“May I ask why you have chosen this procedure?” The doctor looks at me through his glasses. He has white hair, a deep voice, and his overall demeanor is very soothing. He pores over the notes on his screen. “You are very young. There are no medical indications, correct?”
I feel myself almost tear up, but manage to keep it together. This is not the time or place for an anxious breakdown.
“I am terrified that no one will ever love me or want to commit to me because I am unloveable at my core, and the thought of dying childless is my worst nightmare.” sounds rather psychotic. I decide on a white lie instead.“Well, I know lots of people who try to have children after age 35, 40, and they can’t.”, I say. Truthfully, I know of only one such person, but this seems like an appropriate thing to say out loud.
The doctor nods. “You are right, of course”. He reaches for a chart with colorful lines and shows me the statistics. Fertility plunges after 35, as does the number of healthy oocytes.
“Between the ages of 20 and 26, the egg cells will have the best quality. You are right. But you are still very young, not many people … There are very few women like you.”
I smile sardonically. So I’ve been told, doctor.
The sciency part
Per se, egg banking, social freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, as Wikipedia refers to it, is a fairly straightforward procedure, the doctor explains.
In a natural menstrual cycle, one oocyte ripens in the ovaries, moves to the uterus, waits to be fertilized and then develops either into a cute baby with squishy feet (if fertilized) or a really bad temper and insatiable chocolate cravings (if not fertilized). Freezing that one egg cell would not make a whole lot of sense, though, because 1 out of every 4 egg cells will display some sort of abnormality (e.g. in chromosome number, genetic material, or otherwise), some cells die at thawing, not all cells attach to the uterine wall, and so on. So, during egg banking, the patient’s ovaries are hyperstimulated using FSH (follicle-stimulating hormones), with the aim being to produce about 20 ripened egg cells. Those 20 cells are then extracted under general anesthesia using a needle, preserved in a special solution and then frozen at -200°C until such time as the patient wants them back.
That will be how much now?!
So far, so good. The doctor asks me whether I have any more questions, and I shake my head. He informs me that complications are very unlikely to arise. After the pelvic exam, he also informs me that I am in good health and we can go ahead with a relatively high dose of hormones. He calmly carries on to say that the aim is to freeze 20 egg cells, and that if this number is not achieved in one treatment cycle, he would recommend I come back next year.
And pay another €3,500? “Yes, the cost would be have to paid again in full, as this would be a whole new procedure”. I sigh and give my ovaries a mental pep talk. Come on, girls, play along. I can’t afford to do this twice.
The needles from hell
A nurse comes to pick me up. “I’m going to explain what drugs you’ll be using and show you how the injections work”, she says. It turns out that “hyperstimulation of the ovaries”, in non-medical terms, translates to “you have to jam a needle into your stomach every morning, and, because of your heightened risk for thrombosis, another, even thicker one in the evening.”
I watch the nurse’s fingers adeptly unwrap the drug vial, place it into the injection pen and screw on the needle. “Did you follow?”, she asks. I nod. My stomach lurches. When I stand up, my knees feel a bit weak.
Two injections a day, for a week. I’ve injected myself enough times to know I hate it and it makes me feel faint. I try to pace my breathing. Suck it up, I tell myself. Being a mother is going to be a hell of a lot harder than this.
To be continued
I hesitated for a while to publish this rather personal story. In the end, I decided to do so for three reasons: For one, family planning is an incredibly important topic and also highly relevant to female empowerment. Women need to know their options and plan in advance if they are ever to “have it all”, children and a career. There is a very real biological clock that we either need to work with, or find ways to circumvent, and I believe raising awareness in this area is important. For another thing, I thought information about costs, proceedings etc. might potentially be useful to a lot of people and if you would like to know more details, please do not hesitate to ask (I believe my contact form on the blog is currently not working, but message me on Facebook or just comment). Finally, not writing about this procedure, which to the medical staff I am sure is routine but to me feels rather big, would have felt dishonest.