How Eggs are Harvested from Ovaries
Eggs are retrieved from the ovaries for a number of reasons, for example, in the egg donation process, during the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process and for egg freezing for female fertility preservation. Because the little follicles containing the eggs look like black grapes, the procedure is also sometimes called “harvesting” eggs.
Dr Lizle Oosthuizen, one of our highly qualified and impressively experienced fertility specialists at Cape Fertility, recently provided a detailed description of how eggs are retrieved or harvested from ovaries in a video about Egg Freezing on which the summary below is based.
Firstly, a few facts about the ovaries and the eggs. Your ovaries contain the eggs that are ovulated during your life.
At the very beginning of your cycle every single month, a whole bunch of eggs are recruited. All the potential little eggs show up in follicles, which are little black balloons full of fluid on the ovary. Most of the eggs will not mature, and only one of them will grow and ovulate. So, although you might ovulate only one egg, several eggs are recruited with every menstrual cycle.
Before eggs are retrieved or harvested, your fertility specialist will provide you with medication to improve the number of eggs that can be retrieved by stimulating the little follicles to grow.
This medication is usually injections consisting of a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone or FSH. However, your fertility specialist will draw on years of experience to prescribe the best medicine for your specific and unique circumstances. Your fertility specialist might decide to add another hormone called LH. It depends on a number of factors, including your age, your egg reserve, and your previous medical history.
Whichever mix of medication you take, its purpose is to ensure your ovary allows all those little eggs grow, so most of them mature.
Some people feel nervous about taking medicine if they must inject themselves. Don’t let the thought of giving yourself injections bother you. This is a very easy injection to give yourself into the lower tummy area. You don’t need to aim, or angle, or have experience – the needle only needs to get in the skin, and it’s not very painful at all. It is also usually only roughly 10 days of injecting medication before the little eggs are actually ready to retrieve.
At the same time you are taking the medications to ensure your ovary is growing all the little eggs recruited this month, you also need medication that prevents you from ovulating those eggs. So, when you start your injections, you will also start a medication that is a form of progesterone, called Duphaston. It is a tablet and it has been around for a long time.
The medication – the injections as well as the tablets – traditionally starts on day 3, with day 1 being when your period starts. Usually roundabout day eight or nine, your fertility specialist will begin scans to monitor the follicles that look like little black grapes and hopefully contain an egg.
When the follicles reach a certain size, the little egg inside – if there is a little egg inside – should be ready to be triggered. Egg retrieval day is usually around day 14. If you have a lot of eggs that need to grow a little bit bigger, egg retrieval day might only be on day 16.
To retrieve the eggs, you will get a trigger shot the night before egg retrieval day – quite late at night, usually at a very specific time between 9 and 12 at night. There are two different options for trigger shots – one of them is called an HCG injection, the other one is called a Lucrin injection. Which one is used will depend on how you respond to the medication. The Lucrin is a double shot and is usually given if the fertility specialist has reason to believe you might have a lot of eggs or might be at risk of hyperstimulation.
If you have a lot of eggs, you might start to feel uncomfortable right before you come in for your egg retrieval. You may experience what feels like cramping in the ovaries for an hour or two before you come into the clinic. It is completely normal and nothing to be concerned about.
On egg retrieval day, you come into the clinic in morning, before eating or drinking.
You will be met at reception and taken to the theatre and the theatre sisters will prepare you for the procedure and answer all your questions. You’ll also have a chat to the anaesthetist, who will sedate you. You do not go under full anaesthetic, you’re just very well sedated so you don’t feel any pain and have no memory of the actual procedure.
While you are sedated, your fertility specialist will do a vaginal scan with ultrasound. There is a needle attached to the ultrasound and that needle is inserted into the ovary, and into each one of the follicles, so that the fluid inside each follicle is retrieved, hopefully containing an egg.
During the evening after the procedure and for the next two days you might expect some bloating and feel a little bit uncomfortable, for which your fertility specialist will give you painkillers.
Although you will be capable of going to work and carrying on with normal daily activities, it is recommended that you take the day off and, if you can, take the day off after too.
Depending on which trigger injection was used, you should get a period five to ten days later and it will be a heavier period than usual. After that, your cycle should go back to normal, and there is no interference with future cycles. There is no interference with your future fertility either.
Now that you have a better understanding about how eggs are retrieved or harvested from ovaries – be it for egg donation, for an IVF procedure or for preserving fertility through egg freezing – you will realise just how important it is to have this procedure done only at an accredited medical facility.
At Cape Fertility, we value each individual patient and pride ourselves on providing truly individualised and personalised care.
Your care is our priority and attention to your medical safety during the process is our primary concern when you have eggs retrieved in a friendly, relaxed and caring environment at our advanced, purpose-built facilities in the beautiful city of Cape Town. For the last 27 years we have safely completed thousands of egg retrievals.
We also have several highly-qualified fertility specialists at Cape Fertility who are also impressively experienced and are supported by a qualified team, including our Egg Donor Fairy God Mother and her team dedicated solely to taking the best care possible of our egg donors. What this means is that at Cape Fertility you can expect dedicated one-on-one attention – including face-to-face consultations with our experienced specialist team members.
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