I’m not sure whether to write this as a letter to my future child... or bullet point the step-by-step clinical process of how this process works? I guess I’ll start with why I’ve decided to do this: I want to be a mom. The more people tell me not to rush, or that I’m young, or that there’s still time, the angrier I get. Not that freezing my eggs will mean that I will suddenly be ready to embrace stretch marks and turn my Uptown-area bachelorette pad into a playpen, but it’s about being prepared. Right now, running a marathon in Antarctica seems to be a more viable option than marriage and a child. I have at least 3 close girlfriends who have gone through this same process, one of whom was with me during my 34th birthday in Puerto Rico. We were on the beach when she told me she had just spent $10k to put her eggs on ice in the event that she meets Mr. Right and they decide to start a family. After I caught my breath (TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS) I had so many questions for her. That conversation was the first of many that would follow around the topic of egg freezing.
I’m not going to get political or religious about this. My purpose is to share my experience-- in an authentic, candid, transparent way-- in order to give young women a glimpse into what the process of egg freezing entails. PS- I’m not a doctor.
My process began last week with a blood test and an ultrasound. My fertility specialist, Dr. Kathy Doody, checked my AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels through a blood draw to make sure I was a good candidate for egg freezing. She said I was a perfect candidate. Or ideal... I forget which word she used, but I had the confirmation I needed. My AMH level was 2.42-- the higher your AMH, the larger your pool of eggs or ovarian reserve. Once your AMH level is less than 1, your chance of conceiving is very low. I also saw my ovaries for the first time via ultrasound! Dr. Kathy counted the number of follicles on each ovary. I have 8 on one and 10 on the other. She said different numbers is normal. I’ll be honest-- I had to research follicles, what they are and how they work.
Bottom line-- I am apparently within the ideal range to freeze my eggs. I hand over my credit card, leave with a box full of meds and spend the next 10-12 days turning my ovaries from the size of almonds into golf balls. How? Hormones.
I started injections tonight. Yes, you self-administer hormone injections... at home... by yourself. I freaked out so hard tonight that I messed up the first vial. Clearly, I am not versed in handling needles. What I learned tonight is that I’m definitely a wimp. I used the “how to” video posted on embryo.net to administer my first shot. You can imagine-- pausing and re-starting the video, step by step; Rewinding when I would mess up or become confused; Second guessing myself when the whole thing was over. Did I do it right? I took a little iPhone video when it was all said and done.*
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The good news is that day one is behind me. I will repeat the same process for the next several nights (you have to stay consistent with timing) around 10pm so I should get the hang of it by evening 7 or 8. One of my girlfriends who has recently been through this herself (different from the friend mentioned above) suggested I put an ice pack on the injection spot for a few minutes before sticking myself so as to numb the area of my tummy prior to injection. I will try that tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 18
The needle poke
The ice worked. I wrapped it in an open paper towel and applied it to the left side of my belly for about a minute-- maybe less. The pain didn’t seem as dramatic. Although, the worst part may just be the psychological drama of poking yourself with a needle.
I haven’t felt any major difference in my body yet. I was able to go to a yoga class after work today. I haven’t had much of an appetite- but I think that could be due to other factors. I also was extremely tired and fell asleep before 10pm... then woke up at 11pm to administer my shot and go back to bed. I took another iPhone video of the process. It went better-- I didn’t have to watch the “how to” video this time. I did forget to wipe the top of the vials with the alcohol pad... hopefully I’m not septic.
I can’t believe I just heard about a new egg freezing process that would only require me to do injections for three days and not 10-12. There’s a conference going on right now in Salt Lake City, Utah -- put on by ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) -- and the newer technique is called “Modified Natural Cycle IVF.” I texted Dr. Kathy about it right away. Three days of meds means a lot less hassle (all these shots!)-- less money-- and less time spent driving to and from Bedford several days a week! Maybe I should’ve waited on this whole thing...
The shot tonight went faster... less drama. Based on the iPhone video, the whole thing went down in less than 8 minutes (a new record!) My abdominal area feels a bit sore from where the needles have gone in, but I suppose that’s normal. Otherwise, I’m feeling just fine! I even went to hip hop dance class tonight!
Thursday, October 20
Are the injections working?
I had a blood draw first thing this morning (well, second thing... first thing was teaching yoga)... The blood test is designed to monitor my estrogen levels. Basically- are the injections working, and if so how well are they working? The good news: they are. After seeing my results, my doctor texted me saying, “You are off to an awesome start!!” Yes- my doctor texts me. She’s amazing. :) My blood test was at 8:30am, and the lab had the results by 12:45pm. They called to tell me that my estrogen level was 465. I have no idea what that means... but I’ll ask tomorrow. What I do know is that I don’t have to increase or decrease the volume or amount of medicine that I’m injecting. YAY. Also, tomorrow morning I will return for another blood test and sonogram for the doctor to check my ovaries to see how they’re responding.
