I dedicated a short burst of anxiety to the issue, in a mental sweep that felt as perfunctory as a fridge clean-out, and concluded that my eggs were expiring. I promptly went in search of validation regarding my decision, and I got it. I’ll never really know if this was confirmation bias, and it doesn’t matter, either. While the point (once I’ve had children) is to have secured the ability to reproduce, the point at this juncture was to ease my anxiety.
I contacted a fertility clinic and had my ovarian reserve tested, which was, I was told, at the low end of normal. This fact, paired with my age, 34, informed the nurse’s strong suggestion that I “not wait” to freeze my eggs. And so “not wait” is what I did.
Within three months, I went from greeting my familiar mental loop of “should I freeze my eggs?”, to a post-retrieval visit from a sunny embryologist who advised in a gentle tone that my eggs were now tucked away in a liquid nitrogen bath.
With Fentanyl, Ativan, Gravol, and Versed still pumping in my system, I took in this news and never even logged a memory of it, my drugged head rolling to the side like a doorknob unscrewed from its socket.
How did I get there? After a series of consults, ultrasounds and blood tests that confirmed I was in good health, two months of supplements, one month of the birth control pill, and one teaching session where a nurse explained to me in a small windowless room how to mix the drugs and fill the syringes and then inject myself: I was ready to begin.
August 1, 2019, 8pm: my boyfriend and I prepared the working area. We cleared our kitchen island, scrubbed it with Lysol wipes, turned all the lights on, and laid out all our materials. We unfolded the origami offering that is the crepe-paper drug pamphlet, along with the injection instructions typed out by the fertility clinic in size 16 Times New Roman. The squadron of private nurses knew that size 12 would not absorb their patients’ collective apprehension.
“Okay, before we start, why don’t we read the instructions all the way through to the end, so that we’ll know exactly what we’re doing?”, my boyfriend suggested.
“No, I know how to do this. They showed me. I know what I’m doing”, I insisted, instantly feeling every bit the petulant 8 year old who’d asked a specific question about her math homework, only to be tortured by receiving the entire lesson again.
After what felt like hours – during which time my impatience had forged ahead and turned the dial on the injection pen too far, wasting some of the precious hormone nectar that had cost me $1,200 that morning at the clinic – I had to admit that my boyfriend had been correct.
I wiped the spot beside my belly button, as they’d told me to, and prepared to insert the needle into my own skin. My own flesh. Or fat, rather. These were subcutaneous injections. Friends had suggested that my boyfriend administer the injections for me, but I never considered that an option.
I couldn’t abide the idea of someone else doing this to my body. If it were happening to me, it would happen by me. If I were truly taking control of my body’s ability to reproduce, I would not willingly hand a portion of that control over to someone else.
I pinched my skin, watched it become even more white than it already was, and wondered what it would feel like.
“You can do this. You’ll be fine”, he said.
“Yeah. I know I can. Can you get the animals away from me?!” I yelped, the needle poised a quarter of an inch from my skin. We have a Great Dane, 160 lbs, and I suddenly envisioned our dog becoming interested in this science project and lunging toward the needle, and it breaking oﬀ inside my body, and the world subsequently ending.
The first injection was fine. I would even say that it didn’t hurt. My skin didn’t start to bruise until the end of the 11 day stretch of injections, once I had run out of space and the entire area around my belly button was perforated.
I started to bruise mentally, though. The existentialist dread came fast and hard, and was not eased by any of the usual suspects – neither sunshine, nor Jon Oliver’s antics, nor freshly baked sourdough bread, could soothe it.
I found myself wondering anxiously about the point of it all. Do we have children to make our own lives nicer – or should we have them with no expectations for our relationship with them, and simply as a means to further humanity? Was I being selfish, in wanting children? What would the world provide for any children that I had?
Had I been a good daughter? Was I still? Was it my job to care for my parents, or was it solely their job to care for me, and then subsequently my job to care for my oﬀspring, and so on, forevermore? Was having children the point, really, or was it to make art and ease the collective suffering, by way of connection with others? Why did we all bother to learn and do things, when death was inevitable???
None of these were questions at all. They were quivering ruminations, hanging delicately from a wire that was me, strung far too taut. And with every hollow, reverberating contemplation, my torso bloated even further.
