Welcome to Fertility Experiences blog

Hi all,
This is a space I have opened to tell you about all our everyday experiences in a Sterility Clinic and to present several debate topics. We are very interested in your opinion and comments, which is why we encourage you to participate in it.

Oocyte Vitrification

Recently it was announced that Apple and Facebook will pay the costs of egg freezing to female employees that decide to delay motherhood and put their professional career first.

Oocyte vitrification is an incredible advancement when carried out properly –i.e. when performed at the right time while the oocyte quality is good and carried out by professionals in an experienced laboratory.

The aim is to vitrify oocytes that will allow us to delay motherhood without having to turn to donor eggs. It is important to clarify that it is a possibility and not a security, as there are many other factors taking place –the quality of the sperm that will be use for fertilization, implantation capacity of the embryos, etc. 

That is the reason why we do not know the exact number of oocytes that we need to retrieve. Generally we advice to vitrify 10-12 oocytes, which is the equivalent of having the oocytes of a full year vitrified.

For a healthy woman younger than 35 years old, the chances of monthly pregnancy with normal sperm are approximately 20% and for a 40 year old woman 5%.

Therefore, the best time for oocyte vitrification is between 30 and 36 years of age –because it is not the same to have vitrified your eggs from when you were 35 years old than those from when you were 40 years old.

In any case, the ovarian age does not always correspond with the biological age; often it has a variation of three years. The ovarian age can be determined by studying the Anti-Müllerian hormone in blood (and making an assessment once the test results have been obtained).

Many women only consider vitrification when it is too late and, during the consultation, we advice against it for ethical reasons –we do not want them to have a false relief.

The majority of cases in which we vitrify oocytes in our clinic, have a very similar profile: women between 35 and 38 years of age, with a high socioeconomic and cultural status, who want to have children but they do not have a partner. They hope to build a family and conceive naturally but they want to have vitrified eggs in case their fertility decreases.

One cycle of oocyte vitrification costs around €3.000 and the maintenance per year, until their use, is around €400.

Although, Facebook and Apple’s initiative could be good news for their employees who were planning on vitrifying their oocytes, in my opinion it is a way of rejecting motherhood and therefore I am explaining the following arguments:

1. Who would dare to not delay motherhood or to say that there is a baby on the way in this type of company?

2. It seems that, companies offer it as a special incentive package to attract talented people. It seems that they make clear that they want clever woman but who defer motherhood. They want young people. After a few years when these women want to have children, the company will decide if they are still interested in them or if they prefer to fire them.

3. As I mentioned before, oocyte vitrification is normally based on a personal decision, not a work one. Generally, at the age of 30, professional education is completed. From that age, when a woman is working, you can find situations where a woman has a special professional project or, for work reasons, needs to go to another country for a year but, in most cases, they are temporary situations that force you to delay pregnancy one or two years, not to vitrify the oocytes.

Almost at the same time that this news was announced, a study was published concluding that women are more productive in their professional careers if they have children. Perform better than women without children and excel over men.

What do you think about it? Do you think it is a good idea that Apple and Facebook economically help their female employees to vitrify their oocytes? I heard different answers and most of them were well reasoned. What is yours?

Reasons to be an Egg Donor

Egg Donation is finally allowed in Italy!

Italian women have a reason to celebrate but at the same time they are waiting to see what will be next, as they suspect it will not be an easy journey.

This month, Institut Marquès is opening a clinic in Milan to offer our experience and help.

Infertility is a taboo subject in some European countries and Italy is on top of the list with 71% of Italian couples experiencing social rejection when it comes to this matter. This data is based on a study made with patients from 10 European countries –presented by Institut Marquès at the last European Fertility Society Conference– where patients had to answer questions related to the social acceptance of infertility and whom they have told about their infertility (friends, family, colleagues, etc.)

See their answers:

EN- grafica donacion ovulos

The social acceptance or rejection of infertility is linked to the cultural and religious tradition of a particular country and also by its legislative framework. Egg Donation is now accepted by law but still treated with distrust and prejudice in society.

This environment is probably not the best for a woman to decide to donate her eggs and the Italian government has already announced that compensation is not allowed. In France, the law is similar, anonymous and without compensation, and there are barely any donors.

I would like to share with you the letter I received from a patient who gave birth to her daughter thanks to an egg donor:

Dear donor, thanks to your help, our dream came true and we have been blessed with an adorable girl, her name is Lorena. After many years of grief and suffering, we finally have fulfilled all our wishes and dreams with the most beautiful girl we could have ever imagined. We will never be able to thank you enough for having shared with us the miracle of life. You will always be a treasure to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, you are a very special person who has completed our life. Thanks to your effort, I gave birth to our little daughter Lorena.

