Freezing Your Eggs at Fortysomething
This week, I had my eggs frozen. I’m 44. And a half. All the data and statistics say that I had a ten percent chance of this, whittled down to a three percent chance of that, and if fertilized, a one percent chance of having a healthy baby – or some other seemingly grim statistic. They were so dim I chose not to remember them specifically.
That said, when I asked my fertility doctor about whether he would still freeze them, he said sure, but he wanted me to have the data and the facts so I wouldn’t have false hope.
So I started treatment. Well, first, I checked with insurance, etc.: for women on a budget (who isn’t on one in New York City?), the cost is roughly ten thousand dollars for the medicine and the egg retrieval and freezing, plus requisite blood work and ultrasounds. Depending on your insurance, insurance may pay for the medicine, which they did in my case, but not the physician – unless – you are actually trying to get pregnant right now (insurance will often assist fertility efforts in the moment, but not help out with fertility preservation (i.e. the term for egg freezing) costs.
Nearly four years ago, at age 41, I had asked my OBGYN about fertility and egg freezing, and he referred me to a fertility doctor in Brooklyn (where I live) and she told me that despite my high testosterone and FSH levels (some fertility indicators) it would be a bad idea to try and freeze my eggs solo – and to freeze a fertilized egg/zygote instead. That can be achieved two ways: 1) if you have a partner and they donate sperm, or 2) if you get an anonymous sperm donor and fertilize your retrieved/extracted eggs with the purchased sperm, then freeze the fertilized egg. Thing is, while one of my friends was willing to donate his sperm to me, there was a six-month “screening” process that once they donated their sperm, it would have to be monitored and donated again and retested six months later to make sure it was disease-free. With the anonymous donors, it’s pre-screened.
So, I started looking at websites that described men who were now-20 or 30-something-years old— but pictured photos of them as a three, four, or five year old. It was like match.com but creepier. There were descriptions of height and ethnicity and descriptors like “Brad Pitt lookalike” or “economics major at Tulane” and they always included height. (All this is supposed to help you know more what your baby will look like, and ensure it looks most like your biological child).
But then I got freaked out. It was – for me – creepy! (Even some of my male platonic friends have said as much, although I do think anonymous sperm donation is an excellent option for so many women and am thrilled it’s out there for them). So I walked away without freezing a zygote/fertilized egg – or, without freezing my own eggs. I had walked in there to preserve my fertility – but my then-fertility doc tried to convince me my eggs would be so much less likely to take to being fertilized later on – when thawed – that I needed to freeze a zygote. But I wasn’t ready to include some anonymous man into my possible future child’s life (FYI, many sperm donors sign a legal agreement saying their “child” can contact them – one time – once they turn 18, if they’re curious). I just wanted to buy myself some time to find a true life partner without the pressure of having to get pregnant.right.now.
Fast-forward three years and here I am. My mother, a doctor (internist, and single mom to me growing up) always told me she had her menstrual cycles until she was nearly fifty (until the chemo from her breast cancer treatment stopped them – she’s fine, thank you, after two mastectomies and radiation) and that because I had no health issues and had regular menstrual cycles, I could still likely still get pregnant naturally (I had never previously tried – I was waiting until I got married).
So I finally said “let’s do it.” And I went to a new doctor I met hosting my television show earlier this year. He had a great bedside manner and treated me like any other woman in the office, no matter my age. He explained that because of my age, in order to ensure the best scenario for baby-making later on, I should get up to 40 eggs! 40 eggs!* That would mean I might have to do several egg retrieval cycles. But it starts with the first one, so I did what they recommended: I took the hormone injections for a couple of weeks (not painful), then they retrieved/pulled the eggs out and got 11. He said I had responded to the drugs even more favorably than expected. Many women, I’m told, get far fewer than that even in their 30’s. (Women are encouraged to freeze eggs before 35, but that’s the age when my ex fiancee broke up with me two days before our wedding ten years ago – something I’ve written extensively about in my books. While we were planning to have a family then, I have been emotionally healing and haven’t been able to find a solid partner since, and I didn’t want to get pregnant only to be a mom if I wasn’t truly ready and didn’t have a good partner/husband. Because I have no family here in NYC to help care for a child without a husband/partner, I never wanted to get pregnant solely due to my biological clock. Hence, this).
So, the jury is still out as to whether I will go for another cycle, or how many of my retrieved/extracted eggs are “mature” enough to freeze, and of those frozen, how many (if any) will be “good enough” to be fertilized, should I find a life partner and frankly, “sperm donor!” I really don’t know if I’ll ever be a mom to my own biological children (I also remain open to step-motherhood, egg donation, and adoption). But – I have relief. Assurance that even though I may be older, I was glad to trust my gut and instinct that I went ahead with this procedure, instead of waiting and waiting. (One of my friends, who is 49, doesn’t even want to try using her eggs at this stage. Instead she is getting an egg donor with her boyfriend – another great option for women of any age whose egg quality isn’t or may not be viable).
I want women to know – even if they are over 40 but healthy, that if they can afford it – to just freeze their eggs if they want to. And for younger women, women in college, pursuing careers, taking the bar, going through medical school, traveling around the world – take a minute when you’re in your 20’s or 30’s – and just freeze them if you think having kids later in life is important to you. Because life happens – and sometimes things you think will line up, don’t. Parents, perhaps talk to your daughters about this. General practitioners and OBGYN’s, maybe mention this to your female patients if you know they are interested in having a family. Just share the information. Once. Nothing more. I don’t know how many people think about it until it’s “too late.” The quality of your eggs in your 20’s and 30’s age is prime, and you’ll likely get 20-30 eggs retrieved in the first shot – because not only does the quality of the egg decline with age, so too does the quantity, and it’s a numbers game of attrition, when it comes to how they’re able to try and fertilize some of aggregate number of total eggs retrieved: the more eggs to work with at the start, the more likely they’ll end up with one or two that can be fertilized.
By the way, my doctor also said my body is likely healthy enough to carry a child (become pregnant) anytime until age 55, although 50 is the usual cutoff for carrying a child. So, without going into whether or not I’ll look like a Grandma or be too tired to care for a child should I have one later in life, this egg freezing process was a gift. It enabled me to feel empowered again, after the devastating loss of my ex ten years ago and the hopes of having a family pinned to it. I have refused to settle down with a man I did’t feel would be a good husband or father, and I’m not sorry about that. Without false hope (I know this may not ultimately “work,”) freezing my eggs, even now, just preserves some choices for me as time goes on, and enables me to possibly have the new love of my life (when he manifests) also be the father of my child (unlike if I’d have fertilized the egg with an anonymous sperm donor four years ago and asked a new partner to care for a yet-to-be-born child that wasn’t his – although some men may be fine with that, and that’s great).
Im not saying this is for everyone – do what is medically and emotionally healthy for you. But keep in mind, the Federal Government deemed egg freezing an “experimental procedure” until just a couple of years ago, so younger women today have choices I didn’t really have at 35. Use your choices well. Live your life! Explore! Do your thing! And maybe put your ability to have a child later on, on hold — but on ice! I think it’s a worthy investment if you can afford it or have health insurance that can help: it’s giving yourself the gift of choice, and that kind of freedom is the best kind of “liberty and justice for all” I can imagine.