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Are My Embryos As Good As They Look?

My husband often has to remind me that infertility isn’t something I can control. And I don't do particularly well with situations I don't have any control over... But I also don’t really believe that A) This is totally out of my control, and B) That I even have "secondary infertility." I need to see it to believe it—the “unexplained” part of the diagnosis makes it hard for me to understand, especially with something so scientific. By nature of being a journalist, I look for explanations in everything. I get to the bottom of stories. I ask a lot of questions, until I get clear answers. And so far I haven’t gotten any answers that make sense, so in my attempt to get closer to figuring it out I decided to get my embryos tested to see if the ones I have frozen are any good, before moving forward with another transfer.

In the coming months I’ll probably talk a lot about the embryologist I transferred my embryos to—she’ll be conducting PGD testing on them (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis). Her name is Colleen Coughlin, and she runs the lab at aParent IVF in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. The lab she runs is affiliated with the clinic I go to, Fertility Centers of Illinois. I’ll continue seeing my same RE at FCI, but I’m having my embryos stored, tested and handled by Colleen’s lab now.

Why did I do this? Because I read this great story about her in a publication I write for, Michigan Avenue Magazine, and it inspired me to contact her. It’s a must-read, if for nothing else than to understand the importance of a good embryologist, and why this woman is so revered for her work. She has an incredible story herself, with an incredible track record of success.

Though my clinic has its own lab, my RE only works with Colleen’s lab (interesting, right?). But since I’d already gone through IVF with another RE last year at the same clinic and my embryos were already frozen and stored there, he didn’t see any reason to transfer them after they'd been frozen. Once I decided to get testing done on them (which means thawing them, and then possibly refreezing them), I knew I wanted Colleen to do it. After all, she’s Chicago’s “top embryologist,” and I want the best handling my precious cargo. She's also supposed to be one of the best in the world for PGD testing.

I’ve always been told my embryos are double-A quality, perfect embryos. In fact, everything’s always “perfect.” My lining, my ovarian reserve... I even had a hysteroscopy to see if there was anything wrong with my uterus that would be preventing my embryos from implanting—and aside from a small polyp I had removed—even that looked (say it with me now) PERFECT.

So even though my embryos look great under a microscope, I’ve been told by all the doctors that you can’t see everything without further testing. You can’t see chromosomal abnormalities under a microscope. Since everything else checks out—you know, perfect—this seemed like the last piece of the proverbial puzzle. Are the embryos really as good as they look? We’ll soon find out.

If there’s something wrong with them, my body could be rejecting them. Or we might find, out of all the embryos I have left, only one is actually good enough to transfer. We might find that none are good. That would mean doing another round of IVF, a new egg retrieval, the whole ordeal...but I'd rather know that now.

I haven’t met Colleen in person yet, but I had a lengthy conversation with her over the phone, at night, after business hours, because she understands that I work full time, too, and can’t discuss these things at the office. I’ve also communicated with her “concierge” Donna a lot over email—the attention that’s already been paid has been so reassuring. Even the woman who facilitated the transferring of the embryos to their lab was a delight to work with; we signed consent forms over Skype because they had to be notarized, and it was easier than my husband and I trying to get to their lab during the week. How incredible is that!

When we spoke, Colleen was every bit as personable and passionate as I’d imagined. She wanted to know my story, what had happened in the past, and what brought me to her. She was compassionate and understanding, full of energy, information and positive thoughts for me and my situation. It's the first time in a very long time I've actually felt hopeful.

Have you, or anyone you know, gotten your embryos tested? Were you glad you did? Leave a comment.

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