan to do it. I knew it was very expensive: in America, the costs range from $10,000 to $15,000, and in the UK it costs around £6,000. A little online research led me to discover the egg-sharing program that exists in many London-based fertility clinics, where you can get the procedure of egg freezing for free, provided that you donate half of the eggs they retrieve from you. Being the stingy girl that I occasionally am, I thought that was a great option, and I believed that it probably would bring me good karma, since I could help other couples wanting to conceive have a child by donating my eggs, but keep a tiny nest of eggs for myself as my insurance policy.

A week later, I was at The London Women’s Clinic attending the introductory seminar. I learned about the process of IVF and egg freezing, and about women’s fertility, which I had never really known about before. They said optimal fertility was between the ages of 20 and 30, and that after the age of 35, the quality of the eggs significantly lowers year after year, but the womb remains able to carry children safely until the age of 45. I was convinced that egg freezing was definitely something I had to do. I decided to sign up for the sharing program that day, but when I was questioned by the counselor about my age, it turns out that I was too old for the sharing program — the eggs had to be retrieved before a woman turns 35, and there was a yearlong waitlist since it was so popular.

I was gutted. But hearing the scary statistics about women’s fertility and knowing that I was at my last year of ideal fertility made me realize that egg freezing was something I truly had to invest in. While I was concerned about the cost, I realized that this was the only way I could take control of my body, my fertility and my future as a mother wannabe. It was a safety net that was worth paying for.

More research showed me that there were other countries in Europe that had cheaper treatment options, particularly Spain, which apparently started treatment at 2,500 euros. A doctor friend of mine had suggested I look into Belgium, as they are known to have really good hospitals, plus it is a convenient one-hour train ride from Paris.  But I had anxiety over going through the process without a support group, so I also looked into options in the Philippines.

I decided to book an appointment with both the doctor in Belgium at the UZ Brussel’s Centre of Reproductive Medicine, as well as with Dr. Novero at St. Luke’s BGC’s Center for Advanced Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Clinic. I wanted to see where I felt most comfortable, and then make a choice, as well as look at cost options for both.

Dr. Novero was a gem to talk to, and I highly recommend to anyone who has even been thinking of egg freezing in the Philippines to book that first appointment with him just to start the conversation and to learn about egg freezing if you don’t have a clue about it. I told him about my options, and he had actually trained at the UZ Brussels; it was encouraging to know that UZ Brussels is a pioneer in fertility, that he was so competent and that I was going to get the same method regardless of where I decided to freeze. I told him of my plan to initially do egg sharing, and he assured me that it was better that I didn’t do that, because I would want to have as many eggs as I can, as each frozen egg only has a five percent chance of development. Now that I have done it, I also think that with the amount of hardship your body will go through, you’ll want to be able to keep all those eggs.

What made me decide to go with freezing my eggs in Brussels was probably a fact that most single women in Manila do not know: that you can only fertilize your eggs with your husband’s sperm, meaning you have to be married (see my top tips for more about this). I felt freezing in Manila defeated the purpose of my freezing as a single woman — I wanted to freeze my eggs because I didn’t want the lack of a man in my life to stand in the way of my goals of motherhood.

Everything in Belgium I felt comfortable with: the laws, the terms, the support. That there was not just a doctor, but a psychologist who made sure my intentions were right and I was emotionally capable of the egg freezing journey. That it was a hospital and not just a clinic so the paranoid girl in me was reassured that if something went wrong, there would be easy access to doctors. That there was counseling and that they even prepare the legal documents which you can change should you decide to use a donor’s (third party) sperm, or your partner’s.

After my first meeting, we planned my egg freezing to begin at my next menstrual cycle, which was two weeks away. I was able to expedite my process because I had arrived at the meeting with all of my required medical tests, as I had already done them at St. Lukes after my meeting with Dr. Novero. They talked me through the process, gave me prescriptions for medicines and an instructional DVD to watch at home, explained costs and even had me sign contracts about what I would do with my eggs in case I don’t use them (I donated them to research and science). It was a lot to process but they were very clear, and they provided me with a daily monitoring number I could call every day for any questions. The whole retrieval process excluding medicines would cost me 2,500 EU (roughly P150,000), which includes 10 years of storage. Medicines were an additional 1,400 EU (P84,000), and I also had to pay for any tests I needed to do during the process (blood hormone tests, transvaginal ultrasounds, etc). These costs were similar to the costs of doing it at St. Lukes.

