Here’s how much egg freezing costs, what it feels like, and a bunch of other things I learned while going through it.
I was 34, single-ish (I had been dating someone across the country for several months off and on, but it wasn’t proving out to be anything serious), and my employer had recently added elective oocyte cryopreservation (the technical term for egg freezing) as a new benefit.
At the time, I saw it as pretty much a no-brainer for anyone thinking about getting pregnant later on and wondering if they'll have fertility problems: toss my restless eggs in a freezer and worry about all that baby stuff later? For free*?! (*Soon I would discover that, even with the procedure largely covered by my company, it was very much *not* free. But more on that later...)
A handful of my friends had gone through the process already. Most of them, like me, were unmarried, in their 30s, and not planning on baby making anytime soon. They all assured me that the whole thing wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounded; that it was becoming more and more common and that if my employer was paying for it — I really had nothing to lose.
So I did it. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering it even happened, it was such a blur. But looking back on the entire experience a year later, I’m struck by how much I didn’t know going into the whole ordeal that may have changed my decision to do it. I wish I had researched it a bit better and taken the time to mull it over before jumping into the growing, but still quite small pool of fertility preservationists.
So I’d like to pass these small bits of wisdom to you.
Note: This is my personal experience with the egg retrieval process, and not everyone who undergoes egg freezing will have the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I did.
Paul Robertson / Via giphy.com
Science is pretty f*ing amazing. The fact that egg freezing exists — that there is even the slightest chance that a tiny frozen oocyte floating around in a freezer somewhere in Midtown Manhattan might result in a healthy, human being 10 years down the line — is astounding.
That being said: the science behind all of it is still relatively new. The first reported pregnancy resulting from frozen oocytes was in 1986 — and only about 5,000 births from frozen eggs have been reported since. As such, reliable data around success rates is largely limited, confusing, and inconclusive at best.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the chance that any given frozen egg will result in a baby (even when the mother is younger than 38) ranges from 2-12%. During the egg-collection process, hormone stimulation treatment is used to help patients produce more eggs than they would during a normal cycle, so that multiple eggs can be collected and frozen.
But even with a bounty of a baker’s dozen eggs or more (which would be considered a very successful round of egg collection and freezing) — the chances that the eggs will survive freezing, thawing, fertilization, and then result in a successful implantation and pregnancy are often very low. This is especially true for women who freeze their eggs after age 35; who are trying to get pregnant in their 40s; and who underwent treatment using an older, slow-freezing technique.
While fertility clinics note that recent studies show a 90+% survival rate of frozen eggs using a newer vitrification technique — that figure only accounts for the freezing and thawing part of the process. It says nothing about the likelihood of fertilization and a successful to-term pregnancy. (And as this heartbreaking story demonstrates — it is disappointment in those final stages that can be the most traumatic and agonizing.)
So — long story short: freezing your eggs is faaaaar from an insurance policy. The reality is, while you are giving yourself another (small) chance at having a child later in life — you shouldn’t count on it as a solid Plan B. It’s a Plan C at best — and a pretty stressful one at that.
If you’ve done any preliminary research, you know that the scariest part of this whole thing won’t be the egg retrieval procedure itself (though, to be fair, the idea of a needle traversing through your vagina and into your ovaries to slurp out a bunch of hormonally induced eggs will take a minute to get comfortable with.)
No — it’s the two weeks leading up to the procedure that the real fun happens. And by “fun” I mean a rigorous schedule of twice-daily, self-administered hormone injections that would make even the most practiced factory chicken tremble.
So I’m not going to sugarcoat this.
Waking up at the buttcrack of dawn every other day to get your blood drawn at a cold, depressing fertility clinic; shooting yourself with a syringe full of hormones twice every day (the moment you wake up and every night before you go to bed); feeling — and watching — as your ovaries swell to several times their normal size within the course of days — none of it is easy. It gets better after a couple of times, but those first few days will be scary (and for those with any discomfort around needles — straight up harrowing). And on top of all that — some of the medicine requires precise mixing of powders and solvents, temperature control, and timing. And if you mess up any one of those variables, it can be a big deal and ruin your whole retrieval cycle.
That being said: while by no means a piece of cake — it’s all doable. After the first couple of days, the shots become routine and the mixing and timing almost second-nature. You learn what tips and tricks work for you. For me, it was icing the area for your shots 10-15 minutes before each one, injecting the solution very slowly so as to make its entry into your system less shocking (and therefore less painful), and recording each shot location and timestamp in my notepad app to ensure I wasn’t missing doses and wasn’t shooting myself repeatedly in the same place. Truth be told: the shots themselves don’t really hurt that much. The needles are so thin and small they’re hardly painful. But wrapping your mind around all of it, and convincing yourself this is worth doing for 14 or so days, can be tough. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself that yes, this will suck —but it’s all tolerable with the right attitude, organization and discipline. I’m a total disorganized wimp, and I survived. So let that be an inspiration to you all!
South Park / Via giphy.com
I didn’t know that you could die from egg freezing. (It’s super rare and probably won’t happen to you — but it can happen.) I also didn’t know that the long-term effects of extended and recurring hormone stimulation are still unclear. So before you decide to go through with the process, read up as much as you can about all the risk factors involved (ovarian torsions, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, hormonal side effects and retrieval complications, and the emotional risks of this procedure...to name a few.) Here’s a good place to start reading about the side effects of freezing your eggs. While the worst case scenarios are definitely in the minority — I would still advise being as informed as possible about any possible risks before committing yourself to this elective procedure.
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One moment I was lying supine on a hospital gurney, legs in stirrups, listening to Kansas blaring from a shitty radio while a group of doctors and nurses nonchalantly scuffled around me prepping various drugs and apparati for my egg retrieval. The next, I was staring out the window onto a big parking lot, unsure of where I was or what had just happened. My friend/ersatz partner Brent appeared by my bedside, and I started putting together the pieces of where I was (the hospital) and what I had just done (scooped out my 20 factory-farmed eggs). The anesthesia had rendered me pretty useless, so Brent escorted me home in a taxi while I slowly regained mobility and full consciousness. We ordered food and he hung out with me until I fell asleep. Without him, I don’t know how I would have managed to get through that day.
You’re freezing your eggs because for whatever reason, you are not in a place in your life to start a family, yet there is a piece of you that knows you still want the chance one day. That can be a lonely reality to come to terms with.
But don’t let that make you turn inward or alienate yourself from people who want to support you through what will be an emotionally stressful process. I was lucky to have great friends and family with whom I was very open about my fears and experience. I also had two friends who had gone through multiple egg retrieval cycles before and who offered their help or guidance any time of day, with any issue. My on-again, off-again boyfriend in California at the time was also a rock during the process — even FaceTiming with me the first couple of times I took my shots. I knew they were in my corner — even if only virtually — which helped me face each day without breaking down.
And you’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the number of welcoming, helpful communities there are online to support you — and even make you laugh. BuzzFeed’s own Doree Shafrir has built a thriving community around her fantastic podcast Matt and Doree’s Eggcelent Adventure, which chronicles (with refreshing candidness and levity) her experiences in IVF with her partner, Matt. Though focused primarily on people undergoing IVF rather than egg freezing, Matt and Doree’s podcast and facebook group helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that there was a lot I could learn about myself and even laugh about through this process. I highly recommend you find and join support groups like these to learn more and prepare for your procedure.
NBC / Via giphy.com
If you’re with a partner with whom having a family with is not completely out of the question — or if you’re considering a sperm donor for future baby potential, freezing an embryo might be something worth considering. After reading through many forums and blogs on the matter, I found that one of the biggest regrets among women struggling through unsuccessful IVF rounds (using both fresh and frozen eggs/embryos) is that they didn’t freeze embryos at an earlier age. Eggs are more fragile than embryos, meaning there is a higher chance that some can be lost in the freezing, thawing, and fertilization process. So if a decent sperm donor is in the picture now — it won’t hurt to look into options beyond egg preservation.
Giphy / Via giphy.com
One of the best pieces of wisdom I received from a friend who had gone through this process was, “Do NOT make any big decisions during your hormone treatment. Your brain isn’t your brain for those weeks. Don’t trust it.” I tried to heed her advice. But when hormone injections push your estrogen to 10x times their baseline level, and your stomach has bloated to the size of a small watermelon, and you’re alone, staring at yourself in the mirror for the 13th day in the row jabbing a needle into your thigh — feelings get stirred. It’s okay to feel not okay. It’s important to step back and remind yourself that what you’re doing is a big deal on a cosmic level: you’re using science to control your future reproduction. It’s terrifying, miraculous, empowering, and traumatizing at the same time. You’re going to have mood swings at times. The key is to be ready for them, and to set up preventative measures to keep yourself from spiraling into a hormonally-charged tailspin. Have a sponsor to text whenever you’re feeling especially emotional. Delete your ex-partners’ phone numbers. Give your social media passwords to a good friend for the month. Do all that you can to protect yourself from letting the hormones get the best of you.
Even if elective oocyte cryopreservation is technically covered by your employer — prepare to shell out at least $1000 for this whole thing — and without coverage, in the ballpark of $10k. And some costs you should consider (that likely will *not* be covered by insurance, no matter how plush your company benefits) are…
TL;DR: With insurance/employer coverage or not: financially, this is no small investment. Fertility treatments are glimpses into the wild bio-hacked future. Expect to pay for the privilege of participating in this little experiment.
Comedy Central / Via giphy.com