IVF and Egg Freezing: What to Expect and How to Prepare
These days, egg freezing and IVF, or in vitro fertilization, are fairly common routes on the journey to parenthood. Yet, that doesn’t mean these fertility treatments are always an easy road. While both treatments helped millions of women conceive, they can require a significant investment of emotion, resources, and time.
If you’re considering IVF or freezing your eggs and unsure of what to expect, this article will break down the basics and offer suggestions for how to prepare.
What is IVF?
In vitro fertilization is a type of fertility treatment where:
- Eggs are collected from the ovaries
- The retrieved eggs are combined with sperm outside of the body in a laboratory
- The embryos (fertilized eggs) are then placed into the uterus with the potential outcome of a pregnancy.
What is Egg Freezing?
The main difference between egg freezing and IVF is the timing. Rather than attempting to get pregnant right away, egg freezing gives you the option to store your unfertilized eggs for a later time. When and if you decide you are ready to have a baby, your eggs will be thawed in the lab and the rest of the IVF process will be completed. Freezing healthy eggs at a younger age allows women more flexibility in their family-planning timelines.
How Do IVF and Egg Freezing Work?
The initial screening and prescribed medications are very similar for IVF and egg freezing. After completing an initial ultrasound and bloodwork, your doctor will prescribe fertility medications to stimulate follicle growth. Follicles are fluid-filled sacs in your ovaries that potentially contain an egg. Your prescription will involve self-injecting hormones on a precisely timed schedule and regular check-ins for additional ultrasounds and bloodwork. For a more detailed understanding of the timeline and medications used during an IVF cycle, see our article, IVF Medications: Schedule and Side Effects Explained.
Once your follicles have reached maturity, your doctor will gently guide a thin needle through your vaginal wall and use suction to draw the eggs from the follicles. The 15-45 minute procedure is minimally invasive, and you’ll be sedated to ensure there’s no pain. The retrieved eggs are either frozen and stored for later use or placed in a petri dish with sperm cells so fertilization can take place. The fertilized eggs, or embryos, are then transferred to your uterus through a quick, non-surgical procedure using an ultrasound-guided catheter.
What Other Factors Might Be Involved?
IVF may include a variety of other parties at each stage. In some cases, an egg donor undergoes the egg retrieval process. The resulting embryos are then transferred to the intended parent’s uterus. Sometimes a gestational carrier carries and delivers a child for another couple or person. The embryo is created via IVF using the eggs and sperm of the intended parents or donors and then transferred into the gestational carrier’s uterus. In all of these cases, the sperm used to fertilize the eggs may come from either a male partner or donor. Your unique fertility journey may or may not include one or more of these variations.
How Can I Be Prepared?
From a biological standpoint, the American Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology recommends being at a healthy weight and avoiding smoking or alcohol use. It’s also important to mentally prepare, as this journey may take more than one cycle and be physically demanding on your body. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to your emotional well-being:
Don’t let staying “stress-free” stress you out
During any type of fertility treatment, it’s natural to feel anxious or apprehensive. You are emotionally invested in the outcome, after all. So the standard advice to avoid stress during IVF may only serve to catch you in a cycle of worrying about your worries. It’s true that stress isn’t good for your health and it negatively impacts your quality of life; however, recent studies have offered reassurance that your stress level is unlikely to affect your chances of IVF success.
We recommend that you include stress-relieving techniques in your fertility self-care plan, but it’s important to know that some stress is expected and perfectly okay. Rather than trying to avoid anxious thoughts altogether, try to acknowledge whatever hopes and fears arise, then work to let them go through practices that help you feel calm. The key here is to be gentle with yourself. Try light, low-impact movement practices like yoga, walking, or tai chi, or lay in bed and listen to a guided audio meditation. There are meditation programs that focus specifically on supporting the fertility journey, like Expectful and Circle + Bloom, as well as free fertility meditations on Insight Timer.
Create a support circle
If possible, we suggest surrounding yourself with caring individuals who can provide emotional support or assist with injections when needed. Talk about your feelings with your loved ones. And If you know someone else who has gone through egg freezing or IVF, perhaps you can schedule a weekly phone chat or walk through your neighborhood.
Finding this type of support isn’t always easy, however. If you’re feeling isolated or struggling to find someone to confide in, know that you are part of a community of women who share similar challenges. Your fertility clinic may offer counseling or support groups, or you can find one through Resolve, the National Fertility Association. No matter your circumstances, you don’t have to navigate fertility and family planning alone.
Many people also find support through blogs and online communities centered around fertility and IVF, like IVF Babble and Pregnantish. While these can be excellent resources, be mindful that not everything you read online will be completely factual or apply to your unique circumstances. Your doctor or pharmacist should be your source for any medical advice. The stories others share will range from joyful to heartbreaking, so check in with where you’re at emotionally before you start browsing. Remember: whether good or bad, these are the experiences of others. Your journey will unfold in its own way.
Find a pharmacy with flexibility
Because treatment can change from one day to the next, it’s helpful to have a pharmacy partner that can be just as flexible and deliver medications as needed. For that reason, we recommend selecting a pharmacy that offers free, same-day delivery and expert guidance on fertility medications.
Alto’s fertility pharmacists are accessible by phone or messaging in our mobile app. We understand that protocols can change with little notice, which is why you will always receive a confirmation and updates from us after we receive your prescription. You can also view your delivery status in our mobile app until our courier team hand-delivers your medications. You can even designate a safe place for us to place your medications for contactless delivery (we can facilitate contact-free signatures as well).
For more tips on how to select your pharmacy, read “What to Consider When Selecting a Fertility Pharmacy.”
We’re Here for the Journey
The IVF journey can be challenging, but we’ll be with you every step of the way. Alto’s dedicated fertility specialists are here to answer your questions, guide you through your first injections, and work with your physician to ensure your egg freezing or IVF treatment plan is followed correctly. Visit us at alto.com/fertility or reach out via phone or the app to learn more.