Our love story began five years ago, in January 2017.
I was a few months shy of 37, single, and traumatized by past relationships that left me tired and broken. Though I was nearly convinced that finding a life partner at my age was near impossible, I didn’t want to rule out love just yet because doing so might mean having to rule out the prospect of motherhood—and I wasn’t ready for that.
In my late 30s, I was at the age where conceiving a baby was getting more difficult with every passing year. I could hear my biological clock ominously ticking away in my mind. So I started entertaining the thought of having my eggs frozen before my ovaries dried up and went on permanent strike and in case I finally found someone—later on—with whom I wanted to raise a child and build a life with.
Internet research introduced me to Kato Repro Biotech Center, a fertility clinic that uses Japanese applied science and know-how to perform assisted reproductive technology. I initially went for what was supposed to be a consultation and to get a physical assessment. After my test results came out, I was told that I was in the right stage of my menstrual cycle—and my life—to start the procedure for mature oocyte cryopreservation, the medical term for egg freezing.
“We can actually start your treatment today,” said the doctor who assessed my test results.
“Yes. Let’s do it,” I replied.
Treatment involved hormonal therapy that stimulated my ovaries into producing multiple mature eggs instead of just one egg. For 10 days, I had to inject medicines into my stomach. (I had to ask our neighbor nurse to do this for me the first couple of times before I found the courage to do the injections myself.) After hormonal stimulation, I had to go back to the clinic for another jab, which was meant to trigger ovulation. More tests a few days later revealed that the timing was right for egg harvesting.
The egg retrieval procedure itself was quick. I was awake the entire time while the doctor used an ultrasound-guided needle to harvest the eggs from my ovaries. Some women I know who have done IVF elsewhere are surprised that I was completely lucid during egg retrieval. Apparently, Kato utilizes a special thin needle that's half the thickness of global standards, minimizes the risk of bleeding, and eliminates the need for general anesthesia.
In the end, the doctors were able to harvest nine eggs, five of which were mature and went into frozen storage.
I was told to rest for 15 minutes following the procedure, after which I walked out with a sense of accomplishment, of having done something that could possibly guarantee the future I had envisioned for myself. It would be years before I’d be back.
I met Jamie through common friends 11 months after I had my eggs banked. We were both in Bangkok on holiday and, by coincidence, he was flying to Manila for work after Thailand. I offered to show him around. What was supposed to be a few drinks in Poblacion turned into a long-distance relationship that saw us shuttling back and forth between Manila and Tokyo (where Jamie is based).
Everything was easy with Jamie from the start. There was none of the drama and insecurity-fueled arguments that characterized my past relationships. We quickly settled into a comfortable familiarity, and when the sensitive topic of having children came up, I had no apprehensions about telling him that I wanted one. He agreed.
We started trying to get pregnant a year into our relationship. I was almost 39; he was 41. We didn’t consider going the IVF route until the start of 2021, after many, many months of failing to conceive the natural way. We were already married by then and Jamie was concerned that I was slowly falling into despair with every month that my menses showed up.
A consultation with Dr. Richie Mendiola, Kato’s medical director, only strengthened our resolve to do IVF. He suggested using the eggs I had banked years ago because these were “younger.”
And so my five eggs were pulled out of storage, thawed and fertilized with my husband's sperm. Three successfully grew to the blastocyst stage (a human embryo that has developed five days after fertilization). Of those three blastocysts, one was given an A grading, which meant that it was the most fit for transfer. We chose to go with this one.
Similar to the egg retrieval process, the embryo transfer was quick and painless. The real challenge came afterwards. My body didn’t react well to the medication I had to take to encourage embryo implantation. I would wake up feeling nauseous and sometimes had to endure the feeling the whole day. It didn’t help that I was beside myself with anxiety while waiting to know if the embryo had successfully attached to my uterus.
We were confirmed with child two weeks after the transplant. I was ecstatic but more stunned. Research reveals a low 20-percent success rate in IVF pregnancies for women who froze their eggs in their late 30s. Some doctors even caution that you may need multiple tries—and a fair share of eggs—before seeing two lines on a pregnancy test. So it took me a while to accept that I was actually going to have a baby at 41 years old—upon our first try at IVF.
