Walking On Egg Shells
By: John Jericiau
After 17 days of stimulating hormones and intermittent visits to the IVF clinic, our egg donor went in for her final ultrasound, and the verdict was good. 33 follicles! What you need to know, however, is that 33 follicles does not necessarily mean that 33 eggs will be harvested. Each follicle theoretically carries a single egg, but there will be some empty follicles and some follicles with duds.
Here’s what we’re shooting for: we have three cycles to try to get pregnant before we give up on this idea of a third child. The first cycle will be with fresh embryos, meaning the donor’s eggs will be immediately fertilized with our DNA, watched over for 5 days, and the best batch of 3 or 4 embryos that come out of the process will be transferred to our friend/surrogate. The remaining embryos will be frozen for use in the coming months if the first batch doesn’t work. It would be nice to have 3 or 4 embryos for the two remaining batches, so that means we’d like to have 12 good quality embryos. Starting with 33 harvested eggs gives us an excellent shot at that.
On the morning of the 7:00 am egg retrieval procedure Alen and I had our DNA donation scheduled for 8:30am and 9:00am respectively. Since we were using an anonymous egg donor, care had to be taken to ensure that we didn’t bump into her in the clinic. We know what she looks like, but although she knows nothing more than the fact that we’re a gay couple trying to add to our family, I would think that an accidental meeting would end our anonymity. And although we are letting nature randomly choose the DNA that will ultimately be used to create this child, the clinic was strict in keeping our DNA separate during the process. Before they throw it all in a blender, they want to be sure that we are both contributing, so we were not allowed to schedule our visit at the same time. “We only have one room with a DVD player in it, and you can’t be in there at the same time” said the head nurse. Really?
After Alen’s appointment from 8:30am to 8:45am, followed by my appointment from 9:00am to 9:01am, our part was done, but probably the most technical part of the process began. Around noon the clinic began to analyze the harvested egg, and every viable egg was fertilized by injecting directly into every egg a single sperm handpicked from the 50 million or so sperm we had each contributed earlier in the day. This leaves no doubt that at least the sperm and the egg did in fact meet. Think of it as an arranged marriage. Interestingly, in the last 30-40 years the average American male’s sperm density has been reported to have dropped from 100 million per milliliter to 50 million per milliliter. Environmental toxins? Tight underwear?
So we received the phone call near the end of that day with the update: out of the original 33 follicles that were seen on the ultrasound, 18 eggs were able to be harvested from them. These 18 eggs received the sperm, and now that conception has been done these fertilized eggs (which are now called zygotes) will be checked on in 24 hours to see how many have started to divide into two identical cells called blastomeres. We were told to call back the next day with the one day update on how the 18 were doing. I couldn’t help feeling that I was checking on babies that had to be held overnight in the hospital for observation.
I set my iPhone alarm for 10:00am the next day to give the clinic time to assess the situation. We could hear that all 18 survived and are dividing, that none survived, or something in between. With three potential cycles (transfers) in front of us, it would be best to have at least 12 survive the 5 days’ of growth, so that we had enough to transfer 3 or 4 little ones in each attempt.
I made the call at 10:01am. Thirteen had survived the night, dividing into what is then called blastomeres! They should continue to subdivide once every 12 – 20 hours as the zygote develops into a morulla and then a blastocyst. No more peeking until day 5 when we will choose which embryos to transfer.
I find myself thinking often about the 13, egging them on in my mind to divide. Right now one of these thirteen may be our future baby. Come home, little one. Come home.