Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… put some in the fridge

A personal story about fertility and egg freezing

The first time I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to freeze my eggs, I made her cry. A procedure that looked to me like plain-old-science and an exciting new choice, incited a much different story for her. She was worried for my safety, the unhappiness that comes along with going against societal norms, the wonder of childbirth, and the tyranny of the biological ⏰.

What is 🥚 freezing?

Women are born with a finite number of eggs, and as we age the supply and genetic normalcy of those eggs decline. When you’re 25 your egg count is about 22% and by 35 it is about 5%. As you age the quality of your eggs decline and it becomes harder for those eggs to become fertilized into healthy babies. A uterus, on the other hand, is not as affected by age and can carry a baby even past menopause.

Egg freezing (aka Oocyte Cryopreservation) is a procedure by which hormones are used to bring as many eggs as possible to maturity within a two-week period. The eggs are then retrieved and frozen(vitrification), which has 90–95% success rate of surviving freezing and thawing process.

The end goal is that women can use these ‘younger’ eggs, when they are ready to be pregnant with a higher chance of getting pregnant, due to the higher quality of eggs.

Why? Because choice.

Egg freezing is a choice for family planning, just like birth control is.

As a child I was a tomboy and in college I was a 🤓, and along the way I missed the memo that was supposed to make me want to prioritize marriage and children. Growing up, I idealized my father. Then suddenly had a rude shock when I realized, in fact, I couldn’t be just like him because… I was a woman.

However, none of this should matter. I have my story and each woman out there has her own. Those choices and reasons need no justification. Progress of science and technology means that we can provide these options for women. Market economics means that companies begin to provide these options because employees are asking for them.

Maybe you missed a memo growing up and never planned for marriage or children. Maybe you always wanted a family but haven’t met the right person yet. Maybe you want to focus on your career. Maybe you want to have your second child at 38 and want to make that process easier. Maybe you are not ready.

For various reasons, childbirth is being pushed to later stages of life, and since humans aren’t evolving anymore, science and technology has stepped in to make this possible. However, society appears to create a stigma around fertility, and discussion of it. Talking about this topic, not only with my mom, turned out to be unexpectedly challenging.

Some times people would make sweeping generalizations about egg freezing and lifestyle choices, that made it difficult to discuss at all.

Some suggested that I wasn’t serious about starting a family. Some were surprised that I was so open to talking about it. Some assumed that my boyfriend and I weren’t serious because “otherwise why would you need to do this”. Some assumed I wanted to do it because I want to get ahead in my career. Some people were confused.

Here’s how I see it. The 🌎 can be a horrible place if you are a women. Perhaps this is not the case for you, but overwhelming the media messaging for women is that beauty matters more than brains, and that you’re only worth as much as you’re able to find a husband. And then, of course, have children. And a career. And to top it off we say, and you must achieve all this before the impending biological clock runs out of time. ⏳.


The gory details

Statistically speaking 33 is when your egg count takes a bigger step down, and I prioritized it for myself on my birthday last October. At the time I worked for a small startup, which did not provide the benefit, and I planned to pay for it myself. Based on the initial ultrasound and blood tests, the 👨🏼‍⚕️ advised that I could get between 7 and 14 eggs. I was disappointed. I was paying out of pocket and this meant at least 2 cycles to get the required 20 eggs for a live birth.

After being disappointed for a while, and judging myself for having a low egg count, I made a plan.

I decided to take 3 months to focus on my fertility. Based on the doctor’s advice I temporarily stopped my ketogenic diet and moved to a more balanced diet. I reduced my ☕️ intake down to 1 double-shot espresso a day. I started taking daily supplements of DHEA and COQ10.

But then I decided to visit Cabo over NYE. Cabo has had cases of Zika, and my clinic required me to wait an extra 2 months before I could do the procedure. Meanwhile I went through a job transition, which added another month.

As it turned out Gusto, my new employer, offers the benefit to its employees. I was surprised (and estatic) to learn that they did, because I had not expected the earlier-stage companies I was interviewing with to be so awesome with their benefits. 😍.


Timeline

Zig zag from top-left: Base Ultrasound, Injection Teaching Class, The big 📦 of medications, Waiting for Egg Retrieval

After going to an informational session at UCSF, and consults at Pacific Fertility and Spring Fertility, I eventually chose Spring. Not only was it a world-class facility, but it turned out to be located in the building that I live(!) As it turns out, proximity to the clinic is something to consider because you have to go in for a blood draws and ultrasounds every other day — early morning before work. To start with the nurse put me on an estrogen-based birth control, and created a 📆 for the procedure. I also attended an injection teaching class at the clinic.