Egg and Sperm Donors

Today I will explain how our team matches the egg and sperm donors with our patients.

But before you keep reading, I would like you to write down what do you most value in a person and in yourself.

When you read back your list, you will see that the traits you wrote down can be classified in three different groups: character (positive thinking, tendency to help others, friendliness, kindness, strength, determination, commitment, etc.); intellectual capacity (intelligence, mental agility, etc.) and physical appearance (beauty, style, elegance, etc.).

Now imagine that you need eggs or sperm from a donor in order to have children. How would you like this person to be like? Would you give the same answers?

What do our patients value the most?

This week we have analyzed a survey on hundreds of patients from our clinic. We asked them to rank the traits that they value the most from an egg and/or sperm donor.

It turned out that the most important trait for our patients is the physical appearance –51% – followed by character –31%–  and cultural level –16% –.

The answers –referring to both egg and sperm donors– are the same regardless the nationality of the patients.

Women and men give the same answers and there is no significant differences to the answers from a single women that undergoes an artificial insemination or an In Vitro Fertilization treatment with sperm bank.

Are you surprised? What do you think about it? I assume that they put the appearance first as many people think is mostly inherited. Let’s see if that is really the case.

What traits do we inherit and which ones do we acquire?

It is true that the appearance has an important genetic factor, even though is also true that genetics are whimsical and there is an enormous number of combinations. Height, hair and eye colour, facial features, etc., are determined by genetic inheritance but, apparently, also by the facial symmetric percentage –which can make a person more attractive than another. Take a look at this photograph of Claudia Schiffer and her sister and you will understand what I mean. 

03_galeria_portrait

The physical appearance is also influenced by the environment of the child. The body movements, the way she/he smiles and looks, i.e. the movements are learnt, the child copies the people around her/him.

The attitude is also very important, and it depends on the personality. Look at the images of the American photographer Gracie Hagen; they show how the same body can look attractive or not depending on the attitude. 

Intellectual capacity, not long ago, studies on children’s IQ held that 50% of intelligence was inherited. With the improvement of the genetic development analysis –which studies the gene effect in a person’s life time– it has been shown that the genetic contribution for intelligence is manifested during a long period of time and it reaches 80% in adulthood.

Studies on identical twins that grew up in different families show a great number of intellectual similarities between them, regardless of the different environments they had been living in.

Character, emotional and social intelligence, i.e. how she/he feels, acts, thinks and interacts. There has been always a debate on what percentage of a particular trait is inherited or acquired. Nowadays, there is the tendency to think that some traits are mostly inherited; other traits are linked to the environment and the last group of traits which can be manifested or not –depending on the home environment, culture, education and circumstances.

The five personality traits that are considered inherited:

  1. Level of extraversion and introversion.
  2. Level of emotional stability. Tendency to bad temper, depression, anxiety, anger, etc. versus emotional control.
  3. Level of interest in new experiences, curiosity, imagination, creativity, etc.
  4. The level of interest in others, altruism, kindness, empathy, etc.
  5. Level of self-discipline, responsibility, capacity to follow rules, organization, perfectionism, etc.

Twins have a more similar character than brothers, and identical twins even more –although they had been brought up in different places. That being said, from the moment identical twins are born, they show differences in their characters as, apparently, some individual experiences are acquired during pregnancy.

Knowing all that, how do we match our donors?

Appearance: we know them perfectly and we study in detail their features to match them with those of the patients who will be the recipients of the gamete.

Intellectual level: we only organize informative campaigns in universities –not because is a requirement, i.e. if a non-university friend comes along we will accept her/him– only because we know that there are more candidates. Donors usually have a higher level of education –in environments with a lower educational level donation is not well accepted.

Last but not least, the personality: our psychologists interview the donors and get tests done to discard possible pathologies. We cannot know what their personality is like (sociable, shy, etc.) but we do know their habits –they have strong commitment traits, emotional stability and strength. And apparently these traits are inherited!

We consider the matching of the donor extremely important. It is a feeling of responsibility and honor created by the trust our patients place in us.

Infertility and Chemical Substances (Endocrine Disruptors)

A historical event that caught the media’s attention took place this week: based on the research made by Institut Marquès, a judge from Tarragona initiated proceedings to investigate the chemical substances emitted by the chemical plants in the province of Tarragona.

As mentioned in previous posts –Why is male fertility decreasing? and Toxics in Maternal Milk– we are very aware of this fact.

