During the two-week process, I did several transvaginal ultrasounds to track the growth of my ovaries’ follicles, which house my oocytes (egg cells). Photo taken with the permission of the CARMI staff.
The first time I considered egg freezing in the Philippines was back in 2014. Most women my age were posting about their weddings and children on Facebook, while I was hardly interested in settling down. I read about egg freezing in the US and felt it was an option for me.
In 2015, I came across another article, this time by a TV host who had her eggs frozen in a fertility center in Manila. “Wow, they finally have it here,” I said after reading her now-defunct blog. I found out that this type of assisted reproductive technology has been in the Philippines for years already.
Broody, But Not Really
A year later, I consulted my long-time gynecologist, Dr. Angela Aguilar, one of the fertility specialists of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Medicine and Infertility (CARMI) at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Bonifacio Global City. I nearly fainted when she told how much egg freezing costs—almost double the price of Kato Repro Biotech Center in Makati, where the TV host had hers done.
I’ve been seeing Dr. Aguilar since 2004, and not once did she pressure me to get married and have children. She’s like the cool and woke aunt you look forward to seeing in family reunions, unlike the tactless Titas who pester single women.
Dr. Aguilar explained the realities of egg freezing. While there are many success stories, there’s no 100% guarantee that your frozen eggs will bear your children. Many frozen eggs don’t make it during fertilization or transfer. Some women produce little eggs. Some who had their eggs frozen at a young age are unable to carry the embryo on their own at a mature age. Some, despite having all the money in the world for fertility procedures, are barren. Others cannot afford the treatments. We are all dealt with different sets of cards.
But she told me not to worry about my 30-something ovaries. I did a blood test, which revealed I have a good fertility rate. Whew! Reproductive health has evolved so well that there are now plenty of women who bear their first child in their ’40s.
“You don’t have to freeze your eggs if you’re not 100% sure,” she said.
Egg Freezing, IUI, IVF: What’s The Difference?
Many are confused about egg freezing. Is it like IVF? Yes and no. Let me break it down in layman’s terms.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is where the woman’s egg and the man’s sperm are retrieved, combined outside the body in a lab dish or tube, and then transferred back into the uterus. There are four steps: 1.) ovarian stimulation, 2.) egg retrieval, 3.) fertilization and embryo culture, and 4.) embryo transfer. Some people still use the old-school phrase—test tube baby. The first IVF baby was born in 1978. Since then, there have been eight million babies born through IVF.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI), also called artificial insemination, involves retrieving the man’s sperm and placing it inside the woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization.
Human oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) preserves a woman’s eggs (oocytes). You’ll do steps 1 and 2 of IVF, and an embryologist will freeze the eggs to be used years later when you’re ready for steps 3 and 4.
IVF and IUI (plus other types of reproductive treatments) are for couples with fertility issues—meaning they are unable to conceive naturally, so they opt for medical assistance to help produce a child.
Egg freezing started as an option for women with cancer. They can preserve their eggs before undergoing chemotherapy that puts their fertility at risk. These days, egg freezing (a.k.a. elective or social freezing) is an option for healthy, unmarried women like myself or couples who aren’t ready to have kids yet but would like to bank their young, healthy eggs before they hit their ’40s when the fertility rate drops.
Disclaimer: The fertility centers in the Philippines have strict rules. They don’t allow third-party IVF (sperm, egg, or embryo donation and surrogacy). This means the sperm for your eggs may only come from your legal husband. But you’re allowed to have your frozen eggs shipped to other progressive countries that allow donation and surrogacy, like the US and UK.
Filipino celebrities who have openly talked about their experiences include: Iza Calzado (egg freezing), Divine Lee (egg freezing in 2006, then IVF with her husband in 2018; their baby is now one year old), Doug and Cheska Kramer (IVF), Ice Seguerra (egg freezing), Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho (IVF and surrogacy), and Mich Dulce (egg freezing).
The Dragon And Her Eggs
By 2017, I’m still happily single and childless. No matter how much flak I’d get from chismoso relatives and “friends” (a loose term these days), I’d respond to their insensitive questions with permutations of this speech:
“I’m not a subservient Filipina who will marry just any guy for all the wrong reasons. You can’t force me to get married just because that’s all you think women are supposed to do in life. Stop projecting your bitterness on single women who are thriving. If you truly know what love is, then you know it can’t be forced.”
But I’ll be completely honest with you, while I don’t find anything wrong with my singlehood, I started worrying about my ovaries. I continued to research.
I discovered an international community called single moms by choice—happily unmarried and empowered women who decided to raise a child on their own. It’s something I’m considering on top of other possibilities—like being a crazy dog-cat lady forever, maybe meeting the right person to naturally procreate with, finding a surrogate for my eggs, or adopting from an orphanage.
Why I Chose CARMI At St. Luke’s
Come 2018, I was more certain about egg freezing. I considered having it done abroad but wanted to be near my family for emotional support. I got the advice of the strong women in my life—my mother, my sister, and my progressive friends who are mothers. My late father’s best friend, Tito J, who is a gynecologist in the US, walked me through the pros and cons.
To see the difference in services, I consulted my friends K and Li who are patients of Kato and CARMI, respectively. I visited online forums. While there’s a huge community of Filipino couples who talk about IVF and IUI, there aren’t many single Pinay women who talk about elective egg freezing in the Philippines.
In the end, I chose CARMI. I couldn’t let any other doctor handle my ovaries except for Dr. Aguilar. Each reproductive center has its own distinct culture and medical approach. CARMI may be the most expensive, but their technology is top-notch. I also appreciated how CARMI did not falsely advertise egg freezing as a magical and glorious procedure. Dr. Aguilar was transparent about the risks, stats, and costs from the start.
The Dragon Is Ready
In July 2019, I told Dr. Aguilar, “Doc, I’m 100% ready—physically, emotionally, and financially.” We scheduled my egg freezing procedure in the Philippines in September.
Stay tuned for part 2: My vlog about the 13-day procedure. I’ll share how much everything cost, behind-the-scenes clips (I had to inject myself with hormones daily), and how many eggs I was able to produce (We were all shocked with the number).