Get schooled on what a frozen embryo transfer is

January 13, 2015

So I was trying to write a heart felt post about infertility and how dead scared I am of another failure, but it kept coming out as sounding bitter, like I was seeking pity, and just not the way I intended. So instead I thought I’d just explain what exactly a frozen embryo transfer is. And just a warning, I use the words vagina, cervix, and uterus, so if this is TMI for you, just skip this. But hey, it is pretty informative, I think, so maybe you’ll learn something you can tell your friends at your next trivia night or something.

Today marks the first day of my frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle. Please send positive thoughts. I’m having a hard time doing that myself. There’s still a long time between now and transfer day, but that’s part of the game…waiting, and more waiting, and more waiting….

Basically, because we did genetic testing on our embryos in December during my fresh cycle, it took a long time to get the results back so we couldn’t transfer our embryo that month, so they froze it while we waited for the results. And I took a month off to detox. Also, frozen embryo transfers have a higher success rate because your body has a chance to rid itself of all those hormones and heal. You aren’t putting a delicate embryo back in a hyperstimulated environment. It’s more natural. My clinic claims a 70% success rate for women my age with a chromosomally normal embryo during a FET….which is amazingly high. But I am so sick to death of statistics and percentages that I try to ignore this.

So for me personally, (and I am not a professional so this is all being explained how I understand it to be) my doc is putting me on on birth control pills for 3 weeks or so (to “quiet” my ovaries), followed by a few more days/weeks of lupron injections (to prevent ovulation), and estrogen patches and pills (to prime my uterine lining). The main idea is to get my uterus totally perfect and ready to accept an embryo. My body is totally under their control (that’s what she said). I’m even taking a thyroid med and extra vitamin D as my levels were off and both of these levels are critical in getting pregnant.

So they fake my body out with these meds to make it think it ovulated, had a sperm meet the egg, and an embryo form all on its own. Meanwhile, I go in only a few times for an ultrasound and blood work so they can track my hormone levels and measure the thickness of my lining, and when my body is ready we schedule the embryo transfer. Then the doc transfers the embryo back to me when it would normally implant itself in a normally fertile woman’s cycle. I suppose it’s like syncing your uterus to the age of the embryo.

I will need to drink a lot of water to have a full bladder for the transfer part, so they can see through it to my uterus so they know exactly where the embryo is being placed. Having to pee SO incredibly bad while they press on your bladder with an ultrasound wand is TORTURE I tell you. Next time you have to pee really bad, I dare you to push on your lower stomach. I’m gonna pee on the doc, I just know it. So, he puts the embryo and some culture media (which it was growing in) in the end of a super long and slinky catheter, threads it through my cervix, and injects it into the top of my uterus. Then he gives the catheter back to the embryologist so they can look at the end of the catheter under a microscope to make sure the embryo isn’t there and is indeed in my uterus. None of this hurts at all, thankfully. The worst is just having to pee so bad….and having like 5 people look at your vagina.

They’ll have me lay there for a few minutes to allow my uterus to relax and not contract. And only then can I use the restroom….which is terrifying because you think you’re about to pee out the embryo but it’s not possible as the….well you know your own anatomy and how it works. And if not, get a damn science book already. But your uterus is like a negative space, so all the sides are touching, which encapsulates the embryo. There’s no way it will fall out. I once read this analogy that made sense: Think of raspberry jelly…a seed in the jelly is the embryo. The jelly is the uterus. Want some toast now?

After all this is done, my clinic has on-site acupuncturists that will do acupuncture on you immediately after your transfer if you choose. It helps with blood flow and apparently increases implantation rates. So I think I’d like to do this. After all, what’s another 8 needles in the grand scheme of things?

Then the big daddy mac of all injections, the dreaded PIO (progesterone in oil) shots will begin a few days before the transfer and continue on every single day until 10 weeks of pregnancy. It’s the scariest because the medication is an oil so in order for the oil to get through the needle, the needle has to be big and fat. Great, just GREAT! Brian will have the pleasure of giving me this shot in my butt every day until I’m around 10 weeks pregnant (if it works). It’s to maintain the pregnancy until the placenta takes over because my body didn’t naturally produce this embryo and release the progesterone hormone on its own. Then two weeks after transfer I go in for a pregnancy test to see if all this worked or not.

Are you still here? Does this make sense? Would you like a strong drink?

Oh, and one more thing… in order for any of this to even happen, they have to thaw my embryo since it’s frozen, and there’s a 1% chance it may not survive the thaw. And we won’t know this until the DAY OF the transfer since they will only thaw it out a few hours before. So not only will I be nervous about this procedure, but I won’t know if my embryo survived the thaw until I get there for the procedure. Yay. This is exactly why anyone dealing with infertility knows that plans can change at the drop of the hat.

Believe it or not, this cycle is way less stressful and less expensive than my fresh cycle last month when they had to grow my eggs and retrieve them and fertilize them (gee no wonder). But I’m more nervous for this because so much is riding on this embryo and we only have the one. And if this fails, we have to do it ALL over again.


If you made it to the end here, thank you for reading and learning about this part of an IVF cycle. Knowledge is power and if you (general you, not you) haven’t gone through it, it’s hard to understand just exactly what it entails physically and emotionally. So I hope you found this informative and can respect the power of science, and your bodies!! Just think, all this is supposed to happen naturally in a woman’s body. This is why women rule the world.

Now, I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes…

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