I never had “baby fever” but in my late 30’s I knew with certainty that I wanted to be a mom. (Fyi, I'm 41 now.) For me, that was all I needed to know to make it a reality but there were some issues I still had to work through, and I was far from ready to plunge into baby making.
Issue #1: Let’s start with the fact that I was essentially single, and had not yet found a strong committed relationship that would support my idea of being ready to bring life into the world. I grew up in a conservative family in St. Louis, Missouri. Even though my family is both culturally and racially mixed, I was conditioned to believe that a traditional family dynamic is best…meaning, NO BABY WITHOUT A MAN!
Issue #2: I love my career. It’s not something I’m currently willing to give up or change. I work late hours, travel a lot and being single and childless has facilitated a lot of my success and availability for opportunities.
Issue #3: I wasn’t conscientious of my fertility or actively thinking about a mom-focused future throughout my early to mid-thirties. I had pushed it to the outermost part of my brain for years figuring it would just work itself out. Getting married and having babies happens to everyone I stupidly assumed. It will surely happen to me, too. I mean...it has to at some point!
Issue #4: A common problem for anyone looking to conceive: MONEY. If I did break the cycle and have a baby on my own, could I afford to do so on just my salary? Or what if I froze my eggs to use one day in the future when I’m 500% ready? Wait…do I have the money for that? How much does it even cost?
And then there’s Issue #5: My own insecurity about everything I’d have to do. When did having a baby become so complicated? Does the fact that I face so many obstacles mean that the odds are stacked against me and maybe I’m not supposed to be a mom?
The stress from these issues led to a lot of frustration, and I knew the answer for me at that time was prioritizing therapy. I was 37 and had so many doubts about the course to motherhood that I began to doubt whether I really could be a mom. Was motherhood really in my destiny if it wasn’t just seamlessly happening like it does for literally everyone I know? Some of my good friends already had 2 kids…and they weren’t exactly babies anymore. They were already walking and talking!
It’s important for me to include therapy as part of my story because it was 100% the catalyst for my egg freezing journey. I lucked out finding a wonderful therapist who helped me arrive at the conclusion that it must be done. I made peace with the fact that I wasn’t ready for a child just yet. What’s wrong with being an older mom? Absolutely nothing! The more I clarified my true feelings in therapy, the more I realized I needed to begin my cryo-egg preservation program immediately because at 38 years old I was already considered “ancient” by fertility standards. I had to get moving! And so I did...
It’s funny how quickly things can move when you finally give yourself the emotional permission to follow through with it. Over those next few months, I found myself spending a lot of time at Weill Cornell Center of Reproductive Medicine where I chose to embark on my egg freezing action plan. I heard great things about Dr. Spandorfer over there (who I chose to be my doctor), and I was partial to this center considering I'm a Cornell University graduate and knew many of my fellow alumni ended up working there. I'll admit I didn't do much comparison research but I was in a rush and felt my window of opportunity was closing.
Even though I was determined to have a baby irregardless of my age—“when the time felt right” —I also needed to accept that nothing is ever guaranteed. Freezing my eggs wasn’t a solution necessarily…it would merely be an option and possibility for me as I entered my 40’s and a period of decreased fertility. For example, did you know that at 40, 90% of a woman’s eggs are chromosomally abnormal? I learned this from Dr. Anate Brauer who is a well-known fertility specialist and the IVF Director at Shady Grove Fertility (SDF) in New York City. Dr. Brauer wasn’t my fertility doctor (although I now wish she had been) but she’s one of a few doctors I spoke to after-the-fact while trying to put my whole journey in perspective.
You see…one pass of egg freezing isn’t really a sure thing. You really must have a bunch of eggs in the freezer. For a lot of women like myself who don’t produce 15-20 eggs per cycle anymore, it’s a gamble. But I remembered saying to my therapist in one of my sessions, “I won’t be able to live with the regret of not freezing my eggs even if the IVF doesn’t take.” And for me, knowing that was enough. It had sealed the deal for me. Egg freezing and IVF is a science that’s becoming increasingly more effective (and in some cases more affordable) with technology, but the longer you wait and the older you get, you enter a zone of the unknown. It’s stressful.
I won’t lie. I found much of the freezing process extremely uncomfortable and unsettling. Egg freezing is a business and there are many people waiting in line to begin their treatment. Fertility centers can feel cold, unemotional and unsupportive because they have too many patients to answer to. If you’re just freezing without continuing on to IVF, forget about it! You won’t get much sympathy or consolation even if you ask questions with tears in your eyes. This business is a science! You get your medicine, you follow the instructions you’re given, you show up for daily blood work and you hold it together until retrieval day. Unless of course you luck out with a doctor that really cares—so do your research! They’re out there but they take time to find and if you’re in a rush, well, I’d recommend just sucking it up and freezing like I did.
