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Leaving it later to start a family

Posted on 4.9.17

The BBC One Show featured ‘flash freezing’ of eggs to preserve fertility on 24th August 2017. Doctor Zoe Williams, 37, investigated how egg freezing may help her have a family in the future. As part of the programme they spoke to Ali, a Bridge Centre patient who froze her eggs in 2007 at the age of 41 and then used her eggs to have twins at the age of 47.  Ali highlighted how she felt very lucky as although she froze 27 eggs, only 3 survived the process and many eggs had chromosomal abnormalities – a more common problem in older women.  Both Ali and Dr Williams urged women who were thinking about freezing their eggs to not delay and to consider it at a younger age.

Ali previously shared her story of her ‘miracles, now aged 3 ½ years, with Ova magazine.

“I always thought that I would be a mum one day but for various reasons I got to 40 and it hadn’t happened. I realised that even if I did meet someone new we wouldn’t want to rush into having children - and I also knew that my eggs were ageing by the day. So, if I wanted biological children in the future, I realised I had to take action.

   In 2007 egg freezing was really in its infancy. Traditional slow freezing techniques had not been very successful and were being replaced with a new ‘fast-freeze’ technique of vitrification, which the Bridge had introduced in the UK.

   There it was made very clear to me that freezing my eggs would only giving me the possibility of having children in the future, not the likelihood. At the time we discussed using my fresh eggs and donor sperm and freezing the resulting embryos. But I still thought that I might meet someone who would want his own children, so I decided to go ahead with egg freezing.

   After freezing the eggs I got on with my life and waited for ‘Mr Right’. However, things changed as I approached my 47th birthday. Firstly, I knew that I wanted a child and if I was going to have one then it was now or never. Secondly, in the intervening years I had heard about other women who also hadn’t met the right man, but had gone it alone. And thirdly, I realised that with so many different types of family out there having a donor as a dad was just part of the mix. So, with a little advice from the Donor Conception Network, I decided to use my frozen eggs and get pregnant. I started the process in 2012 and thought that I would soon be pregnant.

   I discussed with the Bridge how many eggs to thaw. With the likelihood that not all would be suitable or make good embryos, I even considered defrosting them all. But in the end I decided to use nine of them, which would still hopefully provide a selection of embryos to choose from.

   However, three days after fertilisation only two of the embryos had survived - and both of them had chromosomal abnormalities related to age. It was thus likely that most, if not all, of the frozen eggs would have the same chromosomal problems.

   I was devastated. I was also uncertain about what to do. I even tried to get pregnant using intrauterine insemination and a fresh IVF cycle, but neither worked and I came back to the idea of using the frozen eggs. The Bridge recommended using all 18 remaining eggs and after discussions to again test for chromosomal abnormalities.

   The process is hard. You get called to say how many have survived the thawing and have fertilised, and then how many have survived and are dividing well. But for me it wasn’t looking good. Out of the 18 only three made it to the fifth day, but they weren’t dividing fast enough for biopsy and testing. So I decided to leave it up to nature and, because of my age, was allowed to have all three surviving embryos transferred; the likelihood of having multiple births at my age and with my history was extremely small.

   You are not meant to do a pregnancy test until two weeks later – I got to one and a half weeks and then had to have a go, all the time saying to myself not to get too upset if it wasn’t positive yet. It was! I was ecstatic but also nervous and kept trying to just enjoy the fact that I was pregnant. However, when I started bleeding all of that reasoning went out of the window. I was devastated and went into the clinic with the certainty that I had lost the pregnancy.

   But the scan revealed two ‘jelly babies’, each with beating hearts. I was not only pregnant but also pregnant with twins!

   My beautiful twins were born at 35 weeks and struggled a bit at first. I moved in to my mum and dad's to get some help - and my sister and nephew live next door, which is really wonderful as it is such hard work. But every day I am amazed that they are here. They are my miracles. Born from frozen eggs and to a 47-year-old! I’m so glad I made the decision to freeze my eggs and am so grateful to their donor dad and all the people that helped me have my family.”

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