I come home to my apartment after work to an unlikely scene: boxes of fertility drugs strewn everywhere and a biohazard sharps container on my desk. Every morning, I go to a clinic where my blood is drawn and my estrogen rates calculated. When I wake up, I give myself an injection in the stomach. In the evening, I get two more—wherever I can find a spot that isn’t tender. Blood goes to the lab, hormones go in my body.
In the past five days, my estrogen levels have gone up almost 700%. The doctors are all very happy that I am responding so well. Each day for the past six days, I undergo an ultrasound where they track the daily growth of the follicles in my uterus, each one containing a single cell known as an egg. Currently, I have 14. I feel oddly proud of my fertility.
About 15 days ago, I was not the subject of this self-inflicted science experiment, but just another single girl observing life and its events. The thing that snapped me into action wasn’t quite a snap so much as it was a scheduling realization. For the first time in months, I wouldn’t be off at some wedding or on a work trip—I finally could freeze my eggs because I was going to be in one place for a full menstrual cycle!
I had begun casual research on the process months ago, but wasn’t serious about pursuing it until I started doing the math, running the numbers, and facing the facts.
Here are those facts:
I’m 34 now and I’ve been on 12 dates since my last relationship fell apart over a year and a half ago. I haven’t found anyone that I really want to spend that much time with, let alone be impregnated by.
I also started a demanding new job, one that allows me to pursue my mission of improving the world, but also one that doesn’t leave a lot of time for a personal life. I often work 12-14 hour days. And I live in Washington, D.C., a town replete with the types of men I’ve self-selected away from. These are the sacrifices we make to pursue the things we believe in. But even if I did have a partner, this isn’t the year I would want to begin a family.
And I’m not even sure I want kids, but I’m damn sure I want the option. The jobs can have my time, but they can’t have my fertility.
Yes, it’s expensive—rounding about $10,000 for a cycle of treatment. Not everyone can afford that, but I’ve been saving for a house for years, and I decided, in this market, I’d be better off making a bet on myself than on real estate. Why have a house if you have no one to fill it with, anyway?
At 35, women enter “advanced maternal age.” Really. That’s how they talk about us. The miscarriage rate jumps to 25% and continues to get higher after 36. The risk of having a child with Down syndrome becomes 1 in 350, as compared to 1 in 1,250 at age 30. But with all these issues, it’s the age of the egg, not the age of the woman, that’s in play here. So by freezing my eggs, I’m in essence freezing time—at least on that vector.
Egg freezing has only resulted in about 2,000 live births, and it’s still considered an experimental process (which is why insurance doesn’t cover it). My hope is that more women will do it—and with 30 million women in the United States between 20 and 34, it should be possible to bring the costs down.
I also hope that more women will talk about it. As I started the process, I wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier, and why more women aren’t considering egg freezing as an option. I know if I had heard of even one person who had been through it, I would have done it sooner. If we’re given the option to take renter’s insurance, why shouldn’t we take out insurance on our ovaries? It’s not a 100% guarantee, as only half of all frozen eggs are viable after fertilization, but that’s better than having no buffer on the odds.
So, between the injections I’ve been giving myself for the past five days—the one to stimulate egg production, the one to stimulate egg growth, and the one to stop me from ovulating—I’ve had a bit of time to reflect. I realize that going through this process has given me a sense of relief. Or perhaps its the soaring levels of estrogen I’m experiencing. But in either case, I’m getting asked out more and feeling extra-creative these days. I’m also not waiting. For anything.
I’ve enjoyed the reactions I get from telling friends, especially exes. They all think it’s a great idea. (Somehow, I get the feeling it takes some pressure off of them.) While my last ex strained to tell me how awesome he thought it was, I was yelling in my head, “I did this because of you! Because you didn’t want to get married and have kids! Because you wanted to have a long-term, go-nowhere relationship with me! You bastard!” But, of course, I didn’t say any of this, and instead squeaked out a “thanks for being supportive.”
I thought of this as I drove to get my final injection, where I will meet a doctor friend of mine in the bathroom of the Hilton. She will jump out of her dinner to give me the injection that will trigger my ovulation. I really couldn’t contend with the 2.5-inch needle that needs to go into my thigh muscle. Perhaps it’s all the estrogen that’s making me a wuss.
At 5 AM on a cold October morning, exactly 48 hours after the injection, my cousin drove me out to Maryland for the 30-minute procedure. It was the day before Halloween, a perfect moment for a harvest. I was lightly anesthetized and when I woke up from one of the sweetest sleeps I’ve had in a long time, the doctor told me they had retrieved 15 eggs. The average is between 8-12 collected per cycle. I smiled, knowing that even my ovaries were over-achievers.
I felt an incredible weight lift off of me in that moment. That night, and for several more, I slept like a baby. In the next two days after my procedure, a childhood friend and a good friend from college informed me they were pregnant and getting hitched. I was happy for them, and smiled. Right then and there, I knew that I made the right decision for me.