In 2002, we did our first study on this subject in males from the province of Tarragona and the results were a big concern. It was discovered that more than half of the men do not meet the parameters set by the World Health Organization. According to WHO, e.g., more than 25% of the sperm has to move properly, but the results show that the average in this province is 6.8%. In the following study of 2004, we compared this data to the males from the province of La Coruña –where there are barely any chemical plants– and the semen results were normal –i.e. 28.7% of the sperm moved properly.

Finally, in 2011, we analysed the toxic endocrine disruptors in the maternal milk from both provinces. In Tarragona we found DDT in all the samples, and none was found in La Coruña samples.

In 2010, an environmental organization from Tarragona filed a complaint in court, which was based on the data from our study, to investigate the causes of the poor quality of semen. The purpose was to know if the chemical plants in the region were the main factor of the sperm quality and, if that was the case, report the companies responsible for the pollution. It was a legal process similar to the one in the US against the tobacco industry, in which people affected could make collective claims.

In 2011, the judge decided to dismiss the complaint, but the Provincial Court of Tarragona gave support to the public prosecutor in the appeal and I was called to testify. It seems that our study –and me as the main researcher– are the only things that the prosecutor presented. So far, I have been called twice. They still drop their jaws in awe when I tell them that the chemical substances emitted and the abundant waste in this region, full of chemical plants, are the responsible for many of their medical problems: infertility, children born with genital anomalies, miscarriages, etc.

In 2013, the case was closed again. But now, by request of the environment public prosecutor, the judge has reopened it and started the investigation. He asked the Spanish Police to “identify all the companies from the province of Tarragona that emit –as a base or waste product– the substances mentioned in the Institut Marquès study”.

In the last decades, many chemical substances and man-made materials made our life much easier: pesticides, plastics, paints, varnishes, carpets, detergents… but nature cannot break them down and, on top of that, they behave as female hormones in animals and humans. A piece of plastic in the sea will never disappear, and its components will accumulate in the fish that we will consume after.

In my opinion, these substances have been created to improve our quality of life. Sofas, e.g., have been made with flame retardants to reduce the risk of fire –its effects were not known and therefore nobody was guilty. But a change was imposed since the moment its harmful effects on health were known. This change has to be part of the environmental politics worldwide and within us all. It serves no purpose of the EU prohibiting a substance if then we buy products from the countries who allow the substance. In a globalized trade environment, if a particular pesticide is prohibited and then we eat fruit from another country, it does not solve the issue.

We also need information about the products that we consume. We have the duty and the right to know what our food, cosmetics or baby bottles are made of. We have the right to know that baby bottles contain Bisphenol-A, a synthetic compound that leaves traces when heated. You only want the best for your baby, and without realizing it, you are doing something harmful to her/him. We need the truth in order to start considering the alternatives.

People like me, who have more information related to this subject because of the type of job that we are in, need to spread the word. In 2010, Institut Marquès sponsored the Spanish participation in the North Pole Marathon. The athlete Lluís Pallarés took part in the marathon dressed as a spermatozoid to protest against the fact that even in the Arctic, a place that seems unspoiled and unexploited, you can notice the effects of pollution –the ocean currents have transformed it into the landfill of the planet. I would have loved taking part in the marathon myself, dressed as an oocyte, but when I saw the intense training of Lluís, running inside a walk-in cooler at the High Performance Sport Centre, I changed my mind. Besides, I have not even run a hundred meters!

I am a member of the Team of Experts in Endocrine Disruptors initiated by Vivo Sano Foundation, and with them I take part in different initiatives, e.g. a documentary called Small Print (La letra pequeña). Unfortunately, we get less support since the start of the recession as it is not considered a problem that has to be solved right away.

In this post, I have focused on the effects of the disruptors in male fertility –cause of miscarriages, genital deformities and testicular cancer– but they also affect female fertility –can lead to precocious puberty and some types of cancer, especially thyroid and breast cancer. As time goes by, we keep on finding more harmful effects.

This investigation is good news, at least to make the authorities and entrepreneurs aware of the problem. I will make my best to keep you up to date.

Destination of Frozen Embryos

What destination would you give to your frozen embryos if you did not wish to have any more children?

Please imagine the following scenario: you have two children born after an IVF cycle and you do not want to have any more children, but after the cycle there are still three frozen surplus embryos. Let us suppose that because the treatment was performed in Spain, you can also choose all the possible destinations for the embryos.

What would you choose?

I shall clarify the law and what our experience is following the answers from our patients.

