6 things I learned from freezing my eggs
Time, energy, emotions and expense: What to consider before you freeze your eggs.
Freezing your eggs in the United States takes a lot of time and energy—simply researching the process can be overwhelming. There is a lot of information out there, some of it scary, some of it difficult to understand. Here are some things I’ve learned during my eggventure that may help you make a challenging process easier and maybe even enjoyable.
1. Accept challenging truths
There are many reasons you might choose to freeze your eggs—maybe you know you want children, but aren't ready yet; maybe you're not sure if you want children, at all. Practically speaking, though, the success of a cycle of egg freezing means retrieving enough eggs to more or less increase the likelihood of an IVF cycle in the future. It depends on a lot of shifting factors—your age, the particularities of your body and your cycle, and your stress level. More than a quarter of women choose to do multiple cycles in order to retrieve an ideal number of eggs (1)—it can be disappointing to have to go through more than one round of egg freezing given how strenuous and time-consuming it is. Additionally, doing so is horribly expensive, but if you’re reading this article, you’ve likely already confronted the issue.
Something else to consider, though, is that you may discover other new realities about your body and your fertility during the process. Healthcare for women is historically subpar, even more so if you are a woman of color, so this might be the first time in your entire life a physician will examine your ovaries and uterus or request bloodwork. In addition to a physical exam, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to do lab work to check your hormone levels and egg quantity (2). An image called a transvaginal ultrasound (through the vagina) is also common to look at your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes (2). Some health conditions that might impact the chances of success, could be identified for the first time through these exams. In my case, I was informed that I’m also on my way to developing prediabetes based on my blood tests–a piece of critical health information which I was made aware of through this process.
As a result, it’s been helpful for me throughout the process to accept that the project I’m embarking on is a holistic one that is just as much about doing a survey of my overall health as it is about preparing to conceive. Does it suck to find out about health conditions you didn’t know about previously? Sure, but early detection is a blessing and now I feel empowered to make choices that could have an impact on my current and future health.
2. Prepare to spend a lot of money
Even before I put down a deposit at the egg freezing clinic for $9,500 for the actual procedure, I spent around $800 on co-pays at clinics, out-of-network blood tests, and ultrasounds. Depending on my particular course of medication, I'll likely pay between $4,000 to $8,000 more for the cost of the medications and retrieval. Most women will spend between $12,000 - $20,000 in total during the process, and that doesn’t include storage, which can wind up being between $600 to $1200 annually (1). Cost differs per cycle by city and region (1). And In the U.S., you can use your HSA/FSA toward paying for fertility treatments, if you have one.
I view this as a long term investment, like I would a car or a wedding. In this case, you’re investing in your own ability to make long-term decisions through your childbearing years. That said, accessing this type of healthcare is not a feasible reality for many. It can be out of reach for people who may not be able to find a healthcare provider, pay for services, and take the time off to attend appointments (3).
3. Research your options
Depending on where you live, there may be many options for egg freezing that range in price, quality of care, and process. It’s worth spending some time calling various clinics to ask for consultations and getting a feel for what you like and don’t like out of each process (4).
A friend of mine chose a clinic that emphasizes a low price point and flexible payment plan, because money was her primary concern in terms of affording egg freezing. On the other hand, I decided that quality of care was ultimately more important to me than pricing, so I’m paying a premium for that feeling of comfort and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask clinics and healthcare providers for details about their specific process, success rates, and patient testimonials. Remember, you are interviewing them to find the right fit for your budget, values, and reproductive goals.
4. Prepare to project manage
One thing I’ve been surprised about is that I’ve generally had to project manage a great deal of my own egg freezing process. The process requires that you submit, among other things, a bevy of blood tests, a recent Pap test, an STI test, your current BMI, as well as a stack of signed contracts regarding finances, disclosures, and your medical history. On top of that, clinics often require you to review a fair amount of instructional materials in order to educate you on the egg freezing process, most crucially, the part where you give yourself nightly injections.
I’m not always the most organized person, so I recognised the need early on to create a spreadsheet, folder, and checklist to keep myself on track while hurtling toward the finish line and that approach has been very useful. Scheduling a little bit of egg freezing work on top of my daily workload has helped to make the process feel far less overwhelming.
5. Take some time off
Or if you’re able, take a lighter workload during your egg freezing week. While it’s unlikely that injecting yourself with hormones has a significant effect on mood, beyond what may feel like usual PMS symptoms (5), the process can still be quite physically uncomfortable and time consuming—your ovaries, normally about an inch (2-3cm) in diameter each, grow to 4-5 inches (10cm) each, the size of baseballs — over the 10-14 day period (6). And, along with the daily ritual of fertility injections, you’ll also need to visit the clinic for regular ultrasounds and blood tests during the week of your egg retrieval (6). It can help to schedule in some free days during the process or directly after in order to destress and be gentle on yourself.
6. Find a buddy
Do you know someone who has frozen their eggs recently or someone who is doing it at the same time as you? One of the most useful things, for me, during this time has been cultivating relationships with other women and people with cycles who have gone or are going through the process. While I’ve been project managing my egg-freezing process, it has helped me to have a friend to call who knows the process intimately.
More pragmatically, having someone in the room who has frozen their eggs previously to accompany you while you’re first giving yourself injections can be helpful given how horribly confusing the instructions are, no matter how many modules or instructional videos you watch. It is also invaluable just to have a knowing ear to bend when the going gets tough. At the end of the day, like pregnancy or IVF, egg freezing can be an isolating experience and community can be a very good support system (4).
Egg freezing is an intimidating experience for so many reasons, but preparing yourself for the pragmatic realities of the experience will go a long way toward reducing the overall stress of the process. Once you find the right balance between navigating financial, organizational, and emotional hurdles (7), you might even find a little space to marvel at the feats of scientific research and engineering that have come together to create the opportunity for women and people with cycles to sidestep biology and cryogenically preserve their eggs (7). I mean, wow! We are genuinely living in the future.