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I'm Not Sure I Want Kids – That's Why I Froze My Eggs

Here's exactly what the process was like.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

I have no idea whether or not I want to have kids.

That’s not the way you thought this egg freezing essay would start out, right? But it wasn't some biological pull toward motherhood that compelled me to book a fertility consultation at an egg freezing clinic, just a few months shy of my 30th birthday. If we're being honest, I was here because of a trashy women's network TV show.

I'm not going to give away spoilers for folks who haven't been sucked into this "hot new melodrama" yet. But I'll give you the gist:

A high-powered female executive in her 40s spent her peak reproductive years climbing the corporate ladder. She finally meets "the guy"—and the guy wants kids, which she can't have.
Cut to her melting down after getting fertility test results back and breaking things off with said guy because she "won't be anyone's disappointment”--which led a coworker to ask, bewildered, “You wanted kids?”

"I wanted the option," she tells her.

That's what I want, too.

Looking back at what I thought I wanted out of life at 20 (marriage, kids) and what actually brings me happiness at 30 (not being tied down by either) made me realize I couldn't predict whether my 40-year-old self would want to do the mom thing someday. 

What I did know were the facts: This next decade would start the natural decline of my reproductive potential. So if I wanted to keep my options open, I had to buy myself some time. Literally.

Getting started

I thought I had a grasp on exactly what egg freezing involved. Inject yourself with fertility meds for a few weeks, grow some eggs, get those bad boys on ice, and proceed to live life on your own timeline.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. At my first appointment I had a blood test and a vaginal ultrasound, where the follicles on my ovaries were examined.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

"When you look at an ovary by ultrasound, you see tiny follicles that could harbor an immature egg. If you do a count of the number of follicles, you have a first estimate of the fertility potential —even before a single blood test comes back," explains Dr. Avner Hershlag, chief of Northwell Health Fertility.

I had six follicles on one ovary and eight on the other, slightly lower than average for a 29-year-old woman. It had crossed my mind that my results might be less than ideal. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and fertility can sometimes be an issue when you have this condition.

I had also been on birth control for just shy of 10 years in order to manage the other unpleasant PCOS symptoms (like irregular, two-week  periods that basically put me out of commission). At a follow-up appointment a few weeks later, I learned being on birth control for this long had apparently lulled my ovaries to sleep, so to speak. In addition to having less follicles, my level of AMH (anti-mullerian hormone)—which gives a snapshot of your ovarian reserve—was low. "The AMH standard across different practices across the world is to be about 1.1," says Dr. Hershlag. Mine was around .9.

This didn't mean I wasn't a candidate for egg freezing —it just meant I'd have to pump myself up with more drugs to get these eggs to mature. The rest of the appointment taught me so much. I learned that the further a woman gets into her 30s, not only do her number of eggs decrease, but the number of "normal" eggs also start to dip. I learned that no matter what number of eggs you freeze, there's no amount that guarantees a 100 percent chance they'll become a healthy embryo—but that there are certain numbers that will put you in a more successful bracket (around 20 for my age and test results). "When I counsel a patient, I discuss the specific number of eggs that the patient should have frozen in order to have a good potential to have a baby, which is dependent on the patient's age and fertility potential," Dr. Hershlag explains. After it was over, I had an entire folder's worth of information to help prepare me for what was to come.

Next steps

My next appointment consisted of signing a lot of paperwork, forking over so much money that my bank flagged the transaction as fraud (some insurance plans will cover the procedure. Mine, of course, did not), and learning how to inject myself with fertility drugs by practicing with needles on a foam cube.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

It’s a good thing I’m not squeamish. I needed to inject myself with four medications over the course of 10 to 12 days to grow eggs to maturity. To start, I injected two vials of Menopur, a drug that I had to mix on my own with a saline solution, and Follistim, which came with a handy applicator. Toward the middle of my injections I took Ganirelix, a drug that kept me from ovulating. Finally, when my eggs were grown, I took what’s known as the "trigger shot."

I was supposed to refrain from physical activity during those 10 to 12 days to protect my enlarged ovaries. But I had planned a ski trip that coincided with my first day of injections; luckily my doctor OK’d it if I took it easy. And I had to inject the drugs between 7pm and 10pm for best results, and try to do it around the same time each night.

