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20 to 1 - the IVF countdown

View profile for Stephanie Bellchambers
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IVF can be described as an emotional and physical rollercoaster with its highs and lows, and tendency to make you feel sick!

Ironically, my husband and I are not infertile, and are in fact entirely fertile. We chose however to proceed with IVF using PGD (Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis) technology. My husband has a genetic disorder called Huntington’s Disease. There is a 50/50 chance of passing it on to a child and the worst form is called juvenile Huntington’s whereby a child is unlikely to live beyond their 30s. We therefore made the choice to ensure that any child we have is free of this health issue.

We were lucky enough to receive NHS funding for our first IVF cycle in 2014 at Guy’s Hospital in London. It covered us for all appointments (not travel), scans, surgery, implantation, and drugs to a successful first positive pregnancy test. That treatment resulted in 2 healthy embryos. The first was transferred in August 2014 and has become our now 3 year old boy. After another bout of drugs and private fees, we had our second embryo transferred in 2017 and whilst we got a positive pregnancy test and had a foetal heartbeat, the baby died just before 3 months.

So it was a while before we decided to go back and try again, not least because we would be starting from scratch and paying privately for the pleasure - £10,000 plus drug costs, plus travel, plus a night in a London hotel the day before surgery, plus endless amounts of pregnancy tests and private scans (the latter two are not necessary but if you speak to anyone having undergone IVF, they are likely to tell you they will have multiple tests and scans for reassurance).

So we returned to Guys hospital in 2018 and had fresh bloods to confirm we hadn’t picked up any nasty diseases or HIV since our last transfer. A fresh internal scan is done (the first of many in a cycle) to check you still have operating ovaries and follicles that may produce an egg for collection later. Your cycle is then diarised so that you start your medication on the right day – daily injections in your stomach and thigh, and tablets. You then have regular internal scans to assess as to how the follicles in your ovaries are reacting and on the ‘best’ day of your cycle, you have your egg collection surgery where each follicle is drained with a needle and the fluid is checked by an embryologist to see if it contains an egg. Not every follicle will have one. They managed to obtain 20 eggs from me this time which was a lot more than in 2014. However, the eggs are then checked for maturity and any immature ones are disregarded. The embryologist will then assist in fertilising each egg overnight with your partner’s sperm to create embryos. Not all eggs will fertilise. We lost the majority to immaturity and then to lack of fertilisation. The embryologist will grow them for around 5 days if they make it that far. The cells divide each day in the growing process and each embryo is graded. The embryologist will decide as to which are the stronger looking embryos. We had 2 frozen on day 3 and 2 frozen on day 4 of growing.

In regular IVF, as soon as the embryos have got to a stage the embryologist is looking for, one or more will be implanted in the patient and any remainder will be frozen. In PGD IVF, a cell is taken from each remaining embryo and then the embryos are frozen. The cells taken were then tested for the Huntington’s gene. Out of the 4 remaining embryos, 3 had to be destroyed due to them having the gene. So we went from 20 eggs being retrieved to one single frozen embryo that could be transferred.

You cannot start the drugs for the next stage of treatment which is to prepare your body for implantation of the embryo until you have the results of the genetic testing in case there are no suitable embryos. The next stage is to try and thicken the lining of the uterus as much as possible to give the embryo the best chance of implanting. My body however never reacts to this stage. You take drugs, pessaries, and I had to have hormone patches on my legs which you replace every 3 days which rip off the top layer of skin every time you change them due to their stickiness. Eventually we had our one embryo transferred and several pregnancy tests later revealed we were pregnant. This is the first worrying stage over and you then move into stage 2 which is to get the baby to term. I am now 2 weeks away from my due date and know that we are very blessed as a lot of individuals and couples are not so lucky. My advice is to stay fit, positive, and gather as much information as possible.

I run the Fertility Law department at Biscoes and I hope that my own knowledge and experiences help my clients in reassuring them that there are definitely positive outcomes and I am proud to be able to assist individuals and couples to expand their family whether by surrogacy, donor conception or co-parenting.

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