When I read last week about more than 100 women discovering that their frozen eggs and embryos might not be viable because of a fault with the freezing process, my heart went out to them.

I’d like to say I couldn’t imagine how they must be feeling, but I could — all too well. Because I know first-hand exactly how it feels to have done everything you possibly can to preserve your fertility, then to have all hope snatched away from you. It is utterly devastating.

In my case, it wasn’t due to a technical error, but I can still recall vividly the phone call in July 2017 telling me that of the last seven eggs they’d defrosted, only five had thawed normally, and of those five only two had fertilised — both abnormally. There was no chance they would go on to form an embryo, much less the baby I desperately wanted.

Years later, I can still remember how utterly floored I felt. If I dwell on it too much, the tears still prick in my eyes.

‘Nothing?’ I recall asking. ‘I’ve got nothing?’

In an instant, it felt like my dreams of motherhood had been stolen from me. I’m not someone prone to daydreams and flights of fantasy, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about the potential those frozen eggs held.

Although I knew they came with no guarantees, I couldn’t help but think what it might feel like to be pregnant; to have my baby in my arms; to see that baby become a walking, talking toddler.

Alice Mann felt as though her dreams of motherhood were stolen from her when she found out that there was no chance any of her eggs would go on to form an embryo

Alice Mann felt as though her dreams of motherhood were stolen from her when she found out that there was no chance any of her eggs would go on to form an embryo

It was only natural that having done all I could to ensure I could become a mother — three years previously, at the age of 36, I had three cycles of egg-freezing, in all 14 eggs at a cost of about £14,000 — I would wonder what my future offspring might look like, whether I’d have a son or a daughter, and imagine the person they might become as they grew into adulthood.

Then, in an instant, there was nothing.

So I know exactly how the 136 patients who, back in September and October 2022, froze their eggs and embryos at the assisted conception unit at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital in London must feel.

In the past few weeks they will have received a letter telling them a ‘manufacturing issue’ with some bottles of a solution that may have been used to freeze their hard-won eggs and embryos could mean that they ‘may not survive the thaw process, and may not be able to be used in treatment’.

A dispassionate list of hypothetical ‘mays’ that will have undoubtedly provoked a maelstrom of emotions.

After my own shattering call, I tried to explain how utterly heartbroken I felt. But everyday language felt inadequate to describe the complexities of bereavement, loss and frustration I was experiencing.

On eggedonblog.com, the website where I documented my treatment, I wrote that I felt ‘sad and angry and resentful’, and lamented the fact that I had ‘nothing to say that wasn’t crying and raging at the world that it was really unfair’.

Because, as I put it back then, ‘three years ago, I froze my eggs, knowing that I might never have a child from those eggs, but knowing it was a positive step I could take at a time when everything looked really bleak.

‘I don’t regret it. I really don’t, but I didn’t just do it because I wanted to be able to look back with no regrets. I did it because I wanted the possibility of getting pregnant with eggs that were younger than I am. And I don’t have that possibility any more’.

Because that’s what frozen eggs and embryos are — possibilities.

Some of the Guy’s Hospital patients will have been women, like me, who hadn’t met the right person to have a child with, but were worried about the impact their age might have on their fertility.

A tube of eggs can be kept in cryogenic storage in preparation for in vitro fertilisation (IVF)

A tube of eggs can be kept in cryogenic storage in preparation for in vitro fertilisation (IVF)

It’s not impossible they could still go on to conceive with their own eggs. (I tried — and failed — to do this, and ultimately used donor eggs to become a mother.) However, others were cancer patients who may since have had treatment that has left them infertile.

But I don’t just feel compassion for these women, I feel a seething, furious outrage on their behalf. Because the hospital knew nearly a year ago that this was an issue.

In March last year, a mere seven months after the women had frozen their eggs, they were alerted to the issue. So why has it taken them so long to share the information?

This needless delay has only compounded the tragedy. In a lifetime, a year might not feel like much. But when you’re talking about fertility, when every month counts, it can be the difference between success and failure.

When I was going through my own egg-freezing treatment, and subsequently attempting IVF with my own eggs at the age of 40, time felt as if it was of the essence.

With every passing month, I worried my fertility was dwindling. I bailed out of holidays so I could have treatment, and when a cycle had to be cancelled because I had a cyst on my ovary, I worried that was the one: my last fertile cycle.

So for the clinic to have been aware of these issues and — it appears — to have withheld this information from patients for 11 months is utterly unforgivable. The arrogance, the complete disregard for the impact on patient’s lives is — well I was going to say unbelievable, but it’s not.

Because over the past ten years I’ve been treated by four fertility clinics, and while many of the staff I encountered were kind and compassionate, there is a culture in these places that seems worryingly prevalent.

Whether it’s being expected to wait hours for a scheduled appointment, having to chase test results, or having to deal with thoughtless comments that feel casually cruel like the receptionist who told me that if I didn’t pay the £120 for a blood test there and then, the results would be destroyed.

A liquid nitrogen bank containing sperm and egg samples. Guy & St Thomas' Hospital in London has told 136 patients that their eggs and embryos ‘may not survive the thaw process’

A liquid nitrogen bank containing sperm and egg samples. Guy & St Thomas’ Hospital in London has told 136 patients that their eggs and embryos ‘may not survive the thaw process’

Then there was the anaesthetist who hadn’t read my notes and seen that I was trying to conceive on my own with donor sperm, who asked where my other half was; and the nurse who cheerily quizzed a desperate friend about her plans for Mother’s Day. It all smacks of a lack of consideration for the patient.

And this catastrophic delay in notifying the patients is the very pinnacle of this.

I know that if you are one of the women affected, nothing I say will change what has happened and the sense of loss and injustice you are feeling.

But as someone once told me after yet another failed cycle of IVF, there are many ways to be a family and you’ll find the right one for you.

When I received that devastating call, I could never have anticipated that, less than a year later, while I was trying — and failing — to get pregnant using an anonymous sperm donor, I would meet the man who would go on to become my husband and the father of my child.

Nor could I have imagined that having a child of my own would involve the altruism of an egg donor, or that I had the capacity to love a child that I’m not genetically related to in the way that I fiercely, proudly and viscerally adore my son. They are, unquestionably, the right family for me.

Names have been changed.

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