The thought of freezing my eggs never really crossed my mind. Until it did.
I turned 35 earlier this year and I’d be lying if I said that those two simple digits didn’t force me to question if I was where I “should” be in my life. Should I be married? Should I have had my own family? Should I have had a child by now, maybe two? What does “should” even mean, and who gets to define what that looks like?
While my 30-something-year-old, single, female friends ruminated over the fear of their ticking biological clocks, I often felt guilty about or wondered why I never had those feelings.
“Why would I freeze my eggs if having children to me means finding a partner first?” I would ask myself. “I can’t afford to dish out $15,000 right now!” Or the classic excuse: “I just don’t have the time.” These were all lies. I was a freelancer, I had savings, and I was single.
“You’re freezing your eggs so that you don’t have to decide about having children now,” said my best friend, who had completed the process eight months earlier. That was all I needed to hear for the switch to go off in my brain. I wasn’t deciding whether I wanted children now. I was preserving my fertility so that when I met “the one” later in life, I would have taken all the necessary steps to increase the chances of having a child if we decided to have children together.
So in April of this year, I began doing what most people do when they try to educate themselves: I went down the black rabbit hole known as Google. What does egg freezing cost? Does insurance cover egg freezing? What is the process like?
I was disappointed to find out my insurance didn’t cover the egg retrieval procedure, but how could that be? Wasn’t this an insurance policy, the same way you buy car insurance in case of an accident, or home insurance in case of a fire? I was insuring my eggs in case my future partner and I couldn’t conceive.
After talking with my girlfriends, I was disheartened to learn that most gynecologists, including my own, don’t usually bring up fertility until we hit our 30s. Now I tell women, regardless of their age, to consider the preliminary tests that tell you how many eggs you produce each month. Luckily, there are companies that offer at-home kits so you can take the test in the comfort of your own home.
I finally decided the benefits outweighed the costs, and I was ready to freeze my eggs. In my mind, this was a good enough reason to tap into my savings ― it was an investment in my future. In the grand scheme of things, it would be one month of my life, a short span of time I would later forget. I constantly reminded myself how lucky I am to live in a time and a place where this technology is available to women and couples who want a family, that I could financially afford it and that I had the flexibility in my freelancer work life to do it. I felt incredibly empowered to take control of my future.
My journey began when my gynecologist recommended a fertility doctor at a nearby clinic. While I did my preliminary research on the clinic (i.e., read Yelp and Google reviews, and looked up the fertility success rates of the clinic based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data), I decided to just move forward with her recommendation so I wouldn’t waste any more time.
On April 8, I went in for my consultation. By the end of the appointment, I told my fertility doctor I was ready to move forward with the process. I was overwhelmed with papers that contained instructions and medical jargon on which medicines required refrigeration, when to take the seven different pills, how to prepare each injection, what time to inject each medicine, and a chart listing the staggering financial costs. I felt like a guinea pig aimlessly going from one lab room to another, getting my blood drawn, having an ultrasound, and eventually ending my visit with a financial counselor who presented a bill for nearly $9,000 upfront. My doctor’s office didn’t offer payment plans (I found out later that some offices do). It was a lot to wrap my head around for Day 1.
On average it can cost anywhere from $9,000 to $15,000 to freeze your eggs, but I didn’t want the cost to prohibit me from moving forward with the procedure. I knew I would make it work somehow, even if it meant cutting back on other guilty pleasures for a while. I learned that there are many ways to save money on egg freezing including Compassionate Care, an income-based discount program (not a loan!) where you can save up to 75% on medication.
On my next visit, when my doctor created my treatment plan, she gave me a full-page prescription of medications I would need for the next few weeks. After speaking to others who had completed the process, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t need all the medication prescribed. Since I didn’t want to pay for medication I didn’t need, I only picked up what was prescribed for the next two to three days in my plan and I revisited the pharmacy every few days to stock up, as needed, until my egg retrieval date. I ended up saving myself hundreds of dollars this way.
My doctor provided a tentative calendar for the next month, outlining the different phases and setting a placeholder for the egg retrieval date but gave me fair warning it would likely shift around, depending on how I reacted to the medications.
