We will never know what made the difference to tip the balance in our favour this successful IVF cycle. But with two fresh cycles under our belts, and having paid for both due to no NHS funding because I was over 35 years-old, it’s fair to say we didn’t feel hopeful for our third go.
So, imagine our surprise when we ended up with two top-quality, day four blasts, and four to freeze. That compared to two average/poor blasts and none to freeze round two, and only one viable fertilised embryo in round one.
Here are the seven factors I believe made all the difference in our third cycle, which resulted in my first pregnancy.
1. We found a new clinic
If you’re not happy with your IVF clinic, I say move. Even if it’s several hundred miles away, in another country!
Even though our second cycle was an improvement on the first, I didn’t trust that the NHS clinic which we paid privately to use was the right place for us. That’s because it was overly busy, under-resourced and I believe lacked the specialism we needed.
After much research, we decided to go to GENNET, Czech Republic, because of its ‘no stone left unturned’ approached. This proved to be the case. The clinic is high-tech, its staff were thorough and we felt we were in safe hands. And, the unscientific test: it just ‘felt’ right.
I know some people worry that getting IVF treatment abroad might be unsafe or unregulated, but we experienced only the highest standards, far superior to that in the UK. Unless you have the cash to spend at the top UK clinics, save your money.
£2.5K at GENNET gets you ICSI and assisted hatching as standard. Set aside £1K for accommodation and spending money, and you get a sweet little holiday in cheap-as-chips Prague as well.
2. We bought fertility statues (bear with me…)
Before you think I’m woo-woo, let’s get one thing straight. When you’re facing your third round of IVF, you’ll give anything a shot.
We went to Lanzarote in the Canaries or our annual winter sun holiday in November 2018 – another year, no baby. But this time I insisted we buy some fertility statues, which are so prominent on the island.
Then, at Christmas time a few weeks later, we were lent a couple of Kenyan fertility statues by some close friends, who had been successful during their first round of IVF.
Now I’m not (massively) superstitious, but I can’t help but feel our four little figurines standing on top of our mantlepiece gave us a bit of luck. And sometimes you need a little luck in life.
3. We sought a second opinion from a top urologist
Clinics had started to suggested we should go down the donor sperm route, and I’d started to believe that was the only way to go, too.
I was petrified of our third round failing. Not only because of the money, but the sheer emotional trauma of it all. But, if I’m honest, I didn’t believe it’d work.
For the first time in a year, we were given hope.
Sure, most of his sperm were severely damaged. But there were also a pretty good number that were not damaged at all. ‘All the clinic needs to do is find one of those undamaged sperm,’ he said ‘and you’ve got as good a chance as anyone.’
Yes, paying for two consultations and a bunch of tests cost more than an all-five star inclusive holiday for two to Lanzarote, but it meant we had confidence that a) we didn’t need donor sperm and b) we had a chance. His advice to us was priceless.
4. We both got serious about supplements
I’m not one to get sucked into buying expensive supplements… oh, who am I kidding?
This cycle, I ended up paying an eye-watering amount for some top-drawer, pre-natal multi-vitamins that included all the necessary vitamins and minerals you’d ever need to get help with egg quality.
Not only that, but me and husband both took a high dose (200-300mg) of ubiquinol, high rated by Rebecca Fett in her well-regarded book ‘It Starts with the Egg’.
If you do one thing, I’d recommend taking ubiquinol. It didn’t seem to make any difference to my husband’s sperm results, but I believe it helped my egg quality.
12 out of 13 were mature, and all fertilised eggs were grades one-two. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
5. I followed a new protocol
After my unsuccessful second round at Jessop’s, Sheffield, the doctor said she wouldn’t recommend making any changes to my protocol if I were to do another round there.
That worried me. My second cycle resulted in 12 eggs – yes – but they were all crap quality. I didn’t help that I had a dominant follicle on one ovary, which I believe scuppered the chances of all the others.
This round, instead of horrible down regulation injections, I sniffed Synarel for two weeks. That in itself made the whole ordeal of IVF much more palatable. And it worked. No dominant follicle this time.
And for stims, GENNET increased my dosage. But rather than sticking with Gonal F, they added Menopur into the mix half-way through. I’ve read Gonal is more potent than Menopur, so the two work well together.
That cocktail of drugs were right for me. Finally, after three IVF rounds, I’d found my protocol.
6. He gave a second sample
Another massively important change this round was my husband giving a second sperm sample on egg collection day.
Yes, he complained, and yes he was petrified and not being able to perform, but perform he did. What a good boy!
His samples were terrible, there’s no doubt about it (and when I saw the printout of his results on egg transfer day I literally thought we had no chance).
However, Dr Jonathan Ramsey and the clinic independently told us that new research indicates frequent ejaculation (48 hours) before egg collection, then two samples on the day, can mean far less DNA fragmentation damage, i.e. better chance of fertilisation and normal embryo development.
It may not sound like a big deal but we went from no frozen eggs across two IVF rounds, to two top quality blasts to transfer and four to freeze. That’s pretty epic. So was it this technique that made the difference? I certainly believe it helped.
7. We paid for embryoglue
I’m normally quite sceptical about clinic add-ons, but I’d read good things about embryoglue. We’d never bothered about it before this round, but pregnancy had eluded me, of course I worried there might be an issue with me and implantation.
Embryoglue at GENNET cost about £170. Yes, a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things, not a lot extra. And there’s compelling research to suggest it makes a difference, so it seemed like a no-brainer this time.
Of course, if your embryo’s a duffer, no amount of sticky substance will sustain a pregnancy. For example, I had two blasts transferred, but only one stuck, so clearly the other wasn’t viable. But I’d like to think that this, along with all the other things we did differently this cycle, tipped the balance in our favour.
I’d love to hear anyone else’s suggestions and recommendations on what they believe made the difference for them. So please feel free to comment below!