When Dave and I went for our review appointment after our first failed cycle of IVF, one of the best parts was being told that notwithstanding our negative outcome, we had a pretty perfect cycle. At the same time, however, this was also quite frustrating for us, in that there was nothing we could change to improve our chances in our second cycle. The clinic even recommended we follow the exact same protocol that we did the first time round and of course we were delighted and extremely grateful that there were no new issues that arose that required further medical attention or medication, but we both felt that we wanted to try at least a little something different the second time around.
One way we found in which we could potentially impact our cycle was to sign up for the E-Freeze programme that is on offer at our clinic. This is a research programme that is being carried out at fertility centres all across the country, however Aberdeen is the leading clinic in the study. Essentially the aim of the programme is to try and look at ways of improving pregnancy and live birth rates from IVF as despite significant advances in technology, IVF success rates still remain on average around 25% in the UK, which given all the mental, physical and emotional turmoil couples go through, is pretty poor.
In a normal IVF cycle, after the egg retrieval takes place you go in for your embryo transfer either 3 or 5 days later. You then wait the dreaded 2 weeks to do your pregnancy test. What the E-Freeze programme does is takes your viable embryos from egg retrieval, pops them in the freezer then you wait 4-6 weeks before you have your embryo transfer. The idea is that you allow your body time to recover from the onslaught of hormones you’ve just been administering into your body for 2 weeks as well as the very painful and invasive egg retrieval procedure, before having your embryo transferred back in your womb.
This really made sense to me, as I don’t think I’ve felt physically worse in my entire life than when I went for my embryo transfer procedure. I’d had 2 weeks of hormones that made me feel so unwell, bloated my stomach out to huge proportions and had ovaries that were still triple the size they should be. As well as that I could barely stand up straight after the egg retrieval and I still had massive amount of internal pain. And here I was expecting my body to accept an embryo, care and nurture it and grow a baby? Leaving my body to rest and recover for 4-6 weeks sounded very reasonable to me and made me feel that I would be in a much better place physically and emotionally to accept the embryo.
After talking it through together and with our doctor and nurse we made the decision to sign up for the study. On the plus side the statistics from the E-Freeze transfers that have been carried out in the past couple of years are very encouraging and show a distinct 5% increase in pregnancy and live birth rates after following the E-Freeze programme compared with a normal IVF cycle. I know 5% doesn’t sound like a lot but when it comes to IVF statistics anything is an improvement!
The downsides are that obviously because it is still in research mode, there have not been enough cases to prove conclusively that frozen embryo transfer has better results than a fresh embryo transfer. The participants for the programme are also selected at random so although we have signed up to take part, there are no guarantees that we will be picked. There are only a certain amount of couples at any one fertility centre allowed to take part so effectively your names go into a hat and you’re either picked or not. Obviously we don’t know how many couples at our centre have signed up for it, but either way will be happy with what the decision is and will feel satisfied that at least we have tried something new.
Of course if we are chosen, another downside is that our treatment cycle will be extended a lot longer than if we had a fresh transfer. From start to finish we would be looking at an overall cycle time of potentially 13/14 weeks, which in itself is hard as you very much feel like your life is on pause when you’re in a cycle, however if it results in a positive pregnancy test then that is insignificant compared to the bigger picture, and at this point we will try anything!
We won’t know whether we have been picked for the study or not until after our egg retrieval but obviously I will be keeping you all updated.
For anyone who wishes to know more about the E-Freeze study, you can visit the website www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/e-freeze