Freezing your eggs isn't as easy peasy as they make it seem
Cia B. is a woman who never leaves home without a plan. The 36-year-old New Yorker is, by nature, an organized, thoughtful person who meets challenges head on, dwells on them for about a millisecond, and then puts a plan into action. As a web producer and content product manager who has worked for several big-name companies in NYC, she's used to nurturing projects from start to finish. As the mom of a Rottweiler named Atticus, who trumps her in height by about a story, she is practiced in the art of gently coaxing a force of nature to succumb to her will — and to respect, but not fear her (arguably, one of the greatest skills any parent of a toddler can master).
But Cia admits she never thought about having children — until she and a friend, simply out of curiosity, took part in a random study that provided them with data about their fertility biomarkers by pricking their fingers and testing a small blood sample.
"A few weeks later we both got our results," Cia says. "Hers showed an above-average egg count and mine was below average. I was like, 'What?! What do you mean? I didn't even think about that stuff and suddenly I was like, 'what do I do now?'"
A counselor was on hand to discuss Cia's surprising results with her and she then made a follow-up appointment with a doctor at the clinic to find out her options. After learning more about freezing her eggs, she decided that now, in her mid-thirties, was the ideal time to take advantage of the procedure so that she could at least have the option of conceiving a child in the future, if she decided it was right for her.
Cia, who is single, has been taking birth control pills since she was 17. At her initial consultation with doctors, she was told the first step in her quest to freeze her eggs would be to stop taking the pill and then return for an examination after she got her period. But at her first post-menstruation exam, an ultrasound was able to detect one fairly large, benign cyst on her ovary — which, unbeknownst to her, had lay dormant all of this time, thanks to her birth control. Her first challenge in what would prove to be a lengthy, emotionally draining and physically tiring few months, would be to somehow trick her body into shrinking the cyst long enough for doctors to retrieve her eggs.
Part of the process of cultivating healthy eggs for freezing involves taking medication designed to prepare the eggs for retrieval. Doctors, afraid that the medicine would instead go toward nourishing Cia's benign cyst, refused to move forward until the cyst was gone — an unexpected complication that turned what could be a month-long prep period for many women into one that extended Cia's pre-egg freezing waiting period by months.
"I think I went on and off the pill two times," Cia says. "After the second time, I went back and I thought, 'This is it. If it's not going to work, it's not for me.' And then the third time, the cyst was not there and the doctor told me we'll start medication tomorrow."
Cia injected herself twice daily in the abdomen with two separate medications called Menopur and Ganirelix, which she took for 11 days to boost estrogen and stimulate her eggs. As anyone who has taken extra estrogen knows well, Cia says she experienced side effects like irritability and a bloated belly. During the medicating process, she returned to the doctor three times for ultrasounds that tested the readiness of her egg follicles.
"After the 11th day, my doctor told me my eggs were ready to be harvested and that we could do it that weekend," Cia says.
The egg harvesting itself took only 30 minutes and was performed inside of a doctor's clinic after Cia was anesthetized. The doctor retrieved 16 eggs from her to harvest, which may seem like a lot, but it's crucial to remember that the big gamble with egg freezing is you won't know which eggs are healthy enough to survive until you try to fertilize them. Afterwards, a friend picked her up from the clinic and they walked around Central Park until she felt hungry enough for a late lunch, at which point, she says she felt herself returning "back to normal." Other than not being able to have sex for two weeks after the procedure, she says she didn't feel physical repercussions from it.
"I feel like I did what I can without knowing if I'll use my eggs or want them," Cia says. "I feel like this was part of my planning, even though it wasn't something that was in my agenda before I got that test result."
Even though a laboratory can keep your eggs frozen indefinitely, Cia says she realizes that age is still a factor when considering when to use your eggs because a healthy uterus and ovaries are important in sustaining a healthy pregnancy. However, the option of being able to use a surrogate if necessary provides some sense of calm.
One unexpected occurrence that is a source of stress: paying for it all.
"Of course, my main concern was financial: was my insurance company going to cover this?" Cia says. "I spoke to my insurance company and they assured me that, yes, they cover it."
But, after all was said and done and Cia was successfully able to freeze her eggs, her insurance company decided it wouldn't pay up. She may have been born with a lower egg count than many other women, but Cia is not technically "infertile", at least not in the eyes of her insurance company. And, since she wasn't actively trying to become pregnant before the procedure, she can't prove them otherwise — a reality that may put a wrench in the plans of other single women who want to plan for themselves.
The total cost for freezing her eggs: $5,000 for retrieval, $7,000 for medication, and an annual storage fee of $1,200-$1,500. Cia' insurance company covered her numerous ultrasounds and bloodwork, but all of the rest — including genetic testing — are now her financial burden to carry.
"I was prepared to pay for the medication, but not the retrieval, so I'm a little disappointed that important detail was not conveyed to me," Cia says. "I have no regrets doing it now, but it makes it difficult financially after the fact. Why aren't we single women being helped when we want to prepare for our child-rearing future so that we don't go through the more rigorous steps when we're older and actually ready to have children? Why can't we be helped while we're still young and able and less stressed?"