What I Wish I’d Known Before I Froze My Eggs

This story originally appeared on Refinery 29.

The moment I decided to freeze my eggs is probably not unique. I bolted out of bed — one I hadn’t shared with anyone in over a year — and had a realization: I’m 38! One’s age probably shouldn’t come as a surprise (if there’s anything you can depend on, it’s that birthdays come once a year), but there it was.
Suddenly, this thing that has always been at best a shruggy question — maybe I’ll have kids someday? — was an anxiety-churning alarm bell: Why had I waited so long? Maybe it was too late! What had I done?!? I wasn’t sure that I wanted to have a baby, but I definitely wasn’t sure that I didn’t, and now, here I was, 38.
With the requisite beating-up-of-myself out of the way (note to self and women everywhere: Let’s do less of this), I decided to call a fertility clinic the next day. Unlike most items on my to-do list, I crossed this one off fast because I had the luxury of means — and what a luxury it was: Freezing your eggs generally costs upward of $10,000, plus $500 to $,1000 a year for storage. Even if you can swing that, the variables to consider before taking the plunge can be overwhelming.
So, in the interest of helping others make a more informed decision, here’s what my experience taught me about the physical, financial, and emotional aspects of egg-freezing. I’m not a doctor or “expert,” so I can only speak from my experience, but hopefully these tips can help you ask your doctor or therapist (or whoever) the questions you didn’t know you’d have.

You will — and should — feel empowered.

The process of oocyte cryopreservation (aka egg-freezing) is a quick but tedious one that involves visiting the clinic for a blood test and vaginal ultrasound approximately every other day for two weeks. You will do this without the aid of coffee (caffeine is permitted only in small amounts) and alcohol (permitted not at all). This sounded unequivocally horrible — those who choose to interact with an uncaffeinated me do so at their own peril — but it actually felt fantastic.

As a single, relatively successful almost-40-something with an active social life and packed social calendar, my entire life was built around me doing me. And me suddenly doing someone else — a maybe baby — and sacrificing for that someone felt fantastic. I’m not an animal person, but I think it’s the same sort of impulse that makes friends with pets not hate those pets when they have to take them out for a walk at 11 p.m. in the rain. It can feel good to take care of other beings, no matter the cost.

Every morning that I woke up tired and dragged myself down the street, every party that I went to and sipped seltzer instead of sauv, every time I laid out my kit — alcohol pads, gauze, vials and prefilled syringes of drugs with names like Gonal-F, Menopur, and Repronex — and plunged a needle into my belly, I felt powerful. I had made a decision, and a monumental one. I made a point to acknowledge (to myself if no one else) that I was a badass B for doing something so remarkable, and I believed it.

But you will probably also feel lonely.

The first order of business after signing up to freeze your eggs is attending a session where you learn information that’s both practical (how to inject yourself) and informative (no sex for two weeks after retrieval, which was much less traumatizing to me than finding out I couldn’t drink coffee or wine). In a room filled with other women who were also alone — minus one who‘d brought her mom (I was immediately sorry I hadn’t brought mine) — I felt the cam­araderie of a group taking control of their respective lives. Of course, that’s the only time we gathered as a group.

Starting the process together was a red herring: We were singular by definition, off on our own divergent paths with different daily drug intakes and wildly varying chances of conception. I felt like a number, because I was one (85,446 if we’re being specific). And, as inspiring as every walk to the doctor’s office was, I couldn’t help but feel the void of a shadow person I had always imagined would be by my side if I ever endeavored to do something like this. People who decide to be single parents and want to are amazingly strong; I never imagined myself as one of them. And yet, there I was, having invasive ultrasounds by myself, in my apartment shooting myself full of hormones, alone.

