Experiences are not universal, but here is mine. This is NOT medical advice.
1. Initial shock. Before my annual well-check this September, I thought I’d have a good 2-4 years before considering freezing my eggs (oocyte cryopreservation). I am 36-years-old and have yet to find myself in the right situation to start a family, but after some research, I decided to do it now. I know I’m not alone. An article in Time stated that “In 2009, just 475 women froze their eggs, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. By 2018, 13,275 women did so, an increase of 2,695%.” But even if the number of women who are doing this is increasing, that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary to go through or a decision to be made lightly. Indeed, when I asked my doctor what the hard parts are, she said loneliness and isolation can be rough. I immediately discounted that, thinking neither of those would affect me at all. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
2. First call. It was a lot to process, which I immediately manifested in a sudden burst of tears and a call to my mom, who knew very little about it, except that she thought it was no big deal, since she knew many people who did it. But that’s the thing about it, if you’re not going through it or seeing it firsthand, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. My mom had never done it. She has always told me, how “we are so fertile,” but there isn’t solid science showing a direct link to her fertility to mine. Even though she didn’t have her AML level tested or sonograms to count her eggs, she had me a few months before her 36th birthday, Emily at 39 and Taylor at 42 – all without fertility treatments.
3. Dealing with it all (and injecting hormones). I was most scared of two things: giving myself daily shots (2 or 3 per day) and going under anesthesia (I had never been). It is a lot to take in from a few different angles: (a) that I’m actually going to go through with this, (b) that I’m going to be literally injecting myself with hormones, (c) that I’m going to be going across town to the doctor’s office for blood draws and sonograms almost everyday (so they can monitor my hormone levels and determine the correct dosage to take that evening), and (d) that I might never even use these eggs, even if they get some. My mom had an estrogen-related breast cancer, which has scared me away from taking synthetic estrogen. Now, before I even started the shots, my doctor had me on an estrogen patch. I opted to stop drinking caffeine once I started the patches, so I had caffeine withdrawal the first few days. Also, because of my examination and test results, I was on the most aggressive treatment plan. All of this was a mental and physical adjustment. Amy Schumer shared this picture of what I had to look forward to, which is pretty accurate.
Fertility can be a very personal issue, and also an issue that can make people uncomfortable and judgmental. One thing that helped me through this process was figuring out a support system. Another was accepting that it was going to be time consuming and inconvenient. For example, on the first day of my shots, I had a doctor’s appointment on a Sunday at 7:30am across town. It was also important to for me to find a practice group that has a few doctors that I’d thought I’d be comfortable with since I would be at the doctor’s so often that the doctor overseeing my treatment wasn’t the only one examining me.
4. Support system. I found a therapist to talk through it with. I didn’t want to burden people in my life with all the anxieties and fears I had about the shots and the anesthesia. I wanted to acknowledge it, but not have it overtake the next few weeks of my life more than it already was with the almost-daily doctor visits (including a typical waiting around time of 30-45 minutes – IVF is a hopping business), the shots, the many calls with my insurance company, etc. That’s another thing – it is very expensive, and thus, another roadblock on this road.
5. The cost and a common myth. Alternatively, this can be called, a VERY expensive way to have the CHANCE to have a child. The costs kept piling up. My initial consultation was a few hundred dollars alone. Just an example of a laundry list of fees. Even finding ways to cut costs, the meds alone are very pricey. I say “chance” because even if I try to fertilize my eggs, it's not a sure thing. For one, eggs might not survive the thawing process. For another, the range of success greatly varies. A NY Times article gave a 30 – 60% chance for a woman who is able to freeze 10 eggs to have one live birth.
6. Time component. In addition to the obligations mentioned above, the actual mixing of the medications can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if you’re like me. Let me explain: I watched the instructional videos over and over, kept an excel of the amount of medications and daily schedule, considered hiring a nurse to come every evening (an additional expense and additional scheduling) to ease my fears, and googled stuff like “best ways to get rid of air bubbles in syringes” more than one time.
