Your Egg Retrieval Checklist
Egg freezing (also known as oocyte cryopreservation) is the process of retrieving some of your eggs and preserving them, to later be used during in vitro fertilization. This egg storage and retrieval process is done for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to those who:
- Want to focus on their careers in their 20s and 30s,
- Are experiencing infertility
- Have yet to find their partner
- Plan to undergo gender-affirming care that may affect their chances of conceiving.
This procedure can often be costly but can be worthwhile for anyone who may want to have children in their future.
How are eggs retrieved?
The first step in egg retrieval is to take fertility medication in the form injections and tablets to stimulate your ovaries into producing multiple mature eggs in one cycle. Your drug regimen should last about two weeks, but some clinics will start patients on 21 days of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone to bring hormonal balance prior to stimulation. Once your fertility specialist deems your follicles are ready for retrieval, you’ll be administered a shot of the hormone hCG to induce the release of egg follicles, often called ‘the trigger shot’. This shot is timed to occur 35 hours before your scheduled egg retrieval procedure. When you arrive at the clinic for your procedure, you’ll also be given medication, usually through IV, to prevent any discomfort. A needle-tipped ultrasound wand is inserted through the vagina and guided to the ovary using an ultrasound. The follicular fluid collected from your ovaries contains your eggs, which will then be examined by embryologists. While this is a surgical procedure that requires general anesthesia, most women find the procedure in and of itself to be relatively painless.
What to expect during the egg retrieval process
While the egg retrieval process itself only takes about 20-30 minutes, there is a significant amount of preparation that must take place before the procedure. For 2-3 weeks prior to the procedure, you will be self-injecting hormone medications daily. The medications help to increase the quantity of eggs in a single cycle, so that multiple eggs can be retrieved and preserved. To track the development of these eggs, you will also be seeing your fertility specialist often for ultrasounds and bloodwork to make sure everything is developing properly. You can expect to have appointments every other day, depending on what the clinic is observing with your results. All of this is to ensure that your doctor is consistently up to date with your body’s progression, and that you are responding well to the hormones.
Before you start the egg retrieval process
Undergoing fertility treatment of any kind is a big commitment. This is especially true with egg retrieval and IVF, as there are many parts of this procedure to consider. As with any procedure, consulting with your doctor to ensure you are a good candidate for egg retrieval is always the best place to start. You will likely have your AMH and FSH tested to get a sense of your candidacy for IVF. Beyond this, there are ample online resources to research egg retrieval on your own. Talking to others who have been through it, as well as the people in your support network can also be important when making decisions regarding your fertility.
Do your research
Having a good idea of what to expect can make any medical procedure less daunting, and egg retrieval is no exception. There is a wealth of information online that can help with your own research into egg retrieval, in vitro fertilization, and frozen embryo transfers. There are many articles such as this one detailing what can be expected from these types of procedures. Egg retrieval is a very hands-on process, requiring you (or your partner) to inject yourself with hormones multiple times per day, as well as necessitating many doctors’ visits. Of course, your fertility specialist will also walk you through the whole process and answer any questions you have.
Avoid making any major life changes
The egg retrieval process can be taxing on your body. Therefore, it becomes incredibly important not to make any major changes to your life prior to or while undergoing this process. Stress management is an important part of achieving positive results from fertility treatments. For example, a big move or a new job can create undue stress in your life that can affect the success of the procedure and alter the hormones in your body. It is important to try and remain calm and stick to your usual routine during your egg retrieval cycle.
Make room in your work schedule for frequent appointments
As previously mentioned, the egg retrieval timeline can require a lot of time and energy. For the weeks leading up to the egg retrieval, you will have to visit your doctor quite regularly for ultrasounds, fertility tests and blood work. These visits are an essential part in ensuring that you and your body are properly prepared for the IVF egg retrieval timeline. It’s also important to make space in your schedule to allow you to take your medications at the precise intervals your doctor prescribes.
Share your experience, don’t compare your experience
Oocyte cryopreservation and all of its related parts are going to be different for every person. It is important to remember this when reading the stories of others online; it is great to inform yourself about what could possibly occur during the egg retrieval process, but keep in mind that your own experience will be unique to your body. For some, talking to someone outside their group of friends, such as a therapist, is the best way to mentally prepare yourself for the procedure.