At the beginning of an IVF cycle a consent form should be signed in order to decide the destination of the surplus embryos that will not be transferred. At this point in time, most of the patients keep them for themselves, thinking that they may not achieve pregnancy with the fresh embryos or that they may want more children.

Every year they receive a letter from our clinic to validate or change their decision.

In accordance with the Spanish Law on Assisted Reproduction, Law 14/2006, Chapter III, Article 11:

“The possible destinations of cryopreserved pre-embryos, as well as, where applicable, semen, oocyte and cryopreserved ovarian tissues, are the following”:

 a. Their use by the woman herself or her spouse

This is possible for the duration of the reproductive life of the woman up until, for medical reasons, the woman can no longer be the recipient of an embryo.

It is difficult to know when the reproductive life ends as the law does not give an age limit neither specifies the medical pathologies that may contraindicate pregnancy.

38.8% of patients decide to keep the embryos for themselves. It should be noted that 91% of these patients have finished their reproductive project, they do not wish to have more children, but they prefer to maintain the embryos because they cannot make a decision between the other options.

b. Embryo donation for reproductive purposes

At Institut Marquès only 4.7% of the letters we receive consider this option. When I ask them why they do not want other couples in the same circumstances to be the recipients of the embryos, they answer that they are afraid that their children will meet their brothers or sisters. Then I tell them that the assignment system does not allow this to happen as the recipients are from other countries, but they do not change their mind and still prefer to maintain the embryos for themselves.

Some couples decide to donate the embryos, but in some cases we cannot fulfill their wish as their embryos do not meet the requirements to be donated -for instance if the woman is over 35 years old-.

 c. Donation for research purposes 

Patients must receive and sign a letter from the Clinic, which specifies the research project where the embryos will go to. Patients must also refuse any economic compensations coming from the research project.

3.9% of patients donate their embryos to research. Patients do not like this choice because they think terrible things will happen to their embryos.

The problem is that there are hardly any lines of research with embryonic stem cells. At Institut Marquès we have not yet sent any embryo to this purpose even though we have offered ourselves.

d. Termination of the conservation without any other use

In the case of the cryopreserved pre-embryos, this last option is only applicable once the preservation time limit established by this law comes to an end -and when their destination has not yet been decided.

Only 4.7% of patients choose the termination of the embryos. Patients say that they feel sorry to destroy them.

In this case it is necessary to get a medical report written by doctors from other clinics proving that the reproductive life of the woman has ended. This requirement is the reason why we only have destroyed one third of the embryos -as we do not receive these reports from the patients.

47.9% of the patients do not reply to our letters and the reason is that making this important decision brings emotional distress.

According to legal regulations, if patients do not answer two notifications the embryos will be considered abandoned and will be kept in the custody of the clinic. As you know, the embryos that meet the medical requirements to be donated will be assigned to our Embryo Adoption Program.

In conclusion, despite having a law that allows all possible options, most of the embryos are abandoned. Only 13.3% of people who have frozen embryos decide their destination. 86.7% do not answer the enquiries from the clinic or they keep the embryos even though they do not wish to have any more children.

What do you think about this?

Which decision would you take?

The Embryo Adoption Increases

Every year more patients come to our clinic to adopt embryos. In 2013 we doubled the number of cycles performed in 2012 and it keeps on increasing. I think this is due to the following facts:

1 – Restrictions on international adoptions of children. Over the last few years there has been a constant decrease in the number of children adopted in other countries. According to data, this is happening worldwide except in Italy. Many countries have closed the program for adoption of children to foreigners, some have over five-year-long waiting lists, other countries only allow adoption of 6 year old children or older, or children with disabilities and some ban adoption to homosexual couples. In short, there are fewer children in adoption and many couples do not even try to adopt. Some countries where they used to adopt children have changed their child protection policy and they improved their healthcare system. That improved the access to contraceptive methods and also increased significantly the number of abortions.

2 – Many couples cannot afford the cost of adoption of a child or fertility treatments. The decision of donation/adoption of embryos is usually taken by the patients themselves, despite the fact that even in the case of abnormal oocytes or abnormal semen that cannot be treated, the medical advice is to proceed with IVF with donor eggs and sperm donation, but the cost is much higher.

3 – The Law on assisted reproduction in Spain is more liberal than in other countries. Every day there is more information regarding the adoption of embryos and people from over 33 countries have already come to us to adopt embryos: Albania, Germany, Andorra, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Gabon, Wales, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Italy, Ireland, Libya, Morocco, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Romania, Russia, USA, Venezuela, etc.

