Note: This is the first in a series of five blog postings in which I document going through the process of “oocyte cryopreservation” in July 2010. I share my personal experience in an effort to spread awareness of this fertility option to other women my age. Please do not consider it a substitute for advice from a medical professional.
This morning, a FedEx box arrived containing $3,300 worth of medications. And so begins the process of freezing (hopefully without scrambling) my eggs.
“You’re so lucky that you have the choice to extend your fertility,” remarks a 44 year-old woman who tried IVF the past several years but failed, and is now using an egg donor and surrogate to have a child.
“OMG, do it!” texts a man my age whose 42 year-old fiancée has had two miscarriages over the past two years.
Yet I can’t help but feel sad as I open the box and sort through the piles of hormones, syringes, needles, and gauze pads, placing a few precious bottles of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in the fridge. This is not what I wanted to be doing at age 37½, alone. I wanted to be having a child years ago. Confronted with such undeniable evidence of my status as a single and childless woman who is running out of time, tears flood out, unbidden and uncontrollable.
I’m grieving… the loss of a romantic dream, the passing of my youth, and something else more elusive: the illusion that if I worked hard, was a kind-hearted and sincere person, served the planet, and safeguarded my own physical and psychological wellbeing, then I would get what I wanted and deserved.
If my Buddhist meditation and yoga practice have drilled one important life lesson into my brain over the past decade, it is: “Let go.” I have gotten better at this in some regards. I let go of a nine-year marriage that wasn’t serving me in my quest to be my best self. I let go, with great difficulty, of another profound relationship when I realized that my soul mate couldn’t meet me in enthusiastic partnership. I have and continue to let go, with dedicated practice, of anger and anxiety about not being where I thought I would be at this stage in my life.
But I sometimes stumble when I confront the issue of my fertility. Yes, it’s important to have faith that I am where I am supposed to be. Yes, I have come to terms with the realities of romance and marriage, which have nothing to do with Disney movies. But where is the line between accepting my fate and taking charge of my desire to have children?
When do I let go, and when do I fight?
One year ago, I sat in the office of Dr. Jamie Grifo, one of the top fertility doctor at NYU in Manhattan, as he presented charts revealing how much more difficult it would become, with each passing month (not year), for me to get pregnant and bear a healthy child due to my age. Oocyte cryopreservation technology has only just been established as a viable option. Even two years ago, most doctors encouraged their clients to freeze embryos, not eggs. But this would require me to choose the sperm donor now, which is precisely not what I’m ready to do.
Now that doctors have figured out how to freeze and unfreeze fragile eggs with nearly as much success as they freeze embryos (approximately 50 percent of eggs survive the process), I can take charge of my fertility. With a few tests, two weeks worth of pricey hormone injections, several ultrasounds, and a simple non-surgical procedure, I can attempt to have my 37½ year-old eggs available to me for the rest of my life. This way, when I meet a partner and we choose to get pregnant, I can use the eggs if we have difficulty or if I’m over 40. Or, should I choose to have a child alone, I can select the sperm at that time and have a greater chance of success with my younger eggs.
I am lucky. Egg freezing, from my point of view at least, is a miracle. At a cost of approximately $11,000, it is a financial sacrifice that I am willing to make (insurance doesn’t yet cover any of it).
And so, in this case, I am making the choice not to let go. I may not be able to control when, or if, I meet the man who is ready to settle down with me, have children, and be my life partner. But I do have control, for a few years longer at least, of my fertility. By taking action, I hang on to the hope that some day, I will find my desire for biological children of my own fulfilled.