During the egg retrieval process
While you are amidst the egg freezing process and egg retrieval process, it is important to be kind to yourself and your body. Stick to your regular, relaxed routines. Trying out a new diet or exercise routine can put unnecessary strain on your body while you’re also handling hormonal changes from fertility medication. The following tips can help make egg retrieval and in vitro fertilization a more comfortable experience.
Maintain a healthy diet
It is important that you are in good health, and that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs when you are going through the process of egg retrieval for IVF treatment. Try to maintain a relatively healthy diet including lean protein, lots of vegetables, and avoiding processed foods and foods high in salt. This will help to ensure that your body is primed and in the best shape possible to produce healthy eggs.
Exercise – but don’t overdo it
Exercise is key to leading a healthy lifestyle but overdoing it can have the opposite effect intended. Engaging in highly stressful exercise such as long and strenuous runs or heavy lifting while undergoing fertility support can cause strain on your body and reduce your chances of successfully retrieving healthy eggs. Doing moderate cardio, light yoga and similar exercises allow you to keep active without risking injury or internal stress.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Avoiding alcohol and smoking throughout the course of your egg retrieval is of the utmost importance. Engaging in either of these activities throughout IVF treatment is incredibly risky as it can reduce your chances of there being quality eggs to retrieve. With all the time and energy invested into your oocyte cryopreservation, it is best to avoid smoking or drinking alcohol altogether so that your chances of successful fertility treatment are much higher.
Plan to dress comfortably for your procedure
The elevated hormone levels in your body and the egg retrieval process can be tiring both physically and mentally throughout your fertility treatment. After the procedure you will most likely feel very tired and could experience bloating, cramping and mild pain, so it is important that you wear comfortable clothes to help ensure maximum comfort after it is done. Wearing warm socks during your procedure can also help keep you warm in procedure rooms that are often kept quite cool.
After your egg retrieval
The recovery post egg-retrieval varies from person to person, but regardless it is helpful to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the after-effects of your egg retrieval. Having loved ones available to take care of you post egg retrieval (especially in the first 24 hours) can be a great idea to ensure you have all of your needs taken care of.
Have someone who can drive you to and from your appointment
The best way to get to and from the egg freezing process is to have someone ready to drive you to and from your appointment. Some states, like New York, even require that you have a second individual present to accompany you to and from your appointment. You will probably be groggy and may be in some pain after the procedure, so it is important that you are not driving yourself.
Prepare to experience cramping and constipation
The stimulation medications used to prepare you for egg retrieval are likely to cause mild constipation. Drink lots of water and load up on electrolytes prior to and after your egg retrieval process to help retain regular bowel movements. You can also eat high-fiber foods such as flax seeds, prunes, and sweet potatoes. Cramping after the procedure is also quite common, but it shouldn’t be worse than normal menstrual cramping. Applying a heat pad and taking some over the counter pain medication like ibuprofen can help manage the pain. Any discomfort should pass within four or five days of your procedure.
Get lots of rest
As previously mentioned, you are probably going to be a little tired and uncomfortable after the egg retrieval process for IVF. Sedation commonly leaves people feeling groggy or fatigued. Additionally, the side-effects you may experience from your fertility medication regimen will take some time to resolve. Make sure you take lots of time to sit back, hydrate and relax while your body recovers. Be sure to take the full day off work so that you can rest and recover. The medications may take up to 24 hours to be metabolized, so you may need to take an additional day off work. This can be a good time to catch up on your favorite shows to binge watch.
Talk to your friends and family about your egg retrieval
Social support can be one of the most important aspects of your journey with fertility preservation and treatment. It is a process that can be highly strenuous on the body, and having a support group to talk to about what you’re experiencing is a great way to work through any stress related to the procedure. Regardless of what your reason is for opting to undergo this procedure, it can be very taxing both physically and emotionally, and so having friends or loved ones to talk to can really make all the difference in ensuring you are supported on your fertility journey.