Freezing her eggs allowed this Dublin woman to become a mother at 42

Helen O’Callaghan speaks to a delighted Dublin woman who, at the age of 42, gave birth to the first baby born through egg-freezing in an Irish clinic

WHEN it came to having a baby, she knew the odds were stacked against her — yet this summer a 42-year-old Dublin childminder gave birth to the first live healthy baby born through egg-freezing in an Irish clinic.

But the Tallaght woman’s joy at the birth of her daughter in late July came at the end of a tough struggle to conceive. Ann* first approached ReproMed Ireland Fertility Clinic when she was 36. “I was single and I wanted kids. Time was ticking,” she says.

Preliminary tests seemed to augur well for IUI so — using donor sperm — she underwent the procedure three times in the space of a year. “With the first attempt you know there are no guarantees. But by doing it three times, the hope is it should work at least once.”

It didn’t work.

Bitterly disappointed, Ann took a break from trying to conceive.

“I’d put everything into it. I needed to re-assess the expense of it, to build up funds again.”

Approaching her 40th birthday, she tried one more IUI cycle, which also failed. “I took a step back. I decided to travel and went to Australia. I needed some space, some time out from it all — it was so mentally and emotionally draining.”

Being a childminder made her struggle all the harder. “I was minding other people’s children and thinking why am I not blessed [with a baby].” Unwilling to give up on her dream of motherhood and with questions niggling around why she’d failed so far to conceive, Ann returned to ReproMed and asked to have her egg reserve tested.

It turned out to be low.

She learned her best hope of conceiving was IVF using frozen eggs.

“Because of my age and having a low egg count, I knew the odds weren’t in my favour.”

ReproMed Ireland Fertility Clinics have been freezing eggs (oocyte preservation) since 2014. About 50% of patients are freezing their eggs as an “insurance policy”, says ReproMed Ireland director and senior clinical embryologist Declan Keane.

“They want to preserve their fertility for social/lifestyle reasons, as in ‘I haven’t met the right guy yet’ or ‘I’m not ready yet to start a family’.”

The other half of patients opting for egg-freezing are doing so, says Keane, because they’re “poor responders, with low egg numbers each cycle”.

Egg-freezing over a number of cycles “is pooling more eggs than you would have in just one cycle — thus by having more eggs you are increasing efficiency of the IVF process”.

Before embarking on egg-freezing, the woman must have counselling. “We don’t want to set expectations too high. The woman has to understand that egg-freezing means an opportunity in the future to try for a pregnancy — it doesn’t mean a guaranteed baby.”

With her parents and siblings 100% behind her, Ann took fertility drugs and had her first egg collection in August 2015, followed by two more — in October and November 2015. The eggs from the August and October collections were frozen.

“In November, they retrieved fresh eggs and defrosted the others, so I had 12 eggs going into the IVF cycle. Only three embryos survived the process and two were implanted into me.”

A few weeks later, news of a positive pregnancy test came via a phone call from ReproMed.

“I felt shock, elation. It was hard to relax and enjoy the pregnancy because of this constant fear that something would go wrong.”

Fortunately, the pregnancy turned out to be straight foward. “There were no issues, no drama and no morning sickness.”

Ann’s little girl was born by C-section in late July. This is the first live birth in Ireland as a result of an Irish clinic freezing eggs — rather than clients travelling abroad for the service.

“She’s a dream baby,” says Ann. She’s sleeping six hours a night and is very placid. Everybody says she’s like my sister and my dad. I can’t tell. It’s quite surreal, just to be able to say she’s actually mine, particularly in my line of work — I’m so used to handing them back whereas this one is to keep.”

Aside from the emotional and physical impact — “pumping myself full of hormones and never knowing would it work, my emotions were all over the place” — it’s been a tough journey financially.

“It was very hard because I was doing it by myself. The IVF and egg-freezing cost €10,000. Then add in the four failed IUIs — which at the time were €1,000 each — and the donor sperm and all the tests.”

But, says Ann: “ This isn’t the route I’d have chosen but such is life — it never goes the way you plan it. And it’s so great now that she’s here.”

“Technology around egg-freezing has evolved over the past five to seven years. More women are going for it. And more of the eggs we freeze nowadays are surviving,” says Keane. But it’s still a scientifically difficult process, which — he says — makes ReproMed Ireland “extremely proud” of Ann’s success.

* Name changed to protect identity.

ReproMed Ireland is now sponsored by VHI and runs clinics in Cork and Dublin.

Freezing eggs

ReproMed Ireland director Declan Keane says oocyte preservation is suitable for a specific group of women — those who have a sufficient antral follicle count (woman’s ovarian reserve or supply of eggs for the future). This is assessed through a trans-vaginal ultrasound scan. Women should also have decent levels of AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone), a hormone which indicates a woman’s ovarian reserve of eggs. This is detected by a simple blood test.

The woman begins the process by self-injecting fertility hormones to engage as many as possible antral follicles that month. “A 40-year-old might have three or four antral follicles per ovary, a 30-year-old 12 or 13,” says Keane. She then attends the clinic for an ovulation trigger injection around day 12 of her cycle.

Under light sedation, the eggs are collected in a five to 10-minute procedure and she’s discharged home a few hours later.

The eggs are then frozen in the lab at –196°C. At ReproMed Ireland, frozen eggs are stored for five years, at which point the woman must inform the clinic if she wants them stored further.

When she’s ready to attempt a pregnancy, the IVF process is restarted again. Eggs are thawed out and fertilised with donor or partner sperm. The embryo is transferred to the uterus in hopes of achieving pregnancy.

Keane says once a woman fits the medical criteria for egg-freezing, the procedure can represent good economics.

“With IVF costing €4,500 per cycle, you’re better off not spending all that money on two or three eggs but instead freezing six to 10 eggs and then having IVF on that number.”

ReproMed Fertility Clinic currently has another ongoing early pregnancy resulting from egg freezing.


Lifestyle

I’d always promised myself a day off school when Gay Bryne died.Secret diary of an Irish teacher: I’ve been thinking about my students, wondering who their ‘Gay Byrne’ will be

In an industry where women battle ageism and sexism, Meryl Streep has managed to decide her own destiny – and roles, writes Suzanne HarringtonJeepers Streepers: Hollywood royalty, all hail queen Meryl

'Ask Audrey' has been the newspaper's hysterical agony aunt “for ages, like”.Ask Audrey: Guten tag. Vot the f**k is the story with your cycle lanes?

Daphne Wright’s major new exhibition at the Crawford addresses such subjects as ageing and consumerism, writes Colette SheridanFinding inspiration in domestic situations

More From The Irish Examiner