It’s not often you hear about fertility specialists undergoing fertility treatments, but that’s what Dr Lizle Oosthuizen when she froze her eggs.
A specialist at Cape Fertility, Lizle talks to us about her biological clock and why she froze her eggs.
When did you freeze your eggs?
I was told when I was still a registrar (training to be a gynae) – freeze your eggs! Don’t wait! I never thought about it seriously until I started working at the fertility clinic. It was always something I would “get around to eventually”.
When I started working in fertility full time, everything changed. Everyday I was faced with the same patient – the one who waited for the right partner, or waited for her career goals; the woman who was going to freeze her eggs and then she didn’t because she met “the one” – but now they are divorced and they never had children. Everyday I met women who made responsible decisions and delayed having children (for all the right reasons!), only to find out they had waited too long. I was 34 the first round and 35 the second.
Why did you freeze your eggs?
The first cycle: I had only just met someone. The relationship was new, and I had decided a while prior I was going to do it. I still had my fellowship in front of me so I knew having children would not be an option for 4-5 years. The second cycle I did because I wanted 20+ eggs.
I always thought I would rather regret having spent the money, never needing the eggs than not having done a second cycle. Hindsight is 20/20 – I just preferred to hedge my bets on the side with least regrets. You can make more money, you can’t make more eggs when they run out.
How many cycles did you go through, what was your protocol, and how many eggs were retrieved, and how many were frozen?
The first cycle I was on Menopur and Gonal F injections. It was quite scary because initially I didn’t respond very well and we had to up the dose. I eventually managed to retrieve 11 eggs. The second cycle we tried Pergoveris. I responded a bit better and we managed to freeze 12 eggs (14 retrieved).
Did you set your own treatment protocol, or did another doctor do it?
My treating doctor did it – I stayed very far away from any of the decisions.
How did being a fertility specialist affect your experience going through the procedure, if at all?
I knew too much! It can be very difficult when you know all the things that could go wrong. I decided from the start I would not question any decisions, and just let the process happen. I guess the good thing is I understood that my ovaries were going to respond with a certain amount of eggs whether I tried to control the process or not. I completely trusted my doctor (she did train me after all!).
Having gone through the process, did it change the way you then treated your patients going through fertility treatments?
I think the biggest benefit is really understanding what the patient is going through. I know what the injections feel like. I know what it’s like when you take your shots at 6am, and now it’s Sunday morning and you have to get up to take 3 shots you’re not in the mood for.
I know what it feels like when your ovaries get big, and you bloat and you are convinced you have gained weight (you haven’t!). I know what the breast tenderness and the discharge are like, and I know the anxiety as you hop on a table and hope all the follicles have eggs and that they are all mature! I also know how you feel that evening and the next day, and I bring up the things that bothered me during the cycle, that other doctors may not be aware of.
What would you like readers to know?
Don’t put it off – life will always happen. Turns out that new relationship ended up sticking and we were all on track to get married in September.
Then COVID came along and changed those plans, and we are likely looking at pushing it another nine months. That’s another nine months of not falling pregnant, ageing eggs, and a decreasing egg reserve. I am thankful every single day that I froze may eggs.
Dr Lizle Oosthuizen is a registered specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist practising at Cape Fertility in Claremont Cape Town as a fellow in Reproductive Medicine. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Cape Town in 2007. In 2010 she started work at a rural Eastern Cape hospital and headed the only unit in the province to have no maternal mortalities.
After obtaining certificates in abdominal and gynaecological ultrasound, she returned to complete her specialist degree in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Cape Town in 2015. Her interest in Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology culminated in a Masters degree focusing on the effects of lifestyle factors on male fertility.
Dr Oosthuizen is part of the fellowship program in Reproductive Medicine at the University of Cape Town.
She previously practised for a year in Port Elizabeth as a general Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Netcare Greenacres Hospital prior to joining Cape Fertility in 2017. Her special interests include fertility, endocrinology, and recurrent pregnancy loss. When not working in her busy practice, she enjoys photography, music and travel.