I’d candy coat it for you but as a single woman who went through it without a single doctor or nurse smiling at me, assuring me that this was the right move in my life, it was hard. And once those hormones kick in, anything and everything makes you cry.
The day of my retrieval was scheduled 4 days after my 39th birthday. It ended up being the most peaceful day of my entire journey. The week leading up to it, I spent most nights falling asleep at 8pm, winding down my workouts to just long walks and thinking about how one of the eggs in my uterus might turn into a little human that I would hold one day. I was happy I endured all the discomfort, and thankful I pressured my doctors to spend a little more time explaining things to me. I couldn’t have been prouder of myself for self-injecting and overcoming my fear of needles. That last needle to the buttocks region was the most displeasing but like everything else subsided and became another hurdle I leaped over like a pro. When I look at the needle now (I had an extra I saved just for the memories and luckily to take a photograph for this blog), I’m astounded at how strong I was over the course of two weeks of hormonal treatment. I guess when you know you want something you don’t let anything get in the way.
On January 24, 2018, after a really quick procedure, 8 eggs were retrieved of which 7 were mature and are now frozen. Even though I wish more eggs had been retrieved, this was the number we expected to get and I was relieved and thankful to my body for producing them. I was also incredibly lucky that during the month of December I had been booked on a very profitable commercial job, which ended up paying me enough to cover nearly all my egg freezing and hospital expenses. For me, spiritually, this was a sign. I believe in a higher power but never had I been handed such a sign of this level of clarity that I was doing the right thing. I entered my egg-freezing journey expecting to max out all of my credit cards and then somehow Walgreens found me and hired me as a spokesperson, and let’s just say I’ll be their customer for life!
What I’ve learned from rolling the dice with cryo-egg preservation is that you never know where life is going to take you. I know that my 7 eggs are not a sure thing. Who knows…they may not take once I start IVF. I’m OK with that. I’ve thought about my other options, especially adoption. I’ve also seriously given consideration to the fact that I may never have a child. I really hope that’s not the case but I think it’s important to think about it all because this is an emotionally sticky journey to navigate through and we have to honor our bodies but also forgive our bodies. There’s always a beautiful outcome to be had and f*ck what’s “traditional”! Love has no standard nor limits and neither should the family dynamic you choose to create.
I do want to share some information from Dr. Anate Brauer (a name you should know if you plan on freezing in New York) that I find to be helpful and wish I had known when I was at the beginning of my journey.
- First, centers like Shady Grove Fertility (SDF) offer programs where you can actively freeze multiple times until you reach a number of eggs that will likely produce a baby (in terms of the numbers and stats based on your age group). Twenty to thirty eggs in the freezer is more than a safe bet.
- It’s important to take good care of yourself if you want to be a mom though IVF. You must exercise, maintain a healthy weight and practice safe sex. Ultimately, you cannot change the genetics or quality of your eggs, but you CAN prime the vessel through which they will be produced. This also means maintaining a minimal amount of body fat for smaller body types.
- Ideally, your best time to freeze and conceive is in your early 30’s, but if you’re past this, just know it doesn’t mean it won’t happen for you. It’s just something you should know going into the process.
- Lastly, IVF will be even more stressful than freezing because this is the "main event". Breathe and give yourself everything within your means to maintain a healthy psyche. Make sure you’ve chosen a fertility center than offers access to wellness amenities you’ll need to remain calm and centered. Or, find a way to access those services yourself and speak to other women about their experiences and the professionals that helped them.
I hope what I’ve shared leaves you with a feeling of confidence that if you haven’t figured it all out, you’re not alone. I froze my eggs 2.5 years ago and still don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m grateful I invested in it and have a blueprint I can revisit when I’m ready. The fact that you’re here and reading this already means you’re on track.
Before I let you go, it's important and valuable for me to mention that this article came about through a beautiful partnership with 1in4 App, a brilliant free resource of support for people out there struggling with infertility, surrogacy, adoption, fostering and misscarriage. I was approached by the founder of 1in4 several months ago with her plan to launch the app this summer of 2020. She lit a fire in me to revisit my fertility and egg freezing story and I'm so thankful to her and all the work she's doing to help other women and couples out there who want to be parents. Since writing this piece, which was used in the Influencer Blogs section of 1in4, I've had a lot of emotions percolate and let's just say I take it as another sign in my life. I highly recommend you download 1in4 App (it's free!) if any of the below sounds like you.
As always, thanks for reading and for your continued support!