The nausea that I experienced while I was undergoing IVF extended into my pregnancy. For the first 18 weeks, I suffered from all-day sickness that turned me off most food and rendered me unable to hold down the few foods that I could eat.
My pregnancy coincided with a relocation to Japan, which proved to be another struggle. Waiting for my resident’s visa to be approved, which took months longer than we expected because of the pandemic, was stressful. By then, Jamie had to be back in Tokyo for work, so I had to go through the most trying months of pregnancy by myself.
I was finally granted entry to Japan in June 2021. I went at a time when Tokyo is at its most humid. At 21 weeks pregnant, I was extremely sensitive to heat. There would be days when I refused to leave our apartment for fear that walking around in a mask in hot, sticky weather would cause me to faint.
The next hurdle was finding a hospital where I could give birth. In Japan, you need to secure a reservation in order to give birth at your preferred hospital. Most of the hospitals we were interested in were either fully booked or only accepted reservations in the early weeks of a mother’s pregnancy. Fortunately, we were able to get a spot at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center. It is one of the best hospitals in Tokyo for giving birth due to its baby-friendly positioning that is in line with the World Health Organization’s policies. Unfortunately, the hospital, like many medical establishments in Japan, does not believe in using epidurals. I had to mentally prepare myself to give birth without any form of pain medication.
At 34 weeks, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Mothers in their 40s are more susceptible to pre-eclampsia as are, studies show, mothers who did IVF with a frozen egg. My doctors made the decision to induce me into giving birth at 37 weeks.
I went into labor early on the morning of Oct. 10, 2021. I was sailing through the entire experience for the most part until the doctors hooked me up to an oxytocin drip to speed up my contractions. My water broke 11 hours into labor. That’s when the contractions came hard and fast. Because of COVID restrictions, Jamie could only be present during the final hours of my delivery. The midwife, alarmed that I had gone from 3 cm to 8 cm in a span of 15 minutes, handed me my phone. “Call Papa-san,” she instructed. I don’t know how I was able to make a call in the throes of extreme pain, but I managed to get Jamie on WhatsApp. “Come. Now!” I said. I may have screamed, actually.
It’s only now that I fully understand why people say that a baby is a miracle.
Everything that came next was a blur. I pushed and pushed and pushed. Pleaded with the doctor to give me painkillers (was politely refused). Resisted when they hooked me up to yet another IV because my blood pressure was rocketing through the stratosphere. And pushed some more. All the while I never let go of my death grip on Jamie’s hand. Soon enough, after 14 hours of induced, unmedicated labor, our son, Jose Pedro, was born.
It was love at first sight, from the moment his soft and fuzzy head was laid on my breast and he looked up at me with eyes that still couldn’t see. It’s a love that continues to grow, day by day, with each time he flashes his gummy smile, clasps my much bigger fingers in his tiny ones, or tries to engage me in conversation with a stream of coos and gurgles.
It’s only now that I fully understand why people say that a baby is a miracle. It’s amazing how many things have to go right on a cellular level to create a tiny human being—whether he or she is a gift of nature or a blessing of science.
The love story between my son and I started five years ago when I made a snap decision that would change my life. The first chapter was written when he was born last year—I had to wait for the right time and the right partner before it could unfold. I expect to add countless more chapters to our story; chapters that, I expect, will detail the mistakes and mishaps of motherhood, the many joys as a child discovers what the world has in store, and the many ways to deal with wet nappies. May we live happily ever after, my son.
Quick facts on oocyte cryopreservation in the Philippines
Where: Kato Repro Biotech Center, located at Enterprise Center in Makati
How much: P180,000, inclusive of storage fee for three years. After the third year, yearly storage costs P12,320. Note that these are only rough estimates. Prices vary since each patient has a different case.
Additional: Around P130,000 for egg-culturing process if you decide to use your frozen eggs. Would vary according to the number of embryos you have.
The full IVF package is around P350,000 if you decide to do IVF with a fresh egg.
How to make an appointment: Kato offers online consultations for new patients. After a doctor assesses your case, you will be advised as to when you can come in for a clinic visit.
If you wish to book an online consultation, you must first submit a few requirements and fill up a medical questionnaire. Email [email protected] or text 09177239211 for inquiries. Or visit their website for more information.