Taking Control - A Journey in Egg Freezing
I always thought that I would have kids until it became time to think about actually having them. My social media feeds were filled with baby announcements, family photos, trips to the pumpkin patch, etc., and it just looked like the process into motherhood was so seamless for everyone, yet that wasn’t the case for me. I was engaged at 29, married at 30, and separated at 35.
My marriage ending was a choice and so was my decision to be child-free during that marriage. I have no regrets for either one of those decisions. However, as women, we are not afforded the same window as men when it comes to parenthood. I was 35 and in “geriatric” fertility waters. While I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to have children, I knew I wasn’t ready to close that window completely. The security of my relationship was gone but I was hoping I could create a new sense of security by freezing my eggs.
I want to start by saying that freezing my eggs is a privilege and one that I do not take lightly. The deciding factor for me was going to be financially based. I am a teacher. I have put money away every year into my health savings account and I needed to see if I could make the numbers work without putting myself in any sort of strained financial position.
As I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the process, I took to Google and started reading. So many stories left me feeling like I was either brave for taking control of my fertility or I might as well throw my money into Lake Michigan. I read article after article and while they were helpful, I needed to start actually making calls to get my specific questions answered. I started by calling a private facility but ultimately the numbers weren’t lining up and I had to keep looking.
During this time, I learned of a newer friend who had frozen her eggs a few years back. She is a teacher and told me to not count out insurance just yet. She also spoke to me better than any article I had read. She froze her eggs for different reasons but she put so much into terms that I connected with and ultimately, was the push I needed to keep looking into this.
The Initial Visit
I decided to make an appointment at Northwestern - Center for Fertility & Reproductive Medicine. At Northwestern your introductory appointment consists of meeting with a financial advisor, a nurse, a doctor, and a psychologist, all in the same day. Additionally, this first appointment is timed with your cycle to test your hormonal health. I had my physical exam and then started my meetings. Everything was exactly as you would expect, both the doctor and nurse told me about the process from start to finish and answered every single question that I had.
The psychologist talked about what to expect but focused on the emotional side. This was the visit that caught me the most off guard, in a good way. We talked about expectations and what would happen if things didn’t go as planned. She asked me if I had thought about what it would be like to be going through this alone and to not have a partner by my side. She said as confident as people are in the beginning, the day of retrieval can be an emotional experience. I had researched so much but she got me with this one. It was something I never even thought about and let me tell you, I had thought about a lot. She was right. Some would be there as a family and some would be there, like me, resorting to science, to keep the option of parenthood alive. She was good and I’ll be honest, I felt good and I really enjoyed my conversation with her.
Lastly, I met with the financial advisor. I walked in knowing it wasn’t going to work and was prepped for the negative news. So when I say no one was more shocked than me that it would work out, I promise you no one was more shocked than me. I would be covered up to 4 rounds a year and honestly, I still didn’t believe her. I actually called my insurance afterwards on my walk home to confirm it because I needed to hear it from them directly. It would cost me just under $5,000, all in, for one round, and ultimately, my only round.
Something else that I will not take lightly either is that my labs came back looking good. I was in a normal range for my age group and my doctor was hopeful that I would have 12-14 viable eggs after one round. I believe typically they say 10 eggs gives you your best shot for one child.
Once again, everything is timed with your cycle and you will have your medicine ready to go in advance. I upped my fridge game and moved over some condiments so I could create a nice space for my injectables. Yes, I would be giving myself shots morning and night for up to two weeks. I would go in for labs about every other day before work where I would get an ultrasound, blood drawn, and race back to my car so I could make it to work before 8am. Oddly, it was kind of a nice little club in the morning. There was a consistent crew of about 5 us that would be waiting for doors to open right at 6:30am. On the days I went in for my labs, I would find out around 3pm if I needed to make any adjustments to my medicine. This was all based on my hormone levels and size of my follicles.