4 – I reviewed the profile of all the patients that took part in our Embryo Adoption Program since the date we started -10 years ago. 72% are couples with infertility problems that undertook other treatments that failed, with an average of 4.1 years trying for a baby and 4.4 failed attempts. 19% are single woman, this percentage increases every year. The rest are people that go directly for the embryo adoption since they do not consider an assisted reproduction treatment for ethical or religious reasons. Approximately one third of these people thought about adopting a child or had already begun the process.

Transfers of adopted embryos are very special. The wish of conceiving a child and the idea of leaving behind the treatments -or not having contemplated them for moral reasons- comes together. They are the nicest transfers as there is happiness in the air.

We are very happy because thanks to the improvement of freezing techniques the successful pregnancy rate per transfer of adopted embryos in 2013 has been 50.6%.

From each child born, we could write a book about love, dedication and gratitude to life -the chapters about biological origin, the development as an embryo, fate and destiny would be exciting.

Ovulation: Myths and False Beliefs

When a woman wants to get pregnant, ovulation becomes a passionate matter. Something that wasn’t important, suddenly becomes a goal. “Am I certain that I ovulate? How do I know on which day I ovulate?” These are frequently asked questions.

That is why I would like to talk about some of the false beliefs we often encounter in our consultations.

Is it true that every month, ovulation happens in only one ovary?

Actually no, it isn’t, even though it is written in school text books.

The oocyte is a cell contained inside the follicle. Both develop simultaneously.

The follicles go through the following stages: primordial, primary, secondary and finally tertiary, when they have become mature.

The primordial follicles, during the first stage, lie in the ovary, until three months before the cycle in which ovulation takes place several start to grow and become primary follicles. This process is called recruitment.

Of all these follicles, only a few eventually become secondary, many atrophy and are left behind. This is called atresia process. Finally, only one among the secondary ones will become tertiary, measuring at that point 2 or 3 cm in diameter. If instead of being one they are two, the result is a twin pregnancy.

Throughout this process, the dominant follicle produces substances which inhibit the development of the other follicles. This occurs in all ovary tissue, it does not matter if it is on the right or left ovary. When a woman only has an ovary she always ovulates from this ovary. If she has two this process is randomized, which means she can ovulate from one ovary for several months in a row.

What if I don’t ovulate?

Many women fear not knowing whether they ovulate. I can tell you that, if menstrual cycles are regular, which means you have your period each month, it is certain that you ovulate.

Women who do not ovulate are those who don’t get their period, have it every several months, or have irregular cycles.

To know on which days you ovulate, it is enough to observe the usual length of your cycles. We know that 14 days go by from ovulation to the following period. Thus if your cycles are of 28 days, you will ovulate most likely on the 14th day of your cycle. And if they are of 27 days, you will ovulate on day 13th.

Although it is not always exact, you don’t need an ovulation test. It is more practical to have sexual intercourse between three days before and one day after you expect to ovulate. We know that sperm can remain alive, waiting for the oocyte for up to three days on the fallopian tubes, and that the oocyte can be fertilized within 24 hours (it degenerates one day after ovulation).

Ideally you should have sexual intercourse on these days, but not necessarily on all these days. Even if you have a mission, try to keep a bit of romance!

You should know that sperm moves from the vagina to the tube with a speed of 2-3mm a minute. Therefore, from the moment ejaculation occurs until the sperm reaches the oocyte, approximately 45-60 minutes go by… Only a few hours after sexual intercourse, you may already be pregnant!

Ovulating doesn’t mean you can get pregnant 

During the last 8 or 10 years of menstruating, a woman cannot have healthy children. The physiological system which separates the chromosomes in the oocytes ages, and becomes ineffective. Thus, as time passes, the oocytes present alterations which prevent fertilization to take place, or which may lead to miscarriages.

This aging process is caused by the passing of time. Some believe that during pregnancy, or while taking contraception, oocytes are preserved, but this is not true. It is like thinking that while we sleep we do not age.

Another common misconception is believing that, if you have been taking contraceptive pills for a long time, you should wait several months before getting pregnant.

This is untrue, you can seek pregnancy from the moment you stop taking the pill. I guess this false belief is based on the fact that when ovulation does not occur over many cycles, it is frequent that it can be delayed.

What happens to the unfertilized oocytes?

The unfertilized eggs are microscopic cells that are eliminated by a type of white blood cells called macrophages, which are part of our cellular cleansing system. They are not eliminated throughout the period but recollected by these lymphocytes and brought to the blood stream.

Is fertility inherited? 

We know some aspects related to fertility are genetically determined and for this reason some families are more fertile than others. Therefore, the number of oocytes and of primordial follicles when a baby girl is born can be approximately 2 to 3 million. This is related to heredity linked to the X chromosome.