As a longtime viewer of the docu-series Intervention, I’d long heard addicts wax poetic about the draw of the needle, not just the drugs; now I understand it: There really is something magnetic about that sort of ritual. Of course, there’s something intrinsically solitary about it, too (and it’s worth mentioning here that unless it’s insulin, hormones, or anything else your doctor prescribes, it’s probably a bad idea). And let’s not forget that what you’re shooting into yourself are loads and loads of hormones, so you’ll be moody and emotional to boot. Lean into it. Let yourself be sad and emo and overwhelmed.

You are your own best advocate. 

The fact that you’re endeavoring to do something so momentous, and the fact that you’re spending an inordinate amount of money to do it, should mean that the doctor you’ve chosen is monitoring your progress, eagle-eyed, and communicating with you constantly. Ideally, they will answer questions you don’t even realize you have. In reality, though, your doctor will likely also have other patients — gobs of them — and what they should do may not be what they do do.

The fertility doctor I chose came highly recommended from my gynecologist, who I trust implicitly. And yet, here’s something that happened to me: After my first intake appointment, but before I started treatments, a nurse called to tell me exactly which drugs and how many of them to order. This was all guesswork. There is no way to know whether you will need more of less of a particular drug over the course of treatment until you start. That’s what all the constant monitoring is for.

During a routine visit, I told a nurse that I thought I was running short on meds. “The doctor will flag it if there’s a problem,” she told me. Only, he didn’t. When I got my usual call that afternoon telling me which drugs to inject over the next couple of days, I realized I didn’t have enough. A combination of rage and anxiety overtook me — missing an injection could set the whole process off course — and I called the office screaming about responsibility and liability and recklessness, and how unkind (I think I used the word “criminal”) it was to be so careless. I spent the entire next day in a manic swirl, calling pharmacies across the country to secure the drugs that I needed. You can’t just walk into Rite Aid for this sort of thing, and you need the cash up front. (Out of pocket, the drugs I needed that day cost more than $1,000.)

So, here is my advice: Be a pest. Do not apologize for it. Do not worry about bugging the doctors and nurses. This is major, and you deserve major attention. Get comfortable with that, and take advantage of it. If you can’t advocate for yourself, bring someone along who will. Sometimes, we lose our ability to really hear things in a doctor’s office, so if you need to, designate someone to play the heavy.

In my day-to-day life, I’m not shy about standing up for myself — block the subway doors or lean on the pole, and watch out — but in a medical office, I was overwhelmed and confused, and when the nurse (sort of) assured me I’d be fine, I took her at her word. If only I’d had a friend with me to say, “Maybe you should ask the doctor right now whether she’s got enough drugs instead of waiting for him to call her, how about that?” Whatever it is you need to do, do it. This is your body, your money, your future. So take agency — and take care of yourself.

After all the hard work and financial burden, you may still be disappointed. 

Knowing this wouldn’t have stopped me from freezing my eggs — and if it’s something you’re committed to doing, it shouldn’t stop you, either — but I do wish someone had told me: Freezing your eggs does not mean you get a kid. Before I went through fertility treatments, I assumed that the exorbitant price tag and toll on my body were price enough to pay, and that a baby was the rightful reward that I may or may not want to someday claim.

But the thing nobody — possibly not even your doctor — tells you is that everybody’s chances are different. The more eggs a doctor can retrieve, the greater the chance of conception (and the older you get, the fewer eggs you have). I ended up with five viable eggs. When I asked the doctor at our follow-up visit (only the second time I’d ever seen him; he wasn’t even there for my retrieval) what that meant for my chances, he was hesitant to quantify it, but I pressed: I had about a 30% chance of conceiving with these eggs, he said. Then, he advocated for a second round of fertility treatments. I declined. (He morphed into a used-car salesman for me in that moment, and I told him so. It was pointless, but it made me feel better.)

If you’re committed to having a child and need fertility treatments to do it, you should be prepared to go through the process more than once. And make sure to ask questions — tons of them — as you go. Ask your doctor questions you think are silly. Ask questions you think you know the answer to. Ask the questions you’re not asking that you should be. And if you go through the process once and don’t get the result that you want, ask yourself what you want to do — what you’re prepared to do — and go for it.