On day 11, I went in for my labs and was told I would be taking my trigger shot that night. This is the shot that would tell my body to ovulate in exactly 36 hours which would be the time of my retrieval. This was also the day I had my only real major emotional breakdown. My numbers were good but weren’t they supposed to be slightly better? I panicked. It was as if everything finally hit me. Wasn’t this too soon? Are they sure I was ready? Maybe I should wait one more day to be safe? What if I don’t get any eggs? What if I did this for nothing? Any irrational thought that was possible to think of, I did. I thought of it and then some.
The day of
My retrieval was at 2pm and I was unable to eat or drink anything beforehand. I took off work. I went for a walk. I ran errands. I even baked cookies. Anything to keep me busy and not focus on the most intense case of cotton mouth I was experiencing. At about 1:15pm, I popped in my headphones, headed out the door, and walked over to the hospital. I thought about my conversation with the psychologist as I looked around at the couples and families, and honestly, I felt good. It was almost like I felt a bond with them. My heart immediately hoped they were successful in whatever they were trying to achieve. My friends and family offered to be there for me beforehand but I really didn’t see a need and so my mom would be meeting me afterwards.
The procedure was fast. I was taken back, received my IV, and was brought into the operating room. There is a small metal window that you walk up to in order to confirm your identity and there's a huge lab behind it. It felt almost futuristic. The next thing I knew, it was over and they were bringing my mom in from the waiting room. They had retrieved 19 eggs which triggered another moment of shock and confusion. You have to remember, anxiety had done her job real well and so I was having another moment of disbelief. After testing the eggs, 17 were deemed viable and would be frozen and sent away to a storage facility in Minnesota.
Freezing my eggs has provided me with a sense of security. I still don’t know what my future will bring. As I have gotten older, my views of motherhood have stayed about the same. I have found happiness and fulfillment in so many ways and whether or not a child joins the mix, I know it will all work out for the best. I have been told I am brave for doing this and I don’t necessarily believe that to be the case. I think this simply joins the list of things that we don’t talk about as much.
Was giving yourself shots hard?
No. The anticipation was 1,000 times worse than the shot themselves. I was prepared for the worst. I bought an ice roller to prep and numb the area (never used), watched medical videos, watched YouTube videos (that scared the sh*t out of me), and pretty much stressed myself out. When it came down to it, giving myself the shot was so easy and painless that I was convinced I did it wrong. I genuinely thought I somehow messed it up which is virtually impossible to do.
Did you experience mood swings or bloating?
I imagine this is different for everyone but my only big emotional break was when they told me I was ready for the trigger shot. Otherwise, I felt pretty good. As my follicles grew, I did feel bloated but it wasn’t anything that anyone else would have noticed. Did I unbutton my pants on the way home from work? Absolutely. It does take a couple of weeks post-procedure before you start to feel back to normal again.
Were you able to work out during the procedure?
You are told to keep exercise very low impact, think walking, and avoid anything that has you working your core like pilates and yoga. Things down below are enlarged and you run the risk of your ovaries twisting which can only be fixed via surgery. I was a fitness instructor and worked out 5-6 days a week. Honestly, it was nice to take a break and no amount of vanity was worth the risk in my opinion. I took walks, walked on a treadmill, and eventually got slower as my follicles grew. It wasn’t painful but I was definitely aware that something was going on down there and walking fast just didn’t feel right.
What was the recovery like?
Like the emotions and bloating, I imagine this is different for everyone as well. I experienced mild discomfort post procedure but honestly, I have had period cramps that have taken me out of the game more than this. This is more of a dull discomfort and feeling of soreness. I took Advil on and off over the next couple of days but that was it. The next day I went to work and was just a bit slow on my feet. I couldn’t walk as fast and the movement from standing to sitting was slightly uncomfortable. Just like before, you aren’t allowed to work out until you finish your next period which is typically about 1-2 weeks out. Things are still enlarged and you need to give everything time to reset.