I will admit that it didn’t help that my mother had just been diagnosed with stage four cancer, on the other side of the country, and that I had quit my job as a result. Mortality and fertility and stagnancy came circling in on themselves, finding their apex in my swollen, craggy ovaries. Was I really going to delay giving my mother what was her mortal right – a grandchild? How much time would she have with any kids that I did eventually have?
At one point, I found myself standing in a queue, my forehead resting on the wall as I fought back tears about nothing and everything. There was, objectively, nothing wrong with the line I was in – it was moving along quite quickly. My mind had been bent into a new formation, and what felt like calcified teenage angst was now my fulcrum. Except it wasn’t teenage angst. It was hormone induced depression.
Every morning and every night, I pushed the hormones out of the syringe into my abdomen, and in turn, made my body perform excessive, unnatural acts. In 11 days, I grew 16 follicles, each reaching over two centimeters in size. I grew more than a school ruler’s length of egg sacs. A female body usually grows one follicle per month.
My ovaries became so heavy that I could feel them with every step I took – they were waterlogged tennis balls that sagged, weighing unceremoniously on the rest of my insides. In addition, I also found myself contending with what was initially described as “bloating”, but what turned out to be fluid retention of such scale in my abdomen that it became challenging to breathe, eat, turn over in bed, or sit down in a chair.
Driving myself to the clinic every morning, I had to suspend myself over the driver’s seat with my one free leg, to avoid the pain of passing over any small bumps in the pavement. Simply put, there was not enough room for my organs in my abdominal cavity. I was bursting, and I had forced my body to do this, against its own will.
By day ten, my legs felt as if they were attempting to escape their own skin, and I awoke one morning to find entire fields of new varicose veins that had formed, quite literally, overnight. Google broke the news to me that this ‘can occur’. My vanity reared, defeated, but fixed a lingering, disappointed glare on my maternal desires, before skulking away.
After the procedure on day twelve, which I cannot recall at all, as I was given Versed (also known as “forget juice”), the bloating somehow worsened. There is nothing further to say about this dreadful phenomenon, other than that modern medicine is a miracle, for as the Internet predicted, due to the addition of a drug called Lupron, I ended day 15 resigned to my fate as a human blimp, and awoke on day 16 with a renewed ability to twist my torso and to sit down without pain rippling up to my ribcage. The hormones gave and took, with precision timing, and I was simply their vessel.
From the time I made the decision, to the day I first injected myself, I told everyone that I was freezing my eggs, in a purposefully matter-of-fact tone.
I told men at work, I told close friends, I told my boss, I told my team, I told my immediate and extended family, I told my boyfriend’s family, I told the trainers at my gym. I even told my dental hygienist, who diligently added it to her notes and let me know that fertility hormones can wreak havoc on gum tissue.
I proclaimed that I was being open about it because I hadn’t heard anyone else talk about it. And I hadn’t. I saw no reason to feel shame about something that could simply be called an insurance policy. The decision felt utterly responsible, logical, and removed from emotionality. I had made it that way – I had explained it to myself and all others that way.
In response, there were those who pointed out that, instead of all this hassle, I could simply start having children! I thanked them for this revelatory news, and explained with a feigned sense of reasoning, that while yes, I could, I was also doing this for the second kid. I went on to explain just how many women I knew who were having trouble conceiving their second. And I did know this, and I still do believe it to be a valid reason to freeze one’s eggs.
I can’t say with certainty though, that I was so transparent solely for the sake of logic. Was I, perhaps, just trying to seem smart? Did I want them to know that I was one step ahead of their concern? Or was it, perhaps, pure defensiveness?
As someone who has always maintained, vocally, that having children is non-negotiable, was I preoccupied with not being seen as a failure who had been unable to direct her life in order to realise her one non-negotiable wish?
Or maybe, maybe, I was just self-centered and enjoyed talking about myself and my own path. And maybe I still am. But I disabused myself of this notion long enough to find some measure of peace, after listening to a podcast on which Leandra Medine discussed her belief that the desire to share one’s life experiences – including her fertility struggles – can be reason enough to do so.
Desire is not usually a reason strong enough to stand on its own, for women. The straightforward idea that a woman’s unadorned desire to shake out her experiences, and have them bounce back to her through the ground of the universe, felt new.
The radical concept that a woman’s reason for making some noise about her inner state does not, in fact, require a referential reason at all, and that instead, her desire to do so, is the only reason she needs. I sank into this – my torso heavy and unmoving below me, and I basked in this particular tenor of freedom that felt at once revelatory and self-evident.