Our patients often tell us: I will probably start menopause at the same age my mother had it or a bit later. In industrialized societies this is changing. Since toxic substances, which are endocrine disruptors, get collected on the fat of the mother, the number of these cells is reduced along with the fertile age. This also occurs in men and for this reason male fertility decreases in areas contaminated by environmental toxics.

Finally, it is very typical to hear: “I had my first period at a very young age so this means I will reach menopause early”. This is not true. The age of menopause is not linked to the age of the first menstruation.

A Love Story

I would like to share with you this letter from a patient that I have received today.

It is a story of love, struggle and hope that deserved this happy ending.

Enjoy it every second. As it deserves to be.

We are not yet aware of what is happening. It has taken us a lot to get here.

We felt this was not for us. We thought that we were meant to be happy, but “differently”.

Monday 3rd March 2014. My husband and I went to the clinic for a pregnancy test as if we were going to a routine visit to the doctor for a cold. No nerves, not expecting any new news that were going to surprise us.

During the few minutes we waited since we arrived and we sat on the couch in the back of the hall, I visualized what would happen minutes later. We would go to the consultation room and a member of our doctor’s medical team would tell us very carefully, but openly, that regrettably it had not worked this time either.

My heart did not skip a beat by having that thought. I felt I knew what was going to happen and waited with resignation and serenity. The repeated failures had left their mark on me without being aware of it.

Suddenly, we see our doctor approaching us in the hall with her best smile and opening her arms to embrace us. At that moment, she said “You’re pregnant, congratulations”. I sceptically embraced her as if I had not understood what she had just said. Like when you hear something in lower voice and you cannot move and need someone to repeat it to make sure you heard it right.

I think that I told her: “But, how? That is not possible”. And, still smiling, she says, “Yes, you’re pregnant. The test was positive immediately. Let’s go to the consultation room”. All at once, as she hugs my husband, my voice-over tells me: “It cannot be, you have not come here to hear that you are pregnant. You have come to hear that we would need to try again”.

We are on our way to the office and we meet almost everyone: the nurse who accompanied us on the day of the transfer, the nurse’s doctor with whom we have some confidence and appreciation after the time spent, the reception desk girls that are always interested in how things are going. It’s inevitable that they know that: we are pregnant!

We go inside the consultation room still astonished. I don’t even know where I drop my jacket and I sit on a chair next to my husband.

The doctor tells us in more detail the joy with which they have started the day she and her team, after seeing the positive result in my urine test.

“It’s about time!” she said, “It had to be your turn now”.

My husband and I look at each other and I ask her again: “But, is it sure that I am pregnant? Is it possible that the medication I am taking has given us a false positive? As soon as I finish the sentence I feel ridiculous.

The doctor, without losing her smile, tells me: “You’re pregnant. The values ​​have been very high. There is no doubt about it”.

“I cannot believe it,” I reply. “I have been feeling menstrual cramps for days”, I insist. To which she replies, “Those are spasms of the uterus that is widening for the embryo to be able to grow”.

Incredible, we could not believe it yet. I spent the last few days saying to my husband that I felt the same than the other times: the body preparing for the menstruation. My husband is still astonished but confesses at that moment that he had never completely lost hope.

The doctor asks us to do a blood test, rather than to confirm the pregnancy, to know how all the values are. And we go back home to wait for the results.

The first song playing on the car radio is “Happy” from Pharrell Williams. It is as if fate suddenly talked to us and told us: “Wake up from the nightmare, guys. Your time has come. You have been given what you wished for so long and you thought you could never get”.

At that moment, it came to mind the last day we met with our doctor. After the last failure.

I talked to her honestly: I told her that I did not believe anything would work for us. That something was happening to me that was not yet studied enough and therefore no embryo could feel comfortable inside me. And for all that, we should start thinking about beginning the process of adoption.

The doctor calmed me down. She repeated that she understood what was happening but she was sure that there were still chances for us. I think that it was her who convinced us to go for another attempt.

We left the consultation room really touched. Life had not been easy since we started to consider the possibility of parenthood. Many emotions, fertile time and lost money that had brought us to the limit emotional and economically and without any solution on short or medium term. In short, we were completely exhausted.

The doctor, aware of that and of our resources, and committed in every way to us from the beginning, did not want us to leave that day without the conviction that we would try again. And so we did, thanks to her.

What a joy and excitement I feel when I remember all this now and that hug as she told me: “You’re pregnant, congratulations!” I think that I will always remember that moment. It is as if suddenly the Three Wise Men had come, we had won the lottery, the pools, all at the same time.

