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Freezing My Eggs
a guest blog by MeiMei Fox, December 5, 2012
During my first appointment at the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center in Palo Alto, I showed the fertility expert, Dr. Westphal, my hormone levels (estradiol, progesterone, FSH, and LH) from the tests I'd had done by my primary care physician. Those looked "excellent," so Dr. Westphal then conducted a baseline ultrasound to ensure that my ovaries were producing a healthy number of follicles. All systems go: I was a great candidate for egg freezing. No more excuses. It was officially time to take control of my fertility and my destiny.
During my next appointment, a nurse reviewed with me both the cost (approximately $11,000) and the schedule for the egg freezing. Next, I needed to learn how to do the injections that I would be giving myself each evening for the twelve days leading up to my procedure.
When I arrived at the clinic, the nurse, an angular redhead with a no-nonsense attitude, guided me to a cramped basement room where five couples sat around a tiny table whispering to one another. All were undergoing IVF together. "Great," I thought.
The nurse began her spiel about shooting up the hormones, unintentionally delivering repeated smack-downs to me alone by referring to what "your partner" can do to help. "Your partner might be better at mixing up the meds," she suggested. "After the egg retrieval procedure, you'll need someone -- ideally your partner -- to take you home."
Eventually, I spoke up. "You know, I'm not doing this with a partner; I'm doing it alone. I'd think you might have a separate class for us single ladies. But if you can't, then you might be conscientious of what we're going through and consider modifying your language in the future. Thanks."
The other couples stared at me like I was a three-legged reindeer. The nurse remained smug and distant. I smiled bravely, packed up my supplies, and headed for the door. On my drive back home to San Francisco, I rolled down the windows and blasted my new playlist, called “Power Anthems,” from the car stereo.
A few days later, it was time to start the injections. The idea of shooting up made me nervous since I’ve never done heroine. Fortunately, my friend Kristen, who went through the process of freezing embryos two years ago, agreed to walk me through the experience. I was told to inject at about the same time each night, so I chose 10 pm.
I emptied out the massive box of supplies: Baggies filled with alcohol swabs, needles, and syringes. A red plastic hazardous waste disposal unit. Boxes labeled Follistim, Menopur, Novarel, and Ganirelix. As I gazed at the pharmaceutical display spread across my kitchen table, the imaginary insects in my stomach started fluttering. I took a sip of water and sat down.
Kristen gave me step-by-step instructions. First, the Menopur. I mixed the saline with the powder, swapped out a smaller needle, iced my belly and was ready.
“Now,” said Kristen. “Deep breaths. Then just do it.” Hands shaking, I stabbed the needle into the most cushioned (aka fatty) area of my belly. Tiny little pin prick. No big deal! The hard part, as it turns out, was pressing the liquid out of the syringe into my flesh, which stung. But in a moment, it was over. I withdrew the needle, tossed it into the hazardous waste bin, and exhaled loudly.
The Follistim (FSH) was slightly easier: place medicine cartridge in injection pen, affix needle to top, dial up correct dosage, remove cap, stab, press down, hold. Done! That really wasn’t so bad.
The next three days went smoothly. By Day Four I was bloated and constipated. But on Day Five, good news! The ultrasound revealed ten follicles developing in each ovary, which, I was told, “is excellent.”
By Day Six, the injections felt like a piece of cake. However, the hormones began to affect my mood, making me short-tempered, easily overwhelmed, and tearful. Yet I was filled with joy again on Day Seven, when the ultrasound revealed that my follicles had grown beautifully. Dr. Westphal instructed me to begin a daily morning shot of Ganirelix, which suppresses the release of any of the precious mature eggs prior to retrieval.
Another ultrasound on Day Eight showed even bigger and better follicles. Dr. Westphal told me that we would retrieve a day early. At exactly 9:30 pm, 35 hours prior to my procedure, I administered my final shot: one dose of Novarel, which contains human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that stimulates the release of the egg during ovulation. No other shots the next day, and I followed instructions not to eat or drink anything after midnight.
I woke up at 6:15 am on retrieval day to drive down to Stanford. I wasn’t nervous, just excited. At 8:30 am on the dot, the nurse wheeled me into the procedure room, where my anesthesiologist informed me that I’d be getting sleepy very soon…
I woke up about an hour later, feeling a bit groggy, but generally good. My friend Eden was waiting to drive me home. I thought I might have cramps or need to nap, but I worked from home for the rest of the day, feeling quite normal.
The next morning, I got a phone call from the nurse, who informed me that they had successfully retrieved 18 eggs. Fabulous news, as they’d been hoping for 15 to 20! (Only half survived the unfreezing process at the time, so I wanted extras. )
Relief, elation, and gratitude washed over me. Thank you, Universe. Thank you for this gift of 18 mini-me’s waiting to be united with sperm and implanted in my belly some day.
But then it started. The night after the procedure, my belly began to expand. And all the next day, it didn’t stop. Six days later, it was still rotund, stretched tight like a drum, and incredibly uncomfortable. I felt as though someone had put a balloon in my stomach and kept relentlessly pumping, pumping it full of air.
Dr. Westphal had warned me about this. She said that after the eggs have been sucked out of the follicles, the remnant sacks of tissue continue to blow up for a couple of days, causing bloating. She recommended three to four doses of whey protein per day (I can’t bear the stuff; I use vegan protein powder), plus lots of Gatorade or coconut water to stay hydrated. She also said: no exercise or sex until your next period; not too many fruits and veggies; and no spicy foods. In other words: No fun!
But don’t get me wrong: it was worth it. It was all so, so worth it. I had 18 buns in the icebook, ready for defrosting when I needed them. Immediately, I felt the pressure off meeting “the one” and having children right away. Immediately, I felt that I had taken control of my fertility, making the best of a challenging situation.
I had time. I had possibilities. I had hope. Lucky, lucky me.
PS: I'm now married to the Love of My Life, Kiran, and we are trying to get pregnant.
About MeiMei Fox:
MeiMei Fox is the published author, co-author, ghostwriter, and freelance editor of numerous non-fiction books, articles, and blogs. Most recently, she wrote Bend, Not Break with Ping Fu and the New York Times bestseller Fortytude with Sarah Brokaw. She has edited books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Columbia professor Robert Thurman, and was Expedition Writer for Alexandra Cousteau’s global environmental voyage in 2009. Currently, she is writing a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy, VAPOR, with her husband, filmmaker Kiran Ramchandran.
In addition, MeiMei is a depth psychotherapy-trained life coach and certified yoga instructor. She enjoys working with clients to help them achieve their loftiest goals.
MeiMei graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors and distinction from Stanford University. Her greatest desire is to be a Promoter of Joy. She sits on the board of Hope Foundation, which offers education and housing to street children in India. In 2010, she volunteered post-earthquake in Haiti. Recently, she led a group of volunteers to practice yoga, surf, and build a high school in Costa Rica. She lives in Los Angeles.
MeiMei’s mantra is: “Fear Less, Love More!”
Follow MeiMei on Twitter @meimeifox and read more on MeiMei's egg freezing journey at EggFreezingCosts.com