Ever seen the pop art Roy Lichtenstein image of a woman declaring, head in hands “I can’t believe I forgot to have children?”
Yeah, that was me.
I thought the whole biological clock thing was a joke. As was baby fever. I’d hear about friends catching baby fever and I couldn’t understand it. Then I got infected.
Nowadays, seeing a cute baby (or even a picture of a cute baby) means my ovaries try to make a break for the nearest fertile man.
I spent most of my 20s (and 30s) running around various towns (DC, NY, Toronto) acting, writing, bartending and generally having a great time. I went to grad school. I had several long-term boyfriends who were terrific fellows. My friends were all getting married and having babies, becoming doctors and nurses and teachers and stay-at-home moms and successful working actors. But I was happy being unmarried and childless.
Then I turned 35 and I met someone. We were instantly in love, talking weddings and babies right away. I had never done that with anyone, but with him, it felt right.
Eighteen months later, a few weeks after I moved in with him, he told me he didn’t ever see himself marrying me, so we should go ahead and break up now. Two months later he was dating a good friend of mine, and they were married within a year. They had a baby not long after.
So now 37-year-old me was left with a broken heart and an awakened urge to spawn. Those two things together make dating difficult.
I did give serious thought to fostering or adopting. I have friends who have done both. But as a single woman who doesn’t make very much money and who works a lot, well, that’s not going to happen.
Adoption is very expensive. Fostering means being able to be there and to provide a stable home environment. There are also things I want to do before I devote myself to a child. I want to move back to New York for a few years. I want to get out of debt as much as possible. When I have a kid, I want to be able to devote myself to the wee babe. I also would like the experience of being pregnant and having a baby.
I ultimately froze my eggs to buy myself a little time.
So, when and if I do meet someone and we want to procreate, my chances of being able to have a baby the old fashioned way (with a little modern medicine thrown in for good measure) are increased. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, EGGS GET OLD YO! They just do.
Wanna terrify yourself? Go look at some charts of fertility after say, 35. The fiscal cliff has nothing on the fertility cliff.
And while everyone has a miracle story of a friend or cousin or co-worker getting pregnant at 40-something and meeting Mr. Right in the nick of time, I don’t want to leave that to fate and chance. I’ve been on the wrong side of them way too many times to trust those fickle bitches.
Freezing your eggs is horrifically expensive. It runs around $10-12,000 a pop. But when I found myself sobbing in my new gynecologist’s office, clutching my paper gown around me, all because she was a) pregnant and b) asked how I was, I realized I had to try and do something.
I decided, after much waffling, that if it bought me five years, that was $2,000 a year, and I probably spend that much on eating out. The lovely people at the fertility clinic gave me a poor person’s discount. I financed the rest with a company that just does financing for infertility treatments.
Telling people my decision was difficult. It was like admitting I had failed at love. I had failed at the happily ever after and I had failed at even, as my sister had suggested “just having lots of unprotected sex.” (Don’t do this last one by the way. Trust me.)
Most people don’t understand or haven’t even heard of egg-freezing. When I told my dad, he said, “Your mom was 39 when she had you!” I pointed out that I was her fourth, not her first child. He then tearfully hugged me and said, “Just meet some decent guy.”
My first visit to the fertility clinic was with a warm reproductive endocrinologist who showed me some brochures and charts and was very reassuring yet matter-of-fact as she talked me through the whole process. She didn’t treat me like I was crazy or selfish for wanting to do this.
At the end of my first visit, she sent me for preliminary blood work, but not before saying, “We’ll do this and then in few years, after you’ve met Mr. Right, you can bring him back here and have a baby.” I loved her for being so sure I would meet Mr. Right someday.
The preliminary blood work showed that I had a non-functioning thyroid. Cue two months of visits to an endocrinologist, who told me I was fat and put me on thyroid medication. We got my thyroid stabilized and the freezing process started right after Christmas.