Mistakenly, I was under the impression that I needed to remove my IUD for this procedure. My concern was that it would affect egg count/ovulation, and I had also read Christine Moran’s post, which indicated that it was better to do so. If you have an IUD, you know that removal and re-insertion can be quite a headache. However, my doctor assured me that I did not need to do so. Woop. 🙌🏼

Action 🎬

  • Day -8, Friday
    The clinic places an order for all medicines directly with the insurance provider. I battle their 📞 tree a few times to confirm that I authorize the medications, and worked with my nurse to ensure they were correct.
  • Day -5, Monday
    I stop taking birth control.
  • Day 1, Friday
    A big 📦 of medications arrive at my apartment. It has instructions to refrigerate the Follistim AQ, and leave the remaining medications in the box because they have to be stored in the dark. The boyfriend who receives the box from Fedex, puts Follistim AQ in the fridge and leaves to go camping 🏕. I come home to an intimidating pile of syringes, needles, and medication in the living room.
  • Day 1, Friday 10pm
    I have never given myself an 💉, and it a bit of a challenge. There are 2 medications to take: the Follistom AQ - this one is easy because it comes in a pen with a tiny needle attached; the Menopur comes as powder and needs to be mixed in a syringe with saline before you inject yourself using the 27.5 gauge needle. 27.5 gauge is not as big as it sounds. You’re supposed to inject yourself in the stomach area at least 2-finger-widths ✌🏽, from your belly button. I eventually realize that 3 or 4 finger-widths is ideal for minimizing pain.
  • Day 3
    The boyfriend emerges from wilderness and takes over nightly administration of injections. Did I mention I’m iffy about needles? 😣
  • Day 5, Monday
    I wake up feeling slow and bloated, with bags under my eyes. Exercise is out of the question by now because of the risk of my ovaries twisting. I give up skinny jeans and switch to wearing tights.
  • Day 8, Friday 9am
    I start Ganirelix, which prevents me from ovulating. This is packaged together with the needle, so there is no measuring or mixing involved.
  • Day 8, 3pm Friday
    I start to feel increasingly out of breath. Even short walks around the office have me huffing and puffing like a 👵🏽. I email my nurse and they have me come in immediately. The doctor says I gave him a heart-attack. He advices that this is a side-affect of the hormones, which is causing my estrogen to sky-rocket. Over the weekend, my body adjusts to the hormones and I feel much better. At it’s highest, I have an estrogen level of >4000, which is 20 times the normal level for a healthly 33 year old. No, the increased estrogen does not make me emotionally volatile, but I’m slow like a 🐌. Just call me Gary.
  • Day 12, Tuesday: Trigger shots!
    Minor panic about the Lupron — it was supposed to be refrigrated and was not! A phone call and a couple of frantic emails to the clinic later, I’m told that I have the type of Lupron that doesn’t need to be refridgerated. Phew. I trigger with Lupron and HCG.
  • Day 13, Wednesday 11.45pm
    I sneak one last snack. No eating or drinking before the retrieval at 11am the next day.
  • Day 14, Thursday: Before egg retrieval
    I can barely stand. The boyfriend walks me sloooowly downstairs to the clinic. The boyfriend attempts to make me feel better with jokes about omelettes and 🍳. The doctor comforts me with “the more eggs you have, the more uncomfortable you feel”. My mom calls, just when the nurse is poking my hand with a big needle for the IV. I get distracted from said big needle. Mom remembered! It makes me laugh. Of course she remembered. 😍. They take me into the OR. The last thing I remember is that the anestheseologist likes my socks, and wants to know how she can up her sock game.
  • Day 14, Thursday: After egg retrieval
    The retrieval is short, about 20 minutes — just enough time for The boyfriend to grab me some 🍜. I had heard an unconfirmed rumor that ramen is essential to the recovery process. The doctor says I did really well. They got 30 follicles. I feel happy and a bit high from the anesthetic.
  • Day 14, A few hours later
    The nurse calls me to tell me that they successfully froze 19 eggs, with which they can guarantee a live birth.
  • Day 14–17, Thursday-Sunday
    I am back at work the next day. By Sunday the bloating is gone and I feel close to normal.
I sat down with Jeni Mayorskaya from Stork Club to discuss my experience. I used the Stork Club app during the process to find answers to questions, such as how to make injections hurt less and how much I could exercise.

Reflections

Between all the information coming at you, all the things you have to do, your body that is slowing down, and the story that you’re telling yourself — you might find yourself in need of a 🤗 or a friend. Call in a favor.

Egg freezing is a great option, and if you’re thinking about it, I would encourage you to do it. Leave alone everyone else’s story and think about your own.

I was keen to share my experience to help alleviate some of the stigma associated with the process. Hopefully women can start to feel that they can be open about the challenges and expectations they face around fertility. Hopefully more and more women will start to see that it’s a great option to consider, especially if you have access to it and especially as technology gets more advanced. It’s not a silver bullet, but an insurance policy. That said, it’s not the science that will stop us, but the story we tell ourselves about it.

Romantic and financial future aside, I want the ability to plan my family. If we can use technology to make women’s lives easier in this way, shouldn’t we do it?

Thanks for reading this far! Feel free to reach out if you have any thoughts. And Good Luck! 💕

For more information and personal stories about egg freezing, here are some sources: