The medical protocol for a frozen embryo transfer – whether using your own embryos from a previous IVF cycle or donor embryos, as in our case – is much simpler than the process for a full IVF cycle. When you are starting from scratch with in vitro, the mother has to take injections to induce her body to develop as many eggs as possible. Once the eggs are mature – which happens with the aid of another injection – they are then surgically retrieved and fertilized in the lab. For a frozen embryo transfer, that part of the process has already occurred. In our case, the embryos had matured to blastocyst stage (which usually takes around 5 or 6 days) before they were frozen and stored.
There is still a fairly lengthy process to prepare the mother’s body for potential implantation of the embryos once they are transfered, however. First, the body’s natural ovulatory process is suppressed through birth control pills and subcutaneous injections of a medication called Lupron. Then oral estrogen is added to build up the uterine lining.
At least two monitoring appointments, which involve blood work and ultrasound, are necessary to make sure the body is responding to the medications and everything is ready for the transfer. Our actual transfer would happen at the clinic in Knoxville, but we had our monitoring done locally at the clinic in Nashville.
Our transfer date was Tuesday, January 17. We left Corin with my parents, traveled to Knoxville the night before and stayed with friends in the area overnight. The transfer was scheduled for mid-morning. I’ll admit: even having been through the process twice before, I was nervous. It’s a strange thing, the mix of hope and fearful reservation that becomes so familiar during fertility treatments. About half an hour before our transfer, we were taken back to the preparation area, where I got into my lovely hospital gown and cap and the nurse took my vitals. I was disappointed to find out Jon would not be coming into the room with me for the actual transfer.
We were both anxiously waiting to talk with the embryologist. She came into the curtained area after what seemed like a longer wait than it was. This would be the moment we found out how our embryos had fared in the thawing process and which ones would be transfered. As soon as she started with, “Both the embryos from your primary donors thawed beautifully,” we broke into smiles, and the anxiety faded. We would not need to thaw any of the embryos from the secondary donors. She showed us a picture of our two beautiful little blastocysts.
Every fertility clinic has its own internal system for grading the quality of embryos at the time of transfer. It’s subjective, and they always tell you the quality grade doesn’t necessarily predict the outcome. It does give a sense of the odds, though, so when the embryologist told us we had an AA and an AB, we were ecstatic. They were the highest-quality embryos we’d ever had.
From that moment, both Jon and I had an underlying sense of confidence. We felt God at work. Of course the doubts would creep in over the excruciating 10-day wait for that first pregnancy blood test, but the nervousness faded and we came away feeling more excited and hopeful than we ever had after a fertility cycle.
It wasn’t long before I was wheeled into the small procedure room, which was kept dark and cool. It had a sliding window directly into the lab, through which the embryologist passed our precious cargo. The transfer itself went beautifully and was over in about 10 or 15 minutes. I watched the ultrasound image on a big-screen TV as the tiny embryos were placed in exactly the right spot in the uterus via a cervical catheter.
I rested back in the waiting area, with my feet slightly elevated, for about 30 minutes after the procedure, and from then on, it was mostly business as usual.
We headed to IHOP for some lunch and tried not feel frightened at how high our hopes were. I was instructed to stay in town and rest the remainder of the day. We stayed again that night with our friends and headed home in the morning. Jon bravely administered twice-daily intramuscular shots of progesterone, and we waited.
Ten days later, I headed to our local clinic for the quantitative hCG blood test that would tell us whether we were pregnant. Make no mistake: Regardless of our sense of confidence, those 10 days CRAWLED. They always do. But by that evening, we knew: I was pregnant. The number told me it was probably one baby, although we wouldn’t know for sure until our first ultrasound at 6 weeks. I had a second blood test three days later to make sure the numbers were climbing as they should be. They were. We were thrilled. My official due date is October 4, 2012.
We had two ultrasounds, at 6 and 8 weeks, at the local fertility clinic and were then released as “normal” obstetric patients. The intramuscular progesterone shots continued, with repeated blood tests to make sure my hormone levels were where they needed to be. All went smoothly, and my poor, sore bum could finally begin to heal after the 12-week mark. (Truthfully, it’s still a little sore.)
This was our beautiful baby (our sweet girl, we know now!) at 8 weeks:
Really, what can I add to that?