This was never the plan. Then again, I suppose it rarely is.
Freezing my eggs isn’t something I’d ever considered more than fleetingly — that is, until recently. Perhaps because it’s still a relatively uncommon and unfamiliar (not to mention expensive) procedure. Perhaps because I’d heard that it’s ineffective, which turns out to be an incomplete story at best and a flagrant lie at worst. Perhaps because I wanted to believe I still had plenty of time.
As a child — hell, even throughout most of my twenties — I couldn’t imagine getting to age 33 and not having a baby, let alone not having a partner.
On some level, I’ve always been a mom at heart. I babysat since the age of 10; I half-raised my little sister. I’m drawn to the babies of friends and strangers in a manner that could only be described as “moth-like.” I’ve been taken aback by my own mama-bear tendencies when it comes to the people I manage at work (who, for the record, are all very much adults).
But what I’ve ended up with instead of the 2.5 kids I imagined is an amazing career that feels like it’s finally taking off, an apartment that’s teensy but mine in the greatest city in the world, friends I love like family and a cat I love like a piece of my soul. And I wouldn’t trade it for second.
But biology hasn’t kept pace with women’s lib. And so in February, just after my 33rd birthday, I opted to spend approximately $15,000 and two weeks of discomfort in an attempt to buy myself some time.
Not everyone realizes how fleeting female fertility is. On average, the female body releases one egg each month until menopause, around age 52, Dr. Katie Hicks, an OB/GYN in private practice in Massachusetts, tells SheKnows. But the viability of those eggs begins to decline long before, leading to increased difficulty getting and staying pregnant, as well as higher rates of (sometimes fatal) chromosomal abnormalities. The decline speeds up around age 35, and again around 40.
It can feel like men, meanwhile, have all the time in the world. Why would we expect anything different?
People who are struggling to conceive will often turn to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), in which hormone injections are administered for a week and a half, give or take, to stimulate the ovaries to release many eggs at once. Then the eggs are retrieved, which involves a low dose of general anesthesia called twilight sedation, and the whole thing — sedation, retrieval, waking up — takes about 20 minutes.
If they can’t retrieve enough eggs, it may be necessary to do another cycle. Another round of twice-daily injections. Another $15,000.
Freezing your eggs works exactly the same way. The only difference is that instead of immediately fertilizing one of the eggs in a petri dish and then re-introducing it into the uterus, all the eggs are put on ice until you’re ready to use them. They can remain that way indefinitely without risk to their viability.
Which means that, even if I don’t get around to having kids until my 40s, my eggs will be 33. And the age of the egg is what matters.
I may not need to use them. Plenty of people get pregnant the old-fashioned way, even later in life. But this way, I’ll have them. It’s essentially an insurance policy.
The hormone injections began with the start of my period. Every two days, I got up at 7:30 for bloodwork and an ultrasound. It has to be that early, so they can get the lab results back in time to tell you what dosage of hormones to inject yourself with that night. And the next morning. And the next night. Etc.
I kept showing up for appointments half expecting them to tell me, “Huh, nothing’s happening.” It didn’t feel like something I could possibly be making happen on my own, especially when the outcome rested so heavily on overcoming my needle phobia.
But in fact, the egg babies were bigger — aka more mature — each time. And after just nine days, it was time to give myself the “trigger shot” that would prepare them for retrieval.
I crossed my fingers we’d be able to freeze enough of them not to have to do it again. I knew my personal best-case outcome was around 12 eggs, which is on the lower end. But being under 35 gave me better odds of more eggs being mature enough to be frozen — and better odds that more of those frozen eggs would healthy enough to survive the eventual thaw.
The retrieval itself turned out to be the easiest part. They got me settled on the table and put in the IV, telling me, “This works very quickly.” Next thing I knew, I was feeling gloriously relaxed and sleepy and calm. It took me several minutes to realize I was waking up, not falling asleep. It was already finished.
As I regained my senses, I felt bone tired and a tiny bit crampy, but otherwise fine. They told me they had been able to extract 10 eggs — all of which, I would find out the next day, were able to be frozen.
Ten eggs gives me around a 70 percent chance of one of them successfully turning into a baby, if I end up even needing to use them. It means I can (and most likely will) opt out of doing another round, without too much fear of coming up short.
In the end, after all the fear and anticipation, I’m amazed at how easy the whole thing was.
Mind you, I’m thrilled at the prospect of never having to do it again. The cost is prohibitive, and I recognize my extreme privilege in being able to afford it even once. But even despite the expense, and with all the injections and expenses and early mornings, it never surpassed the level of “kind of a drag.” I never had any symptoms beyond a little fatigue. And the whole thing took a week and a half. I’ve had colds that were worse. Hell, I’ve had periods that were worse.
Most of all, it feels really, really empowering. When people seem unsure of the correct response, I tell them that “congratulations” is a great one. I didn’t realize how much the fear of running out of time was weighing me down until I decided to do something about it.
And now? I get to live my life, free from the biological ties that bind. Free from the garbage social norms that tell us women in their 30s had better get down to their "real" job and make some babies. Free from the never-ending debates and reductionist thinkpieces about whether we can “have it all.” Or, you know, at least as free as I’ll ever be.
Free to focus on me. Free to double down on a career trajectory that hopefully will pay me back for this procedure many times over. Free to spend my days with dear friends — or in front of the TV with my cat — and answer to no one but myself, for now.
Free to hold out for the person I want to raise one of these eggs with, rather than settling for one who will do — or going it alone.
It turns out you can freeze time.
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