My husband and I are living a dream ever since. It is too soon to know how everything will evolve as we still have to go through most of the pregnancy. But I definitely think it has given us back that feeling that stimulates us all day by day, which is to fight for what we love, for what we want, and that we, more myself than my husband, had already lost without the possibility of getting it back: HOPE.

Without any doubt, that day we got back the excitement for fighting for our baby.

What will happen from now on with the pregnancy, we do not know it yet. But, we are sure that the last visit with our doctor before the last attempt and the courage with which she faced our disappointment, brought back to life all our feelings of struggle that we thought we did not have anymore. And we are very grateful for that.

This letter is dedicated to our doctor to whom we will never be able to thank enough for what she has done for us and to all those couples with repeated failures that have lost the hope of becoming parents.

The most important for success, as this struggle is often long and very painful, is to be in a good clinic such as the Instituto Marquès and trust that you are in the best hands, as it happened to us since the first consultation when we met our doctor. We trusted her good judgment and here we are, with a 7 weeks positive!

If your Doctor, in whom you trust, recommends you to go forward, do not be overcome by the fear of another failure. Trust his/her words. If he/she was not convinced of it, he/she wouldn’t take the risk to let you go through another disappointment.

And if in doubt about which clinic to choose, do not hesitate: the Instituto Marquès gives that touch of distinction, where you will always feel in confidence and in the best hands.

All my best wishes to you.

(Calella, April 2014)

The First Consultation on Sterility

“I have always wanted to be a mother, I waited until I had all I considered necessary to offer to my child. At the age of 33, with a lot of enthusiasm, a daily pill of folic acid and a calendar, I stopped using contraceptive methods, with the hope of becoming pregnant the same month. I have now been trying for more than one year without any success. How is it possible?”

Dr. López-Teijón

Look, Lourdes, after one year of trying only half of the couples your age will obtain a  pregnancy. After the second year, another 30%, while only a further one out of five will become pregnant after seeking medical help. I don’t know why you did not get pregnant, however we will now begin to investigate your sterility problem.

Lourdes

Sterility? (outraged and surprised)

Dr. López-Teijón

I know it is a shock to learn that trying one year without becoming pregnant is called sterility. It is a horrible word which can cause very negative feelings.

Lourdes

I have never thought this could happen to me, that you are saying that I am sterile… Moreover, in the last months I haven’t been well, every time I have the period I feel it like a failure, my world is sinking down.

Dr. López-Teijón

Lourdes, we will find the cause and its solution but today, besides prescribing some tests, I want to talk about how you feel and how all this can be a positive experience.

Lourdes

The experience hasn’t been good so far. My husband thinks some days I reject him while others I look for him, and never knows how to react. Of course, I am scheduling our sexual intercourse around ovulation. He says I no longer enjoy sex and he is partly right.

Dr. López-Teijón

It is very important not to neglect your relationship, you should continue as you always have. Nowadays it is known that some days of abstinence are not convenient to improve sperm quality; in fact it improves the amount of sperm ejaculated, but negatively affects other parameters, such as DNA fragmentation. The ideal thing would be to keep the same frequency as always, and make sure you have sexual intercourse on the 13th day of your cycle. Also, I would suggest that you spend no more than 15 minutes each day talking about it.

Lourdes

If I follow your recommendations I am sure he will be very happy; moreover you told me the only thing he has to do is a sperm analysis. On the other hand, I have to do hormonal tests, scans, checking my Fallopian tubes, and I don’t know what else.

One month later Lourdes comes back with Andrés, who is very anxious to know the results of his sperm analysis.

Dr. López-Teijón

The sperm test shows all is normal and the same for the fallopian tubes test. What is striking is that your ovarian age is greater than expected, as if you were 40 years old, which means your fertility is reduced.

Andrés

This means I am well and Lourdes can stop telling me not to drink, (not) to smoke, to stress me and all this.

Lourdes

Andrés, you make me feel guilty. It looks like I have only got the problem and you don’t have anything else to do. Congratulations, I am happy for you.

Andrés

Doctor, please tell her something, she keeps blaming me, and acting like she is the victim. It looks like she has become obsessed with pregnancy and that it is the only thing that matters.

Dr. López-Teijón

You should be more united and support each other now more than ever. Everyone will react his or her own way to this situation, depending to his or her own personality, the same as you would deal with every problem in your life. I would suggest you take it as a challenge, as a process that can bring you closer if you approach it with a healthy dose of irony, love and romanticism.

