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July 2017

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Egg Banking Part 3: My future kids are in a Petri dish across the border

July 31, 2017

The last few days of injections are the most uncomfortable. Four injections a day is a lot, and the skin on my stomach looks red and irritated, with a couple of bruises. My well-being is noticeably affected and I feel incredibly uneasy in my own skin, along with an all-too-familiar general feeling of hopelessness.

On days 9 and 10, I can feel extra weight in my lower stomach. There is a pulling sensation and I look several weeks pregnant. The last hormone injection is planned for Day 10 at exactly 9:30 p.m, so I set an alarm and leave a festival early. The shot needs to be administered exactly 36 hours before the surgery.

Day 11 is a Sunday, luckily. I take it very easy and, while I have to keep injecting anti-thrombosis medication, knowing that the hormone treatment is over is a relief.

On Day 12, the day of the extraction, I wake up at five. I am not allowed to eat or drink anything past midnight, so my mouth feels dry. I feel a very strong pulling sensation in my lower stomach. Everything feels heavy. I have 24 follicles inside of me, filled with fluid and egg cells, with a diameter of 2cm each. I imagine this is what a pregnancy feels like in the early stages. I manage to shower and pack everything on the list the nurse gave me. Food and drink for after the procedure. Slippers. My passport and my treatment plan.

Once I get to the clinic, everything happens very fast. I am asked to confirm that I have followed the injection plan as it was given to me and that I have not eaten or drunk anything and given some papers to sign. I scan them hastily. I am well aware this is not a sensible thing to do, but I feel anxious.

The nurse leads me to a hospital room and asks me to change into my surgery gown and to cover my hair. I change and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, shapeless gown, shower cap and all. Never looked sexier, I think to myself.

I am taken to the OR. It doesn’t look much different from a regular gynecological practice, except for the scary-looking tools near the chair that I purposely avoid looking at. No need for too many graphic details, I am worried enough as it is. The anesthetician is very nice to me when I tell her I’m a little scared. She places the needle and says “That is completely normal. Just think of a nice holiday.” I mentally teleport myself to a beach in Bali and manage to briefly ponder how truly amazing modern medicine is – the incredible speed at which anesthetics kick in! – before passing out.

I wake up in the hospital room. I feel a bit fuzzy but immediately text my best friend to let her know everything went well. I then decide to nap for a bit longer. When I wake up for the second time, I feel as good as new. I get up to go to the bathroom and a nurse rushes into the room. “You shouldn’t get up so fast”, she tells me off. She refuses to let me lock the bathroom door. I ask her when I can leave and she firmly informs me I am being kept in the clinic for another two hours. At this point, I am alert enough to feel annoyed. Two hours?! I have work I could be doing, you know.

But I quickly resign, laying in bed, leafing through magazines and happily munching on my raspberries and apple. Waves of relief wash over me. Everything feels so peaceful. I’m going to have a child. Whatever happens, I’m going to have a child.

The doctor who performed the operation comes in to check on me two hours after I wake up. “We have extracted 19 oocytes, of which 15 are healthy and usable. That is a very good number, congratulations. I hope you won’t need them, but if you do, they are here waiting for you.”

I smile at him broadly. In that moment, I am so relieved I could cry. I won’t need to save up money and go through this whole process again, 15 useable cells are more than enough for a successful fertilization. It’s as if there is a helium balloon expanding in my chest. There is so much lightness and hope.

The doctor warns me my fertility will be heightened for another couple of months and advises me to be particularly cautious if I do not wish to become pregnant at the current time. He also instructs me to continue injecting the thrombosis medication for another week, and adds it would be prudent to avoid exercise for two weeks. I feign indignance and disappointment (“Two whole weeks!? Is that really necessary?”), thank him and say goodbye.

That afternoon, I don’t do much, other than relish the feeling of certainty and freedom.

In the two weeks after the surgery, I can still feel the effect of the hormones. Once the lightness and relief fades, the dysthymia is still noticeable.

There are three particularly strong impressions that stay with me.

The first is a deep, deep feeling of gratitude towards my body. Here it is, perfectly healthy, at 24 years old, in spite of my terrible diet and exercise habits. So healthy that even high doses of hormones do not faze it, so healthy that it produces 15 egg cells on command, so healthy that an hour after general anesthesia, I feel ready to jump out of bed and get back to my everyday life. And here I am, stupid, ungrateful, brainwashed me, looking at it in the mirror every morning before I step in the shower, chastizing and criticizing and picking it apart. Hating the breasts that are going to nourish my child, and the arms that are going to carry her before she learns how to walk, and the legs that will run after her when we play. A bump here, a dent there, too much fatty tissue. I vow to do better, and over the next few days and weeks, I do. I stop checking how many calories my exercise sessions burn. I try harder to avoid sugar. I take time to moisturize my skin. I still think bad thoughts, but quickly add to them, at least I am healthy.

The second is a whole newfound appreciation of single motherhood, and my own mother by extension. Going through hormone therapy and surgery without having anyone to come home to or cuddle, without having anyone to surprise you with flowers or chocolate, without a shoulder to cry on, was really, really hard. Imagine going through a pregnancy alone. Nine months of hormone-induced mood swings, nine months of cravings, and sickness, and medical check-ups, and appointments, and forms to fill out and kindergardens to sign up for. Alongside full-time work and with absolutely no-one to lighten the burden. And then eighteen years of trying to raise a kind, respectful, caring human being, with no-one but yourself as a role model. I cannot fathom the strength this must have taken my mother. I don’t know if I have that kind of strength in me. I realize that if I want to have a child five years from now, I need to grow that strength.

