A few years ago I froze my eggs. I never could have predicted that injecting myself twice a day with ungodly amounts of hormones to over stimulate my ovaries into producing extra eggs that month and then surgically removing said eggs would sound like a good idea. In retrospect, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Having just escaped a relationship gone true south (not dissimilar to skydiving with a broken parachute), the decision was a game changer for me. Rather than being at the mercy of an indecisive, commitment-phobic painter, I was investing in my future in a manner that felt both hopeful and clarifying. Of course there are no guarantees with egg freezing, but it did relieve some of the pressure I felt and, at least in theory, gave me options.
It also exposed me to the cold and sterile world of the fertility clinic waiting room. I’ll never forget the energetically palpable desperation and fear I felt among the patients and their partners sitting silently, waiting for their name to be called. It was hard not to rush home to shower off all the negative vibes I felt throughout the clinic. The nurses and rotating doctors didn’t help matters either. Perhaps they were all out sick the day their schools taught the importance of patient bedside manners. I was shocked by how much attitude they had, as if they were doing me a favor –and this at a clinic that didn’t accept health insurance! With many American women having children later in life, the fertility field has become a cash cow. It was unsettling to experience but also not surprising that many doctors are drawn to the field with motivations beyond bringing more babies into the world.
After three days of injections, I began my daily morning pilgrimage to the clinic to monitor the eggs’ growth. Once the hormones kick in, the eggs start popping, often developing at different paces. I eventually got used to the invasive ultrasound wand prodding my bloated ovaries everyday to measure each egg. I’m not a particularly competitive person, but the endless discussion with the nurses and doctors regarding how many eggs, how fast was each egg growing, how many eggs was “normal” for my age really got to me. It was hard not to feel I was in a race against every other woman who’d ever frozen her eggs. Focusing on gratitude that my body responded positively to the drugs and was making the right amount of eggs for me was helpful (and hard). It only takes one to get pregnant, but you’d think a legion of eggs was required based on those hallway and exam room conversations with the clinic staff.
The real journey was one of an emotional nature. I was initially overwhelmed with shame. Something was obviously inherently wrong with my life, to be freezing my fertility, while many of my friends happily popped out healthy babies. I told only a few close friends and made my mom promise she wouldn’t divulge what I was doing when her friends or family asked what was new with me. “Oh, Gita is freezing her eggs!” I would have told you to get your head checked if you’d said in a few years I’d be writing this for Overshare. Impossible.
One particularly bloated and moody day, I ended up revealing my “secret” to a girl I knew from work. She offered not only a sympathetic ear, but was genuinely curious, as she’d contemplated doing the same. I turned a corner after that conversation and stopped being so judgy of myself. The obvious became apparent: most people DID NOT CARE about my eggs, frozen or not. I made it taboo in my mind, but it just wasn’t a big deal. I began casually talking about it and found people were supportive, as if I’d gotten into grad school. “Congratulations! That’s great Gita. Good decision.” I encountered one woman (a generation older, with three kids) who suggested it was arrogant on my part to intervene with nature and science. I considered directing her to a local Christian Scientists support group.
“Harvest Day” arrived…on my birthday. After arriving at the hospital, I traded all my clothes for a backless gown and walked into the OR. I suddenly wondered if I had lost my mind. Did I really “elect” to do this to myself? Feeling vulnerable and scared, I reluctantly pulled myself onto the table. A pair of unusually wide stirrups stared me down at the end of the table. Could my legs really spread that wide? I didn’t think so. Why was I here? I began pleading silently, “Please universe, please remove me from this moment in time,” when two nurses, the anesthesiologist, and the egg doctor all entered the operating room singing happy birthday to me. I couldn’t take it all in. And didn’t have time to. Before I knew what was happening, the warm spirited, Italian anesthesiologist was in my face, making small talk. I cut him off to communicate critical information: “You know redheads are more sensitive to pain, right?” He smiled and said when he first moved to New York from Italy, he went to Washington Square Park where people would walk past him saying, “don’t be shy if you want to get high.” I interrupted him again, “I want to get high. Real high. Like if you can, please give me a little extra of the normal dose. I think I’ll need it.” He smiled knowingly and assured me I wouldn’t feel a thing. The nurses managed to get my legs in those damn stirrups and we were off to the races. Except, of course, I thankfully don’t remember a thing. I woke up 20 minutes later in another room to a nurse telling me the procedure had gone extremely well and would I like a Tylenol?
I wanted to tell my story because I think the more we talk about these issues, the easier it will be for women who feel like they are alone when dealing with the decisions and complexity of female fertility. I found this week’s interview with Sarah Elizabeth Richards not only compelling but also touching, and am glad to be a part of demystifying this topic.