Note: This is the second in a series of five blog postings in which I document going through the process of “oocyte cryopreservation” in 2010. Start with Part 1 of 5. 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.
Today I drove for a two-hour orientation session from my home in San Francisco down to the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center in Palo Alto, where I’m having my eggs frozen. They’ve had me on the birth control pill for over two weeks already to prevent ovulation. I’m scheduled to begin hormone injections soon, and if all goes well, to have my eggs harvested twelve days later.
I’ve been feeling simultaneously empowered, a bit fearful, and saddened by the egg freezing process. I want to do this because it is one way in which I can take control of a situation that is otherwise in the hands of fate –the fact that I’m 37, single, and eager to have biological children of my own some day. At the same time, on each of my prior to visits to the clinic, I’ve exited feeling as though I’ve just been sucker-punched in the gut. My mind skips like a broken iPod to that self-pitying and grating track entitled, “Where Did I Go Wrong?”
At my first appointment a few weeks ago, I showed the fertility expert, Dr. Westphal, my hormone levels (estradiol, progesterone, FSH, and LH) from the tests I’d had done by my primary care physician. Those looked “excellent,” so Dr. Westphal then conducted a baseline ultrasound to ensure that my ovaries were producing a healthy number of follicles. All systems go. During my next appointment, a nurse reviewed with me both the cost ($11,000 altogether, if all goes well, entirely out of pocket since insurance does not cover egg freezing) and the schedule.
Now I need to learn how to do the injections that I’ll have to give myself each evening for the twelve days leading up to my procedure. Although I’m not particularly squeamish, I can’t say I’m thrilled with the idea of shooting myself up, having had no prior experience with such matters.
The nurse, an angular redhead with a no-nonsense attitude, guides me to a cramped basement room where three couples sit around a tiny table whispering to one another. “Great,” I think. It only gets worse when, a few minutes later, two more couples squeeze into the room.
When the nurse begins her spiel, she sounds like a dull pre-recorded 1970s science class film rather than a human being talking to a room full of surely intimidated, somewhat frustrated wannabe parents (apparently, I’m the only one who is freezing her eggs — everyone else is undergoing IVF). I decide to call her “Nurse Ratched” after the notoriously calm yet unsympathetic dictator of the mental ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (pictured below). She talks about the hormones and what they each do, reviews the timing of it all, and then gets to the juicy part: the shots.
The couples bow their heads together, discussing which syringe goes where and how to empty out every last drop of medicine, then practicing holding the needle for each other as they plunge it into the test orange. Meanwhile, my hand shoots up every two minutes with another question.
“How am I supposed to get rid of this air bubble?” I ask.
And then, “What do I do if I can’t give myself the shot at exactly the same time each night?”
Nurse Ratched is starting to get annoyed with me, it’s clear.
Yet the whole class is made even more painful by the nurse’s monologue, during which she delivers repeated smack-downs to me alone by referring to what “your partner” can do to help.
“Your partner might be better at placing the needle on the syringe and mixing up the meds,” she suggests.
And then, “You might ask your partner to give you the shot.”
Finally this whammy: “After the egg retrieval procedure, you’ll need someone — ideally your partner — to pick you up and take you home.”
I can’t help but wonder if Nurse Ratched is sadistically enjoying using me as a punching bag.
Eventually, being me, I have to speak my mind. I raise my hand and wait for Nurse Ratched to reluctantly glance my way. Then, doing my best to keep my voice from shaking and to emanate spiritual wisdom and a compassionate tone, I say, “You know, I’m not doing this with a partner; I’m doing it alone. I’d think you might have a separate class for us single ladies. But if you can’t, then you might be conscientious of what we’re going through and consider modifying your language in the future. Thanks.”
The other couples stare at me like I’m a three-legged reindeer. Nurse Ratched is smug and distant. I smile bravely, pack up my supplies, and head for the door.
On my drive back home to San Francisco, I roll down the windows and blast my new playlist, called Power Anthems, from the car stereo. If you were heading north on the 280 at 3:45pm today, you might have heard me singing along at the top of my lungs to Pink: “So what? I’m still a rock star. I got my rock moves…”