And so, our time in Athens was coming to an end. The clinic prescribed an entire carrier bag’s worth of medication for my return to Athens at the end of March and some strong antibiotics to reduce the likelihood of infection following the hysteroscopy. As we discussed my new protocol, I thought I spied the phrase, ‘avoid exposure to the sun’ in one of the many medication leaflets strewn across the embryologist’s desk. However, as the conversation ended with a suggestion to visit the beach before flying home, I thought I must have been mistaken. So, I dutifully downed the first of my strong antibiotics and we headed out into the afternoon sun armed with a long list of directions and instructions for our impromptu beach visit. Once there, we found a beautiful spot overlooking the bay and settled on a bench in a picturesque area to enjoy the final rays of sunshine before sunset. Within thirty minutes I was looking rather pink which was mainly surprising because my husband, with his strawberry blonde hair and pale skin, was not. As we made our way back to our apartment another surprising development followed: my lips were beginning to swell quicker than a Kardashian’s. This continued throughout the evening and, aside from being a teeny bit worried they might never return to normal, it gave me a valuable insight into what I would look like if I ever succumbed to the ever-popular lip filling trend. Spoiler alert: I looked more like Leslie Ash than Kim, Kourtney or Khloe so I will not be partaking. Luckily, my lips gradually returned to their usual size overnight and my redness toned down enough to cover for our flight home.
After my egg collection in our UK IVF cycle, I was surprised to be told by the embryologist that they would like to leave our two precious embryos in an incubator until day 5 in the hope that this would produce the holy grail of all embryos: the ever-elusive blastocyst. This came as a shock. Throughout all appointments leading up to egg collection I was told that I would have a day 3 transfer owing to the high likelihood of low egg/embryo numbers. Given that only a third of embryos make it to the blastocyst stage, this made sense to us. It seemed a huge risk to leave two embryos until day 5 as there seemed to be a good chance that we would be left with nothing. Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is exactly what happened. After an excruciating wait, the embryologist phoned on the morning of our embryo transfer to inform us that both of our embryos had stopped growing on day 3. As a result, I am painfully aware of how unlikely it is that one single egg will give us a blastocyst. The difference is that my Greek clinic told us in our initial consultation that, for this first cycle, we would have to wait until day 5 to see if the embryo could be frozen. As I was on Clomid which thins the uterine lining I knew a transfer in the same cycle was not possible. So, our one little egg had to:
- Keep growing until day 5
- Be good enough quality to freeze
The wait was less tense than in our previous IVF cycle because I had very little hope. The odds were so stacked against us, it was almost easier to believe it wouldn’t be plausible and therefore, usual life could resume a little quicker. What I didn’t anticipate was a day 3 update from Athens. This is something I am not used to and, as the update was rather good, it gave me what I worried might be false hope. Our embryo was growing nicely and had 8 cells. In our UK cycle they stopped growing at 5 and 6 cells so this was a nice surprise. Two days later we were given a devastating day 5 update: the embryo’s growth had slowed and it was currently a morula instead of a blastocyst. We were told that it would be given another day and then we would know whether it had made it or not and if it had, whether it was good enough to be frozen.
The next 24 hours were intolerable. Much as I tried to distract myself, nothing really worked. I missed social gatherings and shunned any form of fun, fearing the worst. Had we not received a day 3 update offering a ray of hope I think it would have been far easier to deal with. I talked at length with my husband about the little embryo in the incubator. I googled, ‘Day 5 morulas that turned in blastocysts later’ and was assured that some do continue to grow into blastocysts, but this didn’t stop the worry. My anxiety escalated on day 6 as I waited for the final verdict from Athens. Hours passed and still nothing. No news should be good news but, surely, anyone would be inclined to share good news more quickly than bad news?! By 2pm I felt deep down that it was all over. It would have been 4pm in Greece and they would be winding down for the day. I couldn’t cope with not knowing for another evening so I emailed them in the breeziest and most carefree manner I could muster to enquire about the status of our slowing embryo. Within minutes my phone lit up. The first words I scanned read, ‘I’m very sorry’. The same words the embryologist had used in the UK when giving our day 5 update. Only, further down the page I spotted the sentence, ‘I have good news!’ After apologising for not updating me sooner due to an exceptionally busy clinic, the embryologist continued to explain that we now had an expanded blastocyst of very good quality and it would be frozen immediately. In her words, they were ‘very pleased with the outcome’. I’m not sure there’s a superlative in the world that could convey how we felt about the outcome. It had all been worth it. My one little egg had given us one perfect little blastocyst. Time to break the IVF diet for just one evening and open the champagne!