The patients at the practice I went to participate in a zoom session with a nurse prior to starting the cycle. They give the sessions on Friday mornings. The nurse explains the procedure and the shots, all in detail, and takes questions. I put an hour in my calendar for this session. It took an hour and a half. It was all overwhelming, especially with the shots and learning I wouldn’t be able to do high-impact exercise, yoga, weightlifting (no upper body either), core or skate for at least a month. My doctor signed me up the following week for the same zoom session because I wanted to be sure I understood the process (they’re live, so I could ask the nurses more questions as they went through the same tutorials). While one of the participants had her mom on it, it was mostly women who were like me, in the sense they also knew little about the process and were scared. The second zoom went for 2 ½ hours! By the way, this was all before I even opened the medicine and supplies that I had put in my fridge or were lying on the floor in a big box.
7. The evening ritual. Just figure you’re not going to be having a big nightlife for a few weeks. I tried to do the shots every night at 7pm, and would start setting up and watching the instructional videos around 6:30pm. The first two nights I had a friend on standby for moral support. I’d finish around 7:30 or 7:45 and would need to unwind from this evening ordeal.
Work From Home was extremely helpful here because I was able to do the shots during a break from work every evening and then go back. The doctor appointments were also in the morning, starting at 6:30am. I imagine the evening shots would have been more difficult if I was going into the office everyday during the cycle, but I’d say it’s doable because my doctor recommended the shots between 7-10pm every night (caveat being to keep the same time). The night of the last shot, the “trigger shot”, consisted of two different shots for me. One of the needles was 3x as long as the needle lengths I’d been using for the past 2 weeks. Up until this point, they were subcutaneous injections in belly fat. Now, one of them had to go in my upper buttocks. I had my doctor draw a circle on me that morning so I’d know where to inject. (Sidenote: I was told the cycle goes by really quickly. It doesn’t feel like that during it: I was tired, stressed, bruised in my belly and in both arms from the almost-daily blood draws, and the 2-3 daily shots became progressively more painful as the cycle progressed.) Anyway, I spent the day freaking out about the 1½ inch needle, watching videos on how to do it throughout the day. My anxiety was pretty high all day, mentally preparing and watching the videos, getting ready for my 7pm shot. When the nurse called me later in the afternoon, she told me my trigger shots would be at 2:20am (WTF?!?!?!), and then a 6:45am doctor’s appointment that morning for a pre-op (blood draw, covid test, consent forms, etc.). This meant I’d have to wake up at 2am to prepare the shots, stressing me out even more. The timing of the shots were crucial, so now, like two months after I started this and two weeks of daily shots, I needed to get this right. It went okay, except I felt so nauseous after them, I had to sit on my kitchen floor and then brought my garbage bin into my bedroom. I’d say this was the low point of it all for me.
8. Day of the retrieval. My anesthesia anxiety resulted in a nurse putting a non-medicated lavender patch on me after the first nurse lost my vein when she was putting the IV in. I thought I was doing a good job masking the stress of it all, until of course, the lavender patch was produced. My procedure was on a Sunday, so I didn’t miss any work, but if it is during a weekday (you can’t plan the day, your body determines it) you should figure to take the day off work (and delay making big decisions) since you’re put under anesthesia.
9. Well-being. Since the goal of this process is to mature as many eggs as possible (which are then retrieved by a needle puncturing each ovary and draining the fluid), I had to adjust my daily activity since I couldn’t do high-impact exercise or twist my body too much. I ended up taking long, leisurely walks during my work breaks, walking 5-7 miles a day and listening to music and podcasts. I discovered new spots in Central Park and in Riverside Park, which I continue to stroll. I made an effort to find joy in other areas as well, like getting a festive autumn wreath for my door and making sure I had Halloween candy for the trick-or-treaters.
10. Final thoughts. Even though I was scared of the shots and anesthesia, it was the right decision for me. Did I even think once about my 38-year-old brother, who has the option to pursue having a family down the road without doing any of this? Nope. Not once. :) But this is the reality of our biology. And as rough as it all was, I feel extremely fortunate to have had great care, access to a top hospital, and the resources to do it. My hope in sharing my experience is to give you more information about it, and if you are currently going through it, to feel less scared and alone.
TLDR: Time-consuming. Expensive. Not certain to result in a live birth. Now that I did it, not part of my daily life, but when I was going through, took up a lot of space in my life. Really looking forward to getting back on the ice once I get the all-clear.
November 18, 2021