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The egg retrieval experience: a beginner’s guide

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The egg retrieval experience: a beginner’s guide

March 15, 2017   |   Ask the Doctor, The Real Deal

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If you’re freezing your eggs, you know that the egg retrieval is what you’ve been working toward. Think of it as your ovaries’ “big day”—for the past week or two, you’ve been diligently doing your hormone injections (or roping a friend or partner into doing it for you), coming to the office for monitoring visits, and doing visualization exercises that prominently feature your ovaries (just us?). All to prep your eggs for their close-up.

But what is the egg retrieval experience really like, step-by-step? Here’s the breakdown:

The egg retrieval experience for you

The trigger shot

The egg retrieval experience actually starts before you even get to the office—36 hours before, to be exact. That’s when you’ll take your “trigger shot,” a medication that preps your body to release the eggs at just the right time for your retrieval. (Learn more about egg freezing medication.) Don’t worry, there’s no guess work involved here; the healthcare team will make sure you know exactly when to take the shot, and exactly when to arrive for your retrieval.

Before the egg retrieval

The good news: our healthcare and laboratory team is dedicated to making sure your egg retrieval experience is as calm and painless as possible. Like most surgeries, you’ll need to refrain from eating or drinking the night before, and you’ll want to come in comfortable clothing without makeup, perfume, or contact lenses; we’ll provide you with a locker for your clothing and belongings. Once you’ve changed, you’ll be briefed on what you should do after the retrieval. We know this can be a lot of info to take in, so you’ll be provided with clear written instructions to take home with you.

Finally, you’ll move to the procedure room, a small private office in which the anesthesiologist will insert an IV and place you under “twilight anesthesia.” This isn’t the general anesthesia used in more invasive surgeries—it’s a medication-induced sleep during which you’ll be breathing on your own (no scary breathing tubes).

Image by Richard Wright
Image by Rick Wright


The egg retrieval

Using an ultrasound guide, the doctor will identify your ovaries, which will be adorned with clusters of tiny egg follicles. The doctor will gently insert a thin needle attached to a catheter through the vaginal wall and draw out the eggs, one by one, from the follicles using light suction. The eggs are collected in test tubes labeled with your name and unique identification number, which will then be handed off to the embryologist—an expert in the science of oocyte cryopreservation—through a special window that leads from the procedure room to the lab. (More on what the egg retrieval experience looks like for your eggs in just a moment.)

After the eggs have been retrieved and the needle removed, the doctor will examine your vaginal wall and your ovaries and quell any bleeding with light pressure. That’s it! No stitches. No scars. The whole process takes 15–20 minutes. And rest assured that you’re in good hands—our healthcare team and anesthesiology partner have many years of egg retrieval experience. (Learn more about the Extend Fertility team.)

After the egg retrieval

After the retrieval, you’ll be wheeled into a recovery bay, where a nurse will monitor you for 30–60 minutes as you wake up from the twilight anesthesia. Then, before you leave the office, the team will let you know how many eggs were retrieved and moved to our embryology lab. That’s it—you’re done! The entire egg retrieval experience takes around an hour and a half.

After the egg retrieval experience is over, you may feel a bit groggy or tired from the anesthesia. New York State regulations require that an “escort,” like a friend or family member, accompany you home from the procedure; we recommend you go straight home and relax for the rest of the day with a responsible adult by your side, just in case—and plan on staying out of the driver’s seat for at least 24 hours. Some women have cramping or light bleeding after the egg retrieval experience—this is totally normal, and should resolve itself in a few days.
The healthcare team will provide you with comprehensive post-op instructions so you’ll know what to do each step of the way. And on the next business day, someone from our team will give you a call with the final number of eggs deemed mature and ultimately frozen. (That’s usually about 80%.)

The egg retrieval experience for your eggs

From your ovaries to the lab

Your eggs’ retrieval experience starts where yours leaves off. Immediately after they’re retrieved, your eggs are moved to our state-of-the-art laboratory to be prepped for freezing. Our lab utilizes the Cryotec method, the most advanced and successful form of vitrification available, and has been specially designed to support effective egg freezing in the cleanest, safest environment possible. (Learn more about the Extend Fertility lab.)

For your eggs, the retrieval experience kicks off with a rinse, an incubation, and a careful examination. The embryologist will remove the cells that surround the egg, allowing her to see the egg clearly so she can evaluate the stage of maturation. Only mature, viable eggs are frozen—typically about 80% of eggs retrieved—because these are the only ones that can become correctly fertilized later on.

Flash frozen

Next after the egg retrieval experience? Cryopreservation—the fancy scientific name for freezing. Your eggs will be frozen using vitrification, a “flash freezing” technique that cools cells so quickly that they become “glass-like” or “vitrified,” minimizing the chance that the water inside the cells will form damaging ice crystals. (This is especially important for egg freezing, since eggs—as opposed to other things we might freeze, like sperm—are large size cells with a high content of water.) Studies have demonstrated that vitrification is superior to any other method of egg freezing, and the Cryotec process used here is an even more successful form of vitrification.


The process goes like this: the embryologist exposes each egg to increasingly concentrated levels of cryoprotectants, which (like the name suggests) protect the egg during the freezing process. Then, each egg is placed into a straw about the diameter of a piece of spaghetti, which is carefully labeled with your name and unique identification number. All the straws containing your eggs—and only your eggs—are immersed in liquid nitrogen and placed into one larger container, called a goblet, which is also labeled with your name and unique identification number. The liquid nitrogen quickly cools the eggs to a temperature of -196º Celsius (about -320º Fahrenheit), stopping all biological activity in the egg and preventing it from aging or becoming damaged. Learn more about egg cryopreservation.

Frozen indefinitely

Now’s the time to say “hasta la vista” to your eggs, because after the egg retrieval experience, they’re placed into long-term storage until you’re ready for ‘em. Two pieces of good news: one, there’s no evidence that eggs become less viable in storage, so scientifically speaking, eggs can be frozen indefinitely; and two, the strict protocols of our advanced Cryotec method mean that nearly 100% of your eggs will survive the thaw process when you decide to use them.

Learn more about the egg retrieval experience here.

Still have questions? Our fertility advisors would love to help.


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