On the second day of my period, I had to have a blood test in the morning and send the results before 2 p.m. in order for the clinic to advise me to begin stimulation by administering my hormonal injections. This was my first struggle as I have always been terrified of needles. I could barely even watch the instructional video because just seeing the needle on screen made me cringe. Luckily, my doctor friend was able to do the first shot and physically teach me how to do it, and that first shot did not hurt at all. 

The second day I managed to bite the bullet and inject myself on my own. I was ecstatic about being able to do it. I cannot stress how fulfilling and empowering that was for me to be able to conquer my fear. I had to continue injecting myself every night for eight nights, then twice a day from the ninth day. Needless to say, I got used to doing it, thought at times it would still sting. The medicine made me very emotional, like really intense PMS, and got really bad from the ninth day, and included headaches and hot flashes and nausea. I was crying over not being able to find the shoes I wanted to wear, and feeling insecure about everything. Without my meditation practice and my girl gang, I would have gone nuts.

On the 12th day the ultrasound showed that my eggs were nearly ready, and I had 17 follicles, with four eggs of the size that were ready so I had to give myself a trigger shot, which was far more complicated to do and had to be given at an exact time, as the retrieval (or the “pick-up”) needed to be 36 hours after the shot was given. I got on a train to Belgium the day before my pick-up appointment to ensure that I would be relaxed on the day. 

It felt so weird going to do my first hospital procedure alone, but I managed. I arrived two hours before the procedure and checked in, wore a gown and hair cap and waited in the room. I was given a painkiller similar to morphine, a Paracetamol, and a muscle relaxant injected in my butt. They put an IV into me as well. Soon they wheeled me to the pick-up room, where they injected a local anesthesia for my uterus and disinfected me. I didn’t feel any of this and the doctors and nurses were nice and chatted me up so I was confident it was going to be fine.

But when they went and began retrieval from the right ovary I started to scream from pain. I could feel the needle jabbing into my uterus, as high as the right side of my belly button. I screamed and begged for more painkillers but they could no longer administer it as they had begun the process. Please note that I do have a very low tolerance for pain so this shouldn’t put you off — two friends who have done the procedure before said they barely felt anything, but it really is a case-by-case basis. While the pain was intense and I was in agony, it was over quite quickly. The left ovary didn’t hurt at all during extraction, maybe because they were able to administer more painkillers at the time, or maybe because they only got two eggs from that side. The whole retrieval process took 10  minutes and I had a total of nine eggs. I was sad because I wanted as many eggs as I had follicles, but I was warned already that not all the follicles would produce good-quality eggs. The nurse told me that nine was a good number, as usually the average was six to eight eggs for women my age.

After the procedure, I still had some cramping and was administered antibiotics in my IV to prevent infection. I was tired and had to rest in the room for about two hours. If you are alone they keep you in the hospital for five hours to make sure you can make it home by yourself, but my friend Alexis who lives in Belgium offered an act of kindness that I totally appreciated and came to pick me up and brought me back to the hotel. It wasn’t as rough as I thought I would feel after, though I am still tired and have occasional painful cramps until now (its been 36 hours since retrieval). 

All in all, I feel that it was an empowering experience. I would have never thought that my spoiled, cowardly, anxious self could do this entire thing on my own in a million years. Going through the process alone was an exercise in resilience, and I am so proud of myself for making this choice and seeing it though. I still believe that it is my destiny to find the man of my dreams and have a family naturally with this person I am going to love and cherish, but I really feel like a huge weight has been lifted with this step I have taken in preserving my fertility. It gives me a little more time, a little more chill, and an insurance policy and a safety net that makes me a little bit surer that motherhood, conceiving, giving birth and having a baby with my DNA to make little curly baby Michs are in my future.

THE LONDON WOMEN’S CLINIC
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