I really wanted to go on a walk tonight, but it didn’t happen. Other things took precedent. So, probably no working out today. A friend is hosting a Halloween party, but I’m not sure what my parameters and/or limitations are when it comes to alcohol consumption during this process. I’ve heard different things from friends with regard to drinking, traveling, exercise... I wonder why the vast difference of opinions when it comes to all of that. I’m also on antibiotics for something else-- so we know how much fun I’ll be tonight. Ha!
Last night was fun. I went out for a couple of hours -- and even wore a Wonder Woman costume. It was a Halloween party, just to clarify. The reason I note the social outing and the costume is because I want to stress the importance of how great and normal I feel. I had this preconceived notion that I would be really bloated and moody or tired-- and it’s just not been the case. I came home by around 11:30 p.m. so that I could still administer my Menopur shot within the same timeframe as the previous nights. This time, I didn’t record it on video. I was so confident in the mixing and the administering that I FaceTimed a friend to see what he thought of the process. In all, it took about 7 minutes to get it together tonight. I will say that by the time it was all said and done, my friend on the other end of the phone (again, a male) had his hand over the camera because I think it was either too hard for him to watch or too gruesome. He got off the phone with me very shortly thereafter. (Insert your own anecdote about the strength and endurance of women here-- and we’re not even to the childbirth part yet. Sorry guys, not trying to be a hater, but....)
8:45am I was back in Bedford for a sonogram and another blood draw. This is all part of the monitoring process. During the sonogram, Dr. Kathy showed me my ovaries and how the injections were impacting my follicles. They’re growing! And inside the follicles are my eggs. They’re too small to see now and without a microscope, but the steady growth we’re noticing is a good thing! Dr. Kathy said I might even be able to move my egg retrieval up to Wednesday (instead of next Friday or Saturday!) That’s two or three fewer days of shots! Here’s a little iPhone video I took of my ultrasound: **
During the blood test, I thought about how sick of needles I’m getting. Then, I reminded myself that this is all elective and countless people have to do this type of thing for a variety of other medical reasons and that I should chill out. I left wondering if I’m normally low on estrogen because of how great I’ve been feeling. My mood is soaring! I should seriously ask Dr. Kathy if it’s the meds.
By 12 p.m., the lab test results were in. I always get a phone call from a nurse who shares the results of my blood work, and based on that, tells me what to do next-- with regard to dosage and medication. My estrogen level was 682. Whoa. I was so surprised that one day could make such a difference! Over the phone, the nurse described it as “a good rise.” So, the Menopur shots continue using 3 vials at a time-- same as I have been doing since Monday. The only difference tonight will be that I’m adding a shot: an “antagonist” called Ganirelix. That, I’m told, basically prevents me from ovulating. If ovulation occurs, the entire process is essentially ruined and you start from scratch. So, tonight-- for the first time-- I have to take TWO shots. UGH! At least the Ganirelix is just a pre-filled syringe. So I do two shots tonight and tomorrow night -- then go back into the clinic on Sunday morning for another sonogram and blood draw to see what’s next!
Dr. Kathy told me at this point to expect an increase in clear discharge (like you would normally see around mid-cycle) -- which is just a result of the rising estrogen level. Again, I’m adding these details because in going through the process, you have so many questions based on what’s happening physically -- that it can become overwhelming. So I’m trying to include as much of the minutia as possible in hopes that it’s helpful to someone reading this.
Is anyone reading this?
I didn’t sleep very well last night. For the first time since administering the shots, I found myself pretty uncomfortable. It might have been psychological, because once I woke up and went to yoga, I was fine. I do have a slight bruise on the left side of my belly, where I injected myself last night. It’s not painful, just feels bruised. On the suggestion of the doctor, I’ve been switching injection sites-- right and left, back and forth. I have had a pretty low key day: running a few errands and visiting a friend who recently had twins. Twins! I reconsidered whether I will ever be ready for babies. I realized how selfish I am able to be in my life right now. A lot of my friends tell me to enjoy my freedom-- and believe me, I do. But what does that really mean? At 35 years old, I’m not going to clubs, dancing until 4am, doing keg stands and spontaneously jumping on a plane to the Maldives. It’s Saturday. I went to the grocery store, dry cleaner, and bought new sheets at Bed Bath & Beyond. To be fair (and honest, which I promised) I did go to Vegas last weekend... and next weekend (Halloween) will be much more eventful than me doing laundry and paying bills.
The day started out with a visit to the doctor for another blood test and sonogram. The drive to Bedford isn’t so bad on a Sunday morning. I was in and out of there in 25 minutes. What struck me today was how many women were in the waiting room. I wanted to talk to them all; I wanted to ask them why they were there-- whether they were there to freeze their eggs like I was? All of them appeared to be in their 30s-- none wearing wedding rings -- none with guys who may have been a spouse or a boyfriend. But, everyone was staring at their phones in the lobby (with the exception of one gal who was reading a book) so I didn’t bother talking to anyone.