On the second day of my period, I went in for more blood work and another ultrasound to make sure I was ready to start injections. I got a call later that evening giving me the OK to pick up the drugs, which I had to pack in a cooler to take with me on my ski trip upstate.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

I'm not going to lie, coming home and opening packages of needles and syringes felt overwhelming. Luckily, my best friend, Tricia, was with me for my first round of injections (which we had to do at a rest stop bathroom on our way up the mountain, because we were nearing the 10pm cutoff).

“Looking back at what I thought I wanted out of life at 20 (marriage, kids) and what actually brings me happiness at 30 (not being tied down by either) made me realize I couldn't predict whether my 40-year-old self would want to do the mom thing someday. ”

Injecting and monitoring

I had a monitoring appointment just about every other morning during my injection period, which consisted of the same blood work and ultrasound that I'd done in my first appointments to check in on how my eggs were growing. Luckily the clinic was right around the corner from my office, and monitoring appointments were all done early, before work hours, so it didn't disrupt my schedule. After each monitoring appointment, I'd receive instructions that same afternoon to either continue my dosage as usual or to increase it, and when to report back for more testing.

The physical act of giving myself shots wasn't the worst part of the process. Once I mastered the art of injecting Menopur slowly enough that it didn't burn and figured out which areas of my body hurt the least to inject (basically, my stomach fat rolls), I felt like a doctor on one of those medical drama shows—flicking air bubbles out of my syringe like a pro.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

What hurt the most about the process was the feeling of isolation. I had so many supportive people in my life during this time, but none who had gone through it firsthand. Because of the hormones, I was struggling to keep it together. I cried at laundry commercials. I snapped at coworkers. I just wanted to talk to anyone who had been where I was in that moment.

Unexpected hurdles

Around day 3 or 4, it became clear that my eggs weren't responding to the medications the way the doctor had hoped. Because of this, the doctor almost doubled my dosage for both medications to get things moving. Taking more medication didn't change my injection process. But knowing I was pumping myself up with even more of what was already making me feel crazy (and that this was something I was doing voluntarily) was a special kind of mindscrew.

On day 6 or 7 during a monitoring appointment, one of the nurses asked me to explain to her how I was injecting —just to be sure that I was doing it right (I was). That's how poorly my eggs were performing. I felt gutted. Even with my low numbers, my doctor had given me an estimate of 10-15 eggs being retrieved during this cycle. But as the second week of injections was approaching, I was struggling to get just four eggs moving.

The retrieval

Typically, women are on egg freezing medication for 10-12 days before their eggs are ready. I was going on day 13, and felt like a cow that desperately needed to be milked. I could feel my ovaries inside of me. I was ready for these suckers to be out of me already. My last injection, the trigger shot, had to be administered 36 hours before my retrieval. I had never been so happy to stab myself with a needle.

"When the eggs look like they're ready, the patient is given an injection called the trigger shot," explains Dr. Hershlag. "The trigger shot leads to the final maturation of the eggs." Only mature eggs will fertilize, so it's important to freeze them when they reach this point.

I was instructed not to drink or eat before my retrieval procedure. I arrived and was fitted with a gown, cap and an IV, which was used to put me under. 

Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

"The egg retrieval is done vaginally using the same vaginal ultrasound that we use to monitor the patient—only this time we have a needle that goes through the ultrasound probe just a very short distance into the patient, through the vagina and immediately into the ovaries," Dr. Hershlag explains. "Once we retrieve all the eggs we can, the embryologist cleans out the eggs. The egg gets looked at to make sure they’re mature, and those mature eggs get placed in a solution that allows them to freeze quickly, called vitrification." After all was said and done, I had only five mature eggs that could be frozen. Despite the ups and downs, I plan on doing it again. I've stayed off birth control since the procedure, which may help my next cycle.

Freezing your eggs is an intensely personal decision. Shelling out thousands of dollars to preserve eggs that you may not use for children you might not want to have – with no guarantee of a baby out of it—feels like a risky investment.

And it is. But I have decided I'd rather take the 80 percent chance of having one baby someday (with 20 eggs) than roll the dice and wait to see if the right guy shows up before my fertility is shot. Not having to decide on motherhood right this minute made it all worth it to me.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Published May 22nd, 2018