Our morning with the Embryologist

When my IVF failed for the first time, I had a call from the embryologist. He explained that sadly not one of my eggs had fertilised.

I sat in total shock and disbelief. All those weeks of injections and hormones, for nothing. All those weeks of hope were crushed in one sentence. That phone call was like a stab in the heart. It was my pain. No one else’s. I imagined the clinic tossing my notes in the bin then moving on to the next patient.

How wrong I was.

I never thought about the people behind that phone call; the passion, professionalism and commitment that went into my treatment. I never thought that perhaps they were as devastated as I was until I stumbled across an instagram post from @breenidez, an embryologist at Thames Valley Fertility Clinic, that made me see things in a different light.

I was so moved by her post, that I got in touch with her and asked if I could spend the day with her, to learn more about the role of an embryologist.

I wanted to find out what they did exactly and if they could distance themselves somehow from the emotional realisation that they are literally making miracles whilst anxious patients wait by a phone to find out if their hard work paid off. I wanted to know how they handle this incredible pressure!!

Before Danielle’s post, I had never really thought about how an embryologist feels when treatment fails for a couple. Not once did I think about how the Embryologist felt when he called me that day to tell me that not one egg had fertilised. That day, he was just a voice, delivering bad news, and I feel awful about this, because having spent a day with Danielle, I now know how much love, care and concern goes into the IVF process.

It’s not just about your doctor, it’s about the whole team and the Embryologist plays a major role in this team.

So, I arrived at the clinic nice and early, but all of a sudden, my anxieties flooded back as I approached the building. I think having never had any counselling or anyone to talk to when I was going through my years of infertility, I have many suppressed emotions still remaining, buried deep. However, once I arrived I felt calmer, and my anxiety turned to excitement as I was handed my lovely purple scrubs!! Tracey and I took one wonderful IVF Babble reader, Chrissy, who having sadly had an unsuccessful round of IVF, needed a whole list of questions answering. (You can see how the scrubs proved a  wonderful distraction for Chrissy too!!)

Danielle showed us around the clinic, talked us through all of the areas and explained how the whole process of IVF treatment works.

She introduced us to the team and talked us through their roles. As each person explained what they did, I saw that the ivf process is about teamwork. It’s not all about your doctor making the decisions. Collectively, these wonderful people come together and discuss, what is right for you as a patient.

For me, the most emotional part of the tour was the room where eggs, sperm and embryos are stored.

I have 4 of my embryos stored at my own hospital and have always wondered what their current ‘home’ looks like … this is it.

The room is monitored so closely, with alarms everywhere in case of power failure and temperature changes. These pots of liquid nitrogen contain such precious cargo.

Danielle walked us through every step of the IVF process, from egg collection to transfer. It is INTENSE. Every single movement in the lab and theatre has to be so precise and carefully executed. Danielle told me that she has to be a perfectionist, whilst acting fast…a phenomenal skill to possess. She can’t second guess or doubt her actions as every single second counts. She knows exactly what to do and does it with total conviction.   “An embryo can’t be left sitting and waiting on the side for transfer. Only when the doctor announces READY do I take the embryo out from its ‘safe house’, (the box on the left marked G1 in the picture below) and transfer it over to the doctor within 30 seconds”.

The teams are working with fragile, minuscule cells that require enormous magnification, but are manoeuvred through pipettes and syringes, operated with the steadiest of hands.

This of course means that hangovers are a no no. “Just being tired can be tricky, so there is absolutely no way we could do this job with a hangover” Danielle told me.

She encouraged us to look through the microscope to see if we could pick up a small bubble through the syringe. I couldn’t even guide the syringe to the Petri dish whilst looking through the microscope, let alone pick up the bubble with my shaky hand!

With every demonstration, I felt such a sense of comfort for the people who were having treatment at the clinic.

Danielle has such a passion for her job, and the team carry out their roles with a seamless, well oiled synchronicity.

Sadly, despite the incredible work that the team do, sometimes, it just doesn’t work out through no fault of anyone’s. Danielle explained that delivering bad news to a couple is utterly devastating for the team. As you saw from her post, sometimes a good cry afterwards is the only thing you can do to make you feel slightly better. “The pressure to help deliver the perfect embryo that results in a healthy pregnancy can be tough” Danielle said. “You build up such a lovely relationship with the couples and you know they would be such perfect parents”.

It’s a sad reality that IVF is not 100% guaranteed, but for many, it has been the miracle that has made life complete

I am one of the lucky ones for whom it worked, and I will be forever grateful to the miracle workers who made my dream a reality…the doctors, the nurses and of course, the phenomenal Embryologist like Danielle.

Embryologists everywhere, you are incredible and such a crucial part of the IVF process 

Before I left for the clinic, I asked you if you had any questions for Danielle. So many of you had questions, so I’ve left them with her. She promises to send over the answers soon and we will publish them here on IVFbabble.

Thank you once again to the brilliant team at Thames Valley Fertility.

(Oh, and they even have special bags for your wet brollies!!)

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