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Parenthood on ice

From “hard no” to “maybe”: How I made the decision to freeze my eggs.

At Clue, we believe everyone deserves the right to make their own health decisions, free from judgment, misinformation, or shame, informed by personal choice and/or the guidance of a healthcare professional. This article is a personal story from a member of the Clue Community and reflects their individual experience and/or opinion at the time of writing. Your healthcare provider can give you advice on your specific needs and situation. For more on this topic from the Clue Science team, check out Egg Freezing 101.

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I was never one of those girls who dreamt of a wedding or having kids. If anything, I was on the other end of the spectrum – I dreamt of adventure, freedom and a career that I would wake up excited about. This was a source of annoyance for my parents, who are both Indian immigrants and deeply conservative Christian evangelicals. They wouldn’t waste an opportunity to tell me my biological clock was ticking.

My mom spent years telling people I’d get married right after I finished my PhD. As soon as I completed it, my grandmother called from India asking me for the date of my wedding. This was an awkward conversation to have considering I was single at the time. 

When I arrived at 30, I realized that in most ways, my life was all I hoped it could be: I had finished a doctorate and was managing a vibrant career as an economist that let me travel extensively. I had been to over 60 countries. But behind the scenes, this was a product of years of working 60-100 hours per week, leaving little time for much else.

So if you asked anyone who knew me before 30 – especially anyone I was dating – they’d tell you having kids was a hard ‘no’ for me. 

Much of my aversion sat in the so-called “motherhood penalty”. For years, I’ve read the research and seen it play out in the workplace. Women who have kids struggle to maintain the same professional footing as their male colleagues. They’re more likely to drop out of the workforce, and even if they stay, they’re less likely to see promotions and pay raises (1). 

It’s quite damning that in the US, the current motherhood penalty for a working mom is 15% of income per child under age 5 (2). In fact, labor market data shows us that motherhood widens the existing pay gap. Unmarried, childless women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents (3).

Perhaps where the needle started moving for me on the idea of having kids, was when I saw that the motherhood penalty in the workplace seems to decrease the later you have kids (4). Realizing this was powerful. By the time I turned 30, the ‘hard no’ had softened to a ‘maybe later’ and the potential to be a good co-parent gently slid into my screening criteria for a life partner.

I was living between ‘maybe’ and ‘not now’. This is where the idea of freezing my eggs came in. I mentioned it to my sister early on. “I think the process is painful,” she replied. Surely not as much as giving birth, I reasoned. 

The next stop on my journey was unplanned. A lovely 38-year-old colleague had just given birth and I swung by to meet the little one and drop off some meals (frozen ones – I don’t cook). We made some tea and sat down to catch up. As we talked about pregnancy, birth and maternity leave, my mind filled with questions.  

But how do you ask someone how they conceived? You start by awkwardly beating around the bush. 

Fortunately she saved me from my careful hesitation – she laughed and told me that they had done in vitro fertilization (IVF) using frozen embryos.

My curiosity took off. I asked about the process, the odds, the cost, the doctor she used, and just about everything else I could think of. 

At some point, I asked her whether she felt side effects from the hormone injections . “Not one bit”, she said. Let it be known that this was not my experience (stay tuned for part 2). I ended my question-and-answer session asking her if she recommended it. Absolutely, she said. “It was great for me. I wasn’t ready to have kids in my early 30s.”

So there it was. I arrived at home with this newfound commitment to the idea of freezing my eggs. And my partner was very supportive.

We met when I was 29 and he was 34. By this point, we were settled in our careers and lives, with greater clarity in knowing what we wanted as individuals. Within a couple of months, we hashed out thoughts on the big life topics: finances, having kids, work, etc. It was in this discussion that we committed to keeping the door open to having one kid (maximum) at a later point. It was important to us that if we did, we could fully invest into developing a socially and environmentally conscious human, while still maintaining our fast-paced careers.

The next step was to decide where to freeze. I’m American, with career ties to the UK, and living in South Africa. Like most people, the decision-making came down to what I had seen around me. I have very close friends, from Canada and New Zealand, who tried fertility treatment in New York, London and Cape Town – and were successful in Cape Town. I ultimately chose to go through the process in South Africa, partially so I could sleep in my own bed. (Joke’s on me – I ended up on a work trip out of the country while doing hormone injections – again, stay tuned for part 2). 

I called a clinic in Johannesburg, and asked for a doctor who my colleague had recommended. The receptionist told me I would need to do blood tests before I could schedule my consultation. The blood tests tell a doctor a bit about your overall health and your egg reserves.

I went to my primary care doctor to get the necessary blood test forms. He’s been my doctor for years. “I’ve decided to freeze my eggs,” I announced. As he wrote up the form for the lab, he looked up and smiled. ”I think it’s excellent you’re doing this. Let me know how it goes.”

My blood tests – thyroid, anti mullerian hormone, insulin, glucose, prolactin, HIV, Hepatitis A and B, Rubella antibodies – gave me the all-clear to get the process started. 

We arrived at the doctor’s office early on a Wednesday morning. My partner and I had worked late the night before and were still fiercely pounding away on our laptops in the lobby with a cup of coffee when it was our turn: “Grace. Last door on the right”.

As we popped into the doctor’s office and settled on the couch, we immediately felt at ease. A gentle British demeanor can have that effect.

“So, what can I do for you?”

“I’d like to freeze my eggs.”

“Why?” he asked

“Because we don’t want kids… or at least not yet. We’re both still workaholics.”

He nodded knowingly. We were obviously not the first in his office to arrive with this rationale. 

“So this is plan B in case you want them later and can’t conceive naturally?”

“Yes”

“Okay, fine. Why eggs and not embryos?”

My partner and I had asked ourselves this same question a few days prior. While we value our relationship deeply, we know that even the best of them don’t always work out. If we froze embryos, then they’d be ours – and if we split up, I couldn’t use the embryos that contained half of his DNA (without his explicit permission). In all fairness, I wouldn’t want him to use our shared embryos if we split up. Sophia Vergara felt the same, in case you were wondering. But it would also be a waste of a significant amount of money if they needed to be discarded.

So I chose to freeze eggs. It gave me the option to use them however I see fit later on.

The doctor nodded stoically. “Sounds reasonable. Moving on.” And so, my egg freezing adventure – and quest to freeze the biological clock – began.

Part Two of Grace’s story is coming soon.

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