My sonogram indicated all good things. My follicles are continuing to grow. Dr. Kevin told me that typically they’re ready for retrieval when there are several viable follicles measuring 18cm. Some of mine are there, but not a vast majority. So, I will continue taking the hormones for another couple of days. At this point, the process feels like rinse and repeat. I know for some people who are reading these entries or watching my videos that might sound crazy... but it’s true.
My blood work came back - with estrodile level at 1,456! The nurse on the phone called that “wonderful” -- so ... yay(!?) The tricky part over the next few days will be determining when I’ll be ready for the “trigger” shot and subsequent egg retrieval. My bosses at work know I’m doing all of this, so they have been incredibly flexible in understanding that I may arrive in the mornings a little later than normal. But, I wonder how other women do this? Teachers? Or women who don’t want to tell their managers? I understand this process is something private and personal that many women may not want to share with colleagues let alone their supervisors.
I got a massage and took a nap for three hours today. When is a nap no longer a nap? I don’t think it has anything to do with the medications, I think I was generally tired. So it’s been a low key day which was great... because this week will be wild.
I snapped at one of my producers, which is totally unlike me-- but I won’t blame the hormones; I’ll own it. I went out an shot a story as normal but am feeling generally tired. And I’m also generally tired of giving myself shots. I taught my yoga class wearing the baggiest hippy pants I own and a tank top and sweat shirt. I’m sure I looked oddly layered for a heated yoga class, but my students are awesome -- no one noticed or said anything. I fell asleep on my couch while waiting for the 10pm news... I woke up semi-panicked at 11 p.m. about needing to give myself two injections! My blood work is looking good and estrogen levels came back at over 3,200. I asked the nurse what normal levels would be without all the meds. Guess what she said? Like, 20. YEAH. My last sonogram is slated for tomorrow and we’re going to see on camera the difference between my ovaries and follicles now as compared to last week... Can’t wait!
Tuesday, October 25
An underground sisterhood
I AM SO UNCOMFORTABLE. I can’t even eat I feel so full. Like, the past two nights I’ve had a few handfuls of popcorn for dinner. That’s not good, I know. But I feel like there is no room in my body to put food. I tried taking a picture of my bloating-- but you can’t physically see it from the outside. It’s almost entirely internal. It’s a weird feeling. This is the only time I’ve felt a little strange physically. I went to the doctor with my photographer to get updated video on my blood work and sonograms. OKAY... If you’re squeamish, skip to the next entry: My ovaries are HUGE. The sonograms are done vaginally-- not like what you see when a pregnant lady goes to the doctor and gets gel rubbed on her belly. So, there’s a probe that goes in with a camera attached to the end and you SEE (hello!) your uterus -- and the doctor manipulates the probe to see your ovaries and measure the follicles in each. There’s one egg in each follicle. I don’t know how or why but the right ovary and follicles are growing larger.... which is not problematic, scientifically, but when the doctor moves the probe to get a better shot of the ovary-- WOWWWWWWW--- you *feel* that ovary. I literally said, “OH. So that’s where my ovary is.” It made its cameo. Fantastic.
I had soup and french fries for lunch- which I later learned was a decent decision because you want to stay high protein and high salt (plus hydrate a lot) pre and post retrieval! I don’t know if it was my clothes or the bisque or the ovaries, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. I felt so full after lunch and still had a full evening of work ahead.
I gathered a group of women from around DFW to discuss their egg retrieval experiences. I wanted to have six voices, but ultimately we ended up with four which still worked out really well. The on-camera conversation was fantastic, but the off-camera chatter in the dressing room before and after recording were so great. I felt like part of an underground sisterhood of people who completely understand where I am in life and why this decision became so important. Interestingly, three of the four women said they found out they had low AMH levels only after they did a random test to see whether they’d be a good candidate for egg freezing. Three out of four. Now, all of them were successful in having frozen eggs- but, to me, the bigger question becomes-- why are we (women) not inquiring about our fertility until we are trying to conceive? It’s not a conversation to have with an OBGYN... they’re concerned with other things. This is specific and targeted. I just appreciate these four women so much for coming forward and shedding light on a seemingly mysterious and for whatever reason, taboo process.
I ate soup again for dinner, with some blue corn chips for salt, and afterward gave myself the first of a two-part trigger shot. I barely felt it. The best part: It was only one little shot. I’m done with Menopur and Ganirelix! Once again, sleep came quickly-- before 10pm. I had the TV on to catch the news, but didn’t even make it.