Now I will explain how we will do the In Vitro Fertilization, and how we will find your best oocytes.

Lourdes

We will do it because we don’t have a choice, but it seems all so unnatural. My sister has a 6 months old baby; it took two years for her to get pregnant and she recommends me to wait and see if I get pregnant without undergoing an IVF.

Dr. LT

You are right, but nature also expects us women to have our children before we are 30 years old, and with men who have an excellent semen.

It is very important for you to know that during the time we look for a pregnancy until we actually get there, our relationship with our loved ones can change. Your sister loves you but she doesn’t know how her comments can hurt you.

Lourdes

My mother is constantly telling us “all you think of is traveling and going out with your friends” and it really hurts me. Now I told my parents and my sisters and they give me advice all the time.

Dr. López-Teijón

It is a good thing people around you know it, but the best would be to ask them to be silent. Do not allow them to talk about anything related to fertility treatments or telling you what you should and should not do.

Also you should avoid going out with friends with kids or who are pregnant. It is normal that you felt uncomfortable when your sister was pregnant, surely all she talked about was this, and now she is only talking about her baby.

This will also happen to you, however for the moment it will be better not to spend time with friends with kids, or who are pregnant.

Lourdes

What else can I do to not keep thinking about this day in and day out?

Dr. López-Teijón

I think you should concentrate on keeping busy, with your work, your personal interests, etc, filling up you free time. And then spend five minutes of every day thinking about this, your objective, and on how you will feel when you have your baby in your arms, please, think only of this.

This conversation repeats itself during the consultation. A sterility diagnosis is followed by feelings of suffering, negativity, anger, fear to have high hopes, fear of not achieving what you desire, and anxiety. But, with current scientific advances, 95% of women who undertake fertility treatments get pregnant, and so, it is good to know, accept these emotions and know that they are only temporary, that your most intimate, deep and beautiful wish, is about to be fulfilled.

Fresh or frozen embryos? Which is best?

Today Dr. Esther Velilla, Director of our Laboratory, presented the results from last year and I am really amazed, because the pregnancy rate per transfer were the same regardless whether fresh or frozen (vitrified) embryos were used.

And that is including embryos that have been frozen twice! This occurs when we defreeze more embryos than the actual ones that end up being transferred. In these cases they are left in a culture medium and, if they continue to develop up to a blastocyst stage, they will be frozen again.

Honestly, I never thought I would witness something like this in my professional life. It is a huge a medical breakthrough for the following reasons:

  • Greater possibilities of pregnancy for each cycle. We speak of a cycle whenever there is an oocyte retrieval. This means that in many cases we do not have to repeat egg retrieval when a second pregnancy is sought.
  • Reduced number of multiples pregnancies. It often happens that, although our patients prefer a single pregnancy, they ask us to transfer more embryos to avoid the loss of quality when frozen.
  • If, after the egg retrieval, the patient cannot continue the treatment due to  medical or personal reasons, it no longer matters if we do not perform a fresh embryo transfer.  This is of great importance for women with polycystic ovaries, as those run a risk of hyperstimulation.
  • This year several studies highlight that results with frozen embryos can be even better since the endometrial preparation is more physiological. They suggest to freeze them all and not to do a fresh transfer. I do not expect that much, since that would also delay and make the process more expensive. 

At the moment patients do not believe it at all. Last week a very nice husband of a patient told me: “How can it be the same?  It is like with fresh and frozen fish!”. So, I thought, we have to make it known.

The great challenge of vitrifying blastocysts. 

I have already told you how frozen embryos live. The vitrification of blastocysts has been the greatest challenge for biologists. Blastocysts are embryos which are 5 or 6 days old.  They have a mass of 200 cells which generates all the structures of the embryo called internal cellular mass. The other cells, called trophectoderm, form the placenta. Moreover, they have a very big “lagoon” of water which is called blastocoel and an outer membrane which is at the point of collapse, since the blastocyst is the next stage of the embryo prior to implantation in the uterus.

EN-Leyenda

The difficulty when freezing  blastocysts consists mainly in the quantity of water they have. For example, at home it is easy to freeze a chicken but we cannot freeze an egg.

In order to vitrify blastocysts successfully, biologists previously remove their water through a pinch, or as we do in our laboratory, they can surround them with a chemical solution  which absorbs the liquid without, as you may see, affecting them.

Since there is no video available to describe this process, I have requested our embryologists to record a video when putting the  blastocysts in the Embryoscope.

Firstly, we can observe how it is left without water and then how it is rehydrated to be vitrified.

These are images in fast motion, but this process may take hours.

 

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: