“You have no time to waste”.
I still remember that phone call from my GP in Melbourne Australia.
“If you plan to freeze your eggs, the AMH reading is not looking great at all, you have no time to waste”.
“You’d better quickly look up a specialist to speak to, and don’t wait, just try to get yourself an appointment with anyone available from the recommendations.”
From a happy, healthy, and seemingly fit woman, all of a sudden, I was told I have not much time left.
When I was told about the news, I was shocked, lost but also confused - what does that really mean though?
I almost felt that my body was breaking, or even rotting because of my body clock and at a rate that I have never experienced before.
I still have no plan to have kids any time soon, but I also do not want to regret later if life circumstances change in the future.
I tend to have this kind of impromptu idea do something ground-breaking or life changing whenever it’s before or after a significant life event, last time was to get my eye laser surgery done in Taiwan, after breaking up with my ex.
This time, I just wanted to make a sensible decision and plan, that has its limitations with age.
Egg freezing has always been on my mind for years.
Yet everyone around me says to me, “you’re still young! Go get a boyfriend then you won’t need to worry about this anymore”.
Who would have imagined, the next thing I was told is that “you have no time anymore.”
First extraction - Australia
Now I look back my first experience in Australia, was quite a daunting process with little that I was explained - I used to have quite a lot of faith in Australian medical system given my last 20 years of living in Australia and my early years in Hong Kong.
Comparatively, I deem myself as very fortunate, I experienced the best out of the 2 places I call home, before I experienced what is better in Taiwan.
I trusted what I have been told was all I needed to know.
However, along the way I was very much in lack of support; when there was so called a hotline you can call, a lot of times I had to stay calm and critically analyse myself with limited information available either through the IVF service, available reading materials and even publicly on the internet when as YouTube, there was just nothing that I can resort my queries to easily as it seems everyone’s experience is diﬀerent.
From first consultation till operation, it only spanned across a few weeks - that’s an eﬀort after me trying to speed up the process wherever possible.
Finally, the operation was done. I woke up the news from the surgeon who reported to me a very puzzling result. I had no idea how to digest it but to only console myself, it’s better than nothing.
During the recovery period, I went through bleeding, waves of pain from unknown causes and even related or unrelated infection. It was sort of bearable so more I was unsure to classify my experience as serious enough to see medical help or not even I tried to follow a one-pager of when to either call the clinic, page the doctor or straight to the emergency.
I I only tried to survive till my first check up with my specialist 2 weeks after, again, as I was advised to just having to schedule that in 2 weeks after the extraction. I just followed, believing this operation must be of low risk and that is all I require.
“Your pain should have nothing to do with the egg freezing. So, you let me know when you’re ready for the next extraction.”
That specialist appointment only went for less than 5 minutes, and it could have been even shorter if not that I went prepared with list of questions, including what could have caused the mismatch of number of follicles from the last ultrasound report and that
there was just the next day; there was only so little eggs and what I could do diﬀerently next time. Yet, they were all futile eﬀort as they were all summed up by this:
“You should be happy that there are some. Have a think about it and let me know when you want to do it again.”
I walked out of the consultation room with mixed feelings, a sense of loss, frustration, and self-doubt.
I wondered if the bottom-line expectation is nothing, then what if I try with someone else or even somewhere else. What more I can do is not to simply rely on whatever I was told and given here.
I need take control of this.
I decided to expand my research on this topic with a global perspective and exhaust all that I know, and I can.
Taiwan stood out to me as the first resort, as I recall my successful eye laser surgery back in 2014. I have long heard about the positive experience of receiving medical services in Taiwan, from a lot of news and articles, even friends around me.
A lot of my Taiwanese friends would wait until they can return home, to get their bodies fixed basically - even from dental appointment or their annual health check, to minor procedures and even major operation. They would rather endure the pain until they can return home.
I never used to understand them, and I even once joked about their being a “baby”.
“Come on, be an adult and you’re in Australia already. Stop revert everything back home!
I must admit Taiwan is not the only country that oﬀers egg freezing procedure but after balancing all factors including aﬀordability, medical and technological advancement, and possibility of receiving support from friends and family in case of emergency or even repatriation, Taiwan was unparalleled. After all, even if I got enough in the end, I know I would still enjoy the sight-seeing and reconnection with a few friends.
There’s a Chinese saying, 沒有比較就沒有傷害 - Compare and despair.
I can spend another thousand words on how I landed on choosing Taipei TFC but my experience with them was just top notch.
From my first contact - the fact that I could even contact them via WhatsApp, till landing myself in Taipei to my seeing my specialist for the first time, the whole journey was very smooth, transparent and I felt I was well supported.
Not only everyone I was put in contact with speaks ﬂuent English but all relevant materials, information on their website and their awareness of geographical factors and limitations were something I would not ask for, but they have them all.
A lot of things that I have never imagined in Australia, they are “basic” in Taiwan:
1. All medical appointments from making appointment, check-in and through to completion, everything is app-based. You can even have access to your medical record almost immediately by yourself. In Australia, it’s a fee for service, and you have to wait.
2. After checking in, you just follow the instructions in the app, like treasure hunt, to complete all necessary medical assessment such as blood test prior to the appointment.
3. Every step of the way is guided and time sensitive, everyone along your appointment journey is servicing you, they read your record before speaking with you.
4. They have assigned assistance to look after overseas patient and not 1 person but a team of them!
5. After the operation, the doctors and nurses take turn to check on you. They say “辛苦了“ (You’ve done well). You are given a meal of your choice, yes there are 5 options to choose from and before you start enjoying the meal (and the view from your recovery room), the specialist is ready to tell you the result of the extraction.
A lot of things I considered basic in Australia, they are “unbelievable” in Taiwan:
1. You go to diﬀerent locations for “diﬀerent things” - initial medical appointment, specialist appointment, blood and urine test, ultrasound check up and buying medications. Some supplements you can only get them from compounding pharmacies.
2. You must email and ring up diﬀerent clinics or authorities to obtain your own medical records, there is usually fee and long waiting period involved.
3. You are only given repeated and limited information even from the specialist. There was only limited information online you can refer to, and it is very hard for me to discern what is reliable out there.
4. Most importantly, you may not get the specialist who you’ve been investing your money and trust throughout the consultations to perform the procedure on the day. Good luck with whoever gets rostered for your day.
5. After the operation, you get awakened, as if you are occupying the bed for unnecessarily long. You get stale and dried sandwich, a piece of cookie with a cup of tea but only if you ask for it, otherwise, water only. You are asked to go home asap and wait for a phone call in the afternoon from the embryologist.
Experience can be subjective so for those result-oriented readers:
The number of mature eggs extracted without any scientifically significant change in my AMH level was more than 3 times more than what I had in Australia, and there is only 1 month gap between the 2 extractions.
Let the story continue!
After this experience, I just wanted more people like me do not feel despair but DO COMPARE! Sometimes alternatives are out there for those who seek, and diﬀerent results can be achieved by simply looking for second opinion or even just give yourself a chance in a diﬀerent country.
The positive experience I had throughout the process, the relieving result of the egg extraction or simply everywhere I have been to in Taiwan, including all the good food, nice people and beautiful sceneries in Taiwan (I managed to travel around Taipei, Jiufen and even Kaohsiung) came as a package for this success, or even if it reached my bottom line of expectation, I know I would still be winning and smiling.
All in all, I was grateful for the medical and supporting team in Taipei TFC, especially Dr Lee Yi-Hsuan, for looking after me. Thanks for giving me an opportunity and a “home” for my weary soul who has been exhausted in looking for options during this once I believed was a rat race.
When I totally respect the merits, and pros and cons in any circumstances including the medical systems in Australia and Taiwan, I know I always have a choice.
And I have chosen to return to Taipei TFC for my second extraction in November.
I can’t wait to share my next chapter of this journey - when I will have to be in consultation with both local medical team in Australia and in Taipei as I do not have the recommended 15 days to stay in Taipei for the full procedure.
“We are deeply grateful to Dr. Ho for his invaluable assistance in identifying where our problems stem from and providing effective solutions, which ultimately led to the successful arrival of our precious baby. Dr. Ho has not only been our medical caregiver but also a great source of mental support and encouragement. He is simultaneously the problem solver and the tower of strength to us. Sometimes, I inevitably got a mental breakdown, but Dr. Ho always maintained a gentle yet firm attitude, urging us to keep moving forward during our IVF treatment. I couldn’t ask for a better doctor than him!”