The third is a much more general sense of no longer needing anyone. I feel a huge amount of tension and anxiety melt away. I stop waiting for messages and calls. I stop going on dates that I know are hopeless. I stop pondering on what people say and how they mean it. Instead, I write and sell two articles. I take a 20 hour Photoshop class and I finish a multimedia project and take an exam. I go out clubbing, just for the fun of it, and I hug strangers. I learn about cryptocurrencies and open an investment wallet. I book tickets to a conference. I send out applications, I keep my apartment clean and I make plans to sell clutter at a fleamarket. I plan and throw a birthday party. I go to workshops and meet-ups and networking events. By myself.

My mother still thinks I’m insane for putting my body through this, and spending € 3.500.

For the peace of mind alone, I would have paid twice that.

The End

 

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Egg banking (part 2): Needles, tears and more needles

July 5, 2017

After my first trip to the clinic, I keep the treatment plan in plain sight on my desk.

The idea is that, to prepare for the extraction, I inject hormones to stimulate my ovaries to produce a much higher number of follicles with egg cells than they normally would. All those follicles can then be punctured, drained and the egg cells extracted and frozen.

The treatment is supposed to start on the third day of my menstrual cycle, so every day, I do mental arithmetic to figure out when I’d have to start the injections and when I’d have my first check-up if I got my period today. I feel somewhat apprehensive.

As it turns out, I am four days early. I am torn between “at least we can get this over with quickly” and “I don’t want to start the injections.”

Luckily, my injections start on a bank holiday, so on Day 1, I have enough time to figure everything out and get my hands to stop shaking. I didn’t sleep well the night before and I am very aware that the medication is incredibly expensive and I only have the exact amount I need and not a drop more – if I spill anything or fuck up in some other way, I have to start over. The pen for the morning injections is surprisingly easy to handle, even though it takes me a while to get the needle to stay on. It’s thinner than I thought and it barely hurts. I assume it is similar to what diabetics would carry with them, though I have no way of knowing. The evening injections are a bit more painful and the needle is thicker. I keep track of every shot meticulously in a notebook. I am very worried I will make a mistake at some point.

The first three days of injections go by fairly unspectacularly. By Day 4, I notice a clear effect on my mood. The hormones are messing up my system and on top of that, since I decided to avoid alcohol from the first appointment onward to be safe, I can’t even have a glass of wine to take the edge off. On that day, I arrange to meet a friend to have a look at options for a Christmas getaway. We decide to go to a wine bar. I order Earl Grey and stare sadly at my mug, all the while picturing nine months plus breastfeeding time of this sober misery. My friend is the sunniest, most cheerful person you can imagine, so I feel decidedly better by the end, but it doesn’t last.

On Day 5, I go right back to my terrible mood. It probably doesn’t help that my week is as packed as ever. That evening, I have an introductory meet-up at an organization I want to volunteer for. I spend the 1,5 hours questioning whether I really want to do this and what the point of life is and pondering how annoying teenagers truly are.

Day 6 is the first day I cry. I go see a doctor during lunch for unrelated reasons, and he tells me to eat less sugar. His exact words are: “I know your type. Young, single, stressed, university graduates… you eat salad in front of people and then sneak chocolate when no-one sees.” He says this quite teasingly, but what my hormonal brain hears is: “You are a fat failure and your diet is awful and it’s no wonder you are single”. I walk back to work with tears streaming down my face.

I stay home that evening and day 7 is my first check-up. The procedure isn’t legal in Austria when there is no medical necessity for it, so I have to travel to the Czech Republic for each visit. I get up at 5 a.m. and only very narrowly catch my train.

I manage to find a cab. The driver is a balding man in his sixties who does not appear to speak English. I enunciate the name of the clinic as clearly as I can, and his face lights up. He looks at me questioningly and mimes a baby bump on his belly with his hands. I smile and nod. At least the place has a reputation around here, I think to myself.

First up is another ultrasound. The doctor says my ovaries are responding very nicely, the follicles are right where they should be, and the hormone dosage is working very well. The follicles are growing quickly and things could not be better. I mentally thank my body, remember how incredibly healthy it is, apologize for hating it so much and make a half-hearted pledge to treat it better.

After the ultrasound, I am taken to the head nurse, who explains the likely timing of the actual cannulation, which, if everything goes well, should be on Day 13 or 14.

“The day of the procedure, please have someone accompany you.”, she says. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible”, I answer, forcing myself to sound composed. The hormones are still wreaking havoc on my feelings and I feel like yelling and crying at the same time. Lady, if I had someone in my life that I could ask to pick me up from a city 130 kilometres away from home on a work day after general anaesthesia, I WOULDN’T FUCKING BE HERE.

Instead, I smile wryly. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.” The nurse looks at me doubtfully. “Well, if there is any way you can arrange it…”, she trails off, then adds “You can’t drive home, though.” At this point, surely she must be doing it on purpose?!

For the next two days, I am supposed to take four injections a day: three in the morning and one in the evening. Two hormone preparations, one injection to prevent the larger, more developed follicles from bursting prematurely and one injection to prevent thrombosis. Two of the injections consist of a powder and a saline solution that I need to mix together myself. The nurse demonstrates all of this, then administers the three shots. I want to get out my notebook and write down the exact steps to reassure myself, but I decide against looking like the huge nerd that I am.

Suddenly, in this small room with its white walls plastered in pictures of babies, even with the two nurses giving me their best encouraging smile, I feel incredibly overwhelmed and out-of-place. I can feel the little girl inside of me becoming wide-eyed and worried. Eight injections that I have to prepare and administer all by myself, and noone to help if anything goes wrong, or even just to cuddle.

To be continued