For the first few weeks, I was taking pills, until my doctor deemed I was ready for the injection phase. I don’t like needles (who does?), but I got over it. I learned the body and mind are capable of more than you think. For me, the challenge was not the injection itself, but mixing the medication and preparing the syringe each night, for fear of human error. I didn’t expect to be playing the role of a mad scientist and reliving my days in chemistry class. My stomach was bruised and bloated and occasionally I would see a drop of blood. But in all honesty, I’ve had period cramps more painful than the injections.
Between the injections, which are self-administered, and blood tests in the doctor’s office every other day, I was poked about 40 times in one month. But who was counting? (Apparently, me.) My home looked like a scene out of ”Breaking Bad,” white powder-like medication, bags of syringes, red biohazard containers and all. For some people, freezing your eggs can feel isolating if you don’t explicitly ask your closest family and friends for support in the way you need it. I have two sisters and some pretty amazing women in my life who would set their alarms for 7 p.m., when it was time for my injection, to check in with me and listen to my rants. The power of female friendship has never been more apparent to me than it was during this period in my life.
Working out, drinking and physical activity are all the things I was advised to avoid throughout the month. I was also single at the time I froze my eggs, which was good because I didn’t have the energy to socialize. I don’t know if it would have been easier to have a partner by my side, but I do know that I wasn’t at my best, so I appreciated not having to explain my emotions to anyone.
I used the month to practice self-care and focus on my mind and body. I replaced working out with meditation and acupuncture (which can supposedly help boost your egg count), ate clean, cut out sugar and chugged nearly a gallon of water a day. I also journaled extensively, read a few good books and started binge-watching ”The Handmaid’s Tale” ― the irony in my show selection didn’t escape me. The entire month felt like winter, when all I like to do is hibernate (which probably would have been a more ideal season to do it).
As my doctor continued to monitor how my body was reacting to the injections through ultrasounds and blood tests, I grew more impatient about not knowing an exact date when I could put this all behind me. I was ready to get my social life back in order. After 13 days of injections, my doctor said I was finally ready to schedule my egg retrieval procedure for May 12 ― Mother’s Day. I don’t think it was a coincidence and I took it as a sign from the universe that I was doing the right thing.
The egg retrieval procedure took 30 minutes and was easier than I imagined, but I remember feeling a mix of emotions afterward. It is plausible the ephemeral feelings were caused by the medications and anesthesia, but I experienced a sense of loss the moment I woke up ― a loss of these precious eggs that I nurtured for weeks. I couldn’t help but wonder if they would ever be inside me again.
The recovery took only about one to two days and there wasn’t much pain except for what felt like heavy period cramps. I was fortunate to retrieve higher than the number of eggs needed for one healthy child, which my doctor informed me was at least 15 eggs.
The entire process took 35 days for me ― from consultation to egg retrieval. Looking back, I realize that actually making the decision to move forward with the egg freezing process was the hardest part for me. I was uncomfortable with staring my fertility in the face and trying to avoid the lurking feeling of shame that haunts women who freeze their eggs. Our society puts an unjust pressure on women: Unsolicited judgment is passed and an expiration date is invisibly stamped on our foreheads, purely based on a number.
It was only after I completed the process that I learned this misconception about egg freezing could not be more flawed. Freezing your eggs is not reserved for single women approaching their late 30s who haven’t found their partner. It could be for that reason, but it could also be for couples with one child who want to take longer before having their next child, or women who are unsure whether they want children at all and want to reserve that option for later in life.
Freezing your eggs is an insurance policy and like any other insurance policy, you secure coverage before anything happens. The longer you wait to freeze your eggs, the less desirable the results. So why not get the best possible results? As the sweet-tempered acupuncturist would tell me on Day 4, “It’s only a matter of time until college women everywhere will be freezing their eggs.”
I want to help break the stigma surrounding egg freezing. I want women to know they’re not alone, and I hope this inspires more women to talk about their fertility openly and unapologetically. I hope employers will consider giving women the time off they need (and deserve) during their egg freezing, or better yet, consider it a health benefit for their employees. The entire process cost me $12,674, and I feel lucky I was able to afford it. I hope health care will soon make it more accessible to everyone.
Freezing my eggs was one of the best decisions I made for myself in 2019. It taught me that I don’t have to let society or biology define my future. I get to define my future.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.