First, I had a transvaginal ultrasound (a.k.a., the “Virginia Special”) to see if my ovaries looked good. Then I was put on a cycle of birth control pills to “calm my system.” After that, I embarked on 10 days of 2 shots, 2 times a day. I went into the office for blood work and a transvaginal ultrasound every other day. The injections stimulated my ovaries to develop more than the one usual egg.
I went to an injection class to learn how to give myself the shots. I was the only person there solo, sans a 50ish rocker dude who had been through a few cycles before with his wife, and needed a refresher.
I was surprised to see the variety of people there. An older couple from Africa. A woman with Cerebral Palsy. Rocker dude. We practiced drawing water up in the tiny needles and injecting it into these little rubbery touch pads thoughtfully provided by the fertility drug companies.
We discussed which pharmacy was the cheapest to order meds from. We watched a video about IVF. When you freeze your eggs, you go through the first half of an IVF cycle. After they harvest the eggs, they freeze them; in IVF the eggs would be fertilized, left to grow in a lab for a bit, and then implanted back in the woman.
The small shots weren’t really painful or difficult to do. I may also have used the shots as an excuse to indulge, figuring that the more belly fat I had, the less painful the injections. After about 10 days of the smaller shots, your follicles reach an optimal size.
You then administer what’s called a trigger shot, made of HGH, which tells your body to RELEASE THE EGGS! The trigger shot has to be exactly 36 hours before the harvesting.
After the small shots, I had 11 potential eggs ready to harvest. I got an ultrasound printout of the follicles, which I gave to my parents. My dad, on board at this point, went around proclaiming, “I have 11 more potential grandchildren!” My mother put the image on the fridge.
Just my luck, my trigger shot was scheduled for 11:30 Saturday night. I bartend Saturday nights. This left me in the position of having to tell my bar manager, “Hey, at some point during the peak time of our busiest night I have to take a break to go stab myself in the thigh so I can have a baby someday.”
The trigger shot is done with an enormous needle. It also costs about $1,500, and if you screw it up, all of the other shots are moot and you have to start over. The time came; I slipped upstairs to the rooftop bathroom. In January. It was a little chilly.
I sat on the cold floor, pants down around my knees, and numbed my thigh with a piece of ice from the service area. I stared at the big needle, thought about how much it had cost, and took the plunge. I felt like Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction." I mean, if she had administered the shot herself into her thigh.
Two days later, my mom drove me to the surgical center where they had me change into gown and talk to the anesthesiologist.
After looking through a few of the old Vogue’s on hand, I was escorted into the operating room, where I got up on the familiar stirrup table. The nurse asked me some questions like my name and birthday and then I started feeling woozy. I turned to the anesthesiologist and said accusingly, “You started the medicine didn’t you?” That’s the last thing I remember.
While I was out, the doctor stuck a needle in my vagina, extracted the eggs, and sent them to be examined and then frozen. In the end, 9 of the eggs were viable. Woke up, felt fine, had some crackers. I went home and then went to see a friend’s band that night. I felt almost high, like I had beaten the system somehow.
It is uncomfortable to have the eggs growing. My ovaries felt heavy toward the end. (How do you pregnant women do it? Mad respect for you guys.) I couldn’t really date nor have sex for about 3 months. It was too hard to explain at first, and then for about a month after, the idea of having someone mess around down there was a turn-off.
Would I do it again? In a second. I would just do it sooner.
It took me a long time to reconcile myself to the fact that Prince Charming wasn’t coming, so if I wanted to have kids, it was on me. It’s tough to grow old and not have anyone to share your life with. Part of me thought that I would freeze the eggs and then bump into Mr. Right on my way out of the clinic and live happily ever after. Not quite.
The next man I got involved with was a not-quite-divorced single dad who'd had a vasectomy. If in 2-3 years, I haven’t met anyone, I will go ahead and unfreeze the eggs and try to have a baby. If it doesn’t work out, well, that will be an enormous disappointment. But at least I'll know I tried.