Wednesday, October 26
My ovaries are so large right now
I woke up at 7:30am, showered and gave myself my LAST injection! Can I throw a party? The second round of the “trigger” shot-- Lupron-- is done and over with. I had to get to the doctor’s office between 8 and 9am for a final blood check to make sure that my body’s response is where they want it to be in order to go ahead with my egg retreival tomorrow morning. I’m relieved that this process has gone so well-- and fast, it seems. I say that as I’m wearing the LOOSEST clothing possible today. I feel better today than yesterday, but it might just be the comfort of the clothes. I sat at my desk and wrote a story -- so nothing too intense and certainly no bras, skirts, heels and the whole work getup... I am reconsidering my regular Wednesday hip hop class just because my ovaries are so large right now -- that ‘jostling’ them would be problematic. The doctor said yoga is fine and there’s a class I might go to tonight -- but I’m still undecided. I thought maybe a mani/pedi could replace hip hop -- but I have to rid my fingernails and toenails of all nail polish before the procedure tomorrow, so good thing i didn’t get my nails done this weekend!
I went to yoga and it turns out, when I talked about egg freezing and the fact that my retrieval is tomorrow, another one of my girlfriends in class said she has gone through the process, too! I didn’t even know. She, like many women I know, indicated that she doesn’t advertise it. She seemed shy to even talk about it. Clearly, I feel differently. Class was decent. I chose not to do everything that I can do-- because I do have a bit of a full or heavy feel in my abdomen. So, for instance-- to my yogis out there: I skipped right over bow pose. Just. Couldn’t. Do It. Arm balances and inversions? Totally fine. And it felt GOOD to sweat!
I can’t eat or drink anything after midnight tonight, and I have to arrive at the doctor’s office in Bedford by 7am. My procedure is scheduled for 7:45am. I have a friend driving me, and of course, my photographer will be there as well. I’m honestly more nervous about the photography than the procedure itself. The way Dr. Kathy explained it to me, it will only take 10-15 minutes. I’ll be under general anesthesia and will wake up to find out how many eggs they were able to retrieve and freeze. (Not all eggs are created equal-- so some that aren’t mature will be discarded.)
Thursday, October 27
It was over. Obviously, I didn’t remember anything.
Retrieval Day came and went quickly. My alarm went off at 6am; I was due at the doctor’s office by 7am in preparation for my procedure, which was to start at 7:45am. The drive was dark and seemingly fast. There’s not much traffic on the way to Bedford at 6:30am, I guess.
I wasn’t nervous until I got to the surgery waiting room. A nurse took me to the back and had me change into a hospital gown (you know, the kind that is open in the back). I had to stuff my hair into a hospital cap and wore my glasses so you can imagine the video taken of me doesn’t make for the most sparkling television... but it was real. I took two pills: one to help with anti-nausea and the second to help with something else-- though now I can’t remember. The IV came soon after and, like clockwork, I was taken into the OR for the procedure. The anesthesiologist, who I’d met with in the lobby before, now reminded me of how things would go down. That’s truly when I became nervous. You feel like you’re signing away your life in those moments... like, what if I never wake up? Dramatic, I know. The doctor told me where to lay and what she was doing before the actual retrieval got started, and the last words I remember saying as I breathed in the cool, crisp air that would sedate me from behind the mask were “Taylor, be nice to me.” Taylor is my photographer who was in the OR with me. He had one camera going to capture my procedure (off a screen) and another camera with the embryologist who would collect my eggs from Dr. Kathy and eventually freeze them. Let me be clear, Taylor didn’t just step into the OR at the last minute. He’s been helping me to document this entire process. He’s met me in Bedford at several doctors appointments, has been in the ultrasound room with me, has experienced all the blood tests. I chose him to work with partially because he’s one hell of a photographer and editor-- but also because his wife is pregnant and so I didn’t think he’d be squeamish or childish about any part of this process. The day I sat in my news director’s office and asked him if he would help me to put my story together, I asked whether he could handle hormones at home and at work? When he said yes, I’m not quite sure if either of us knew what that meant. My photographer became the first person (aside from the doctor and embryologist) to see my eggs. He had my total trust.
He was also the first person I remember seeing, along with the nurse, when I woke up in the recovery room. It was over. Obviously, I didn’t remember anything. Dr. Kathy told me they were able to obtain 13 eggs. But, the process wasn’t over. The embryologist was still sorting them to figure out which ones and how many were viable and mature to save and freeze for later use. Everything was hazy for a while. The anesthesia plus pain medications had me seeing double. Still, somehow, I managed to eventually get up, get dressed and do a quick interview with the embryologist. I’ll be honest- at this very moment, I don’t even remember that poor guy’s name. And he handled my eggs. I know we talked about the process of what he would go through for the next several hours in order to make sure the mature eggs were salvaged and stored to perfection. He told me I would get a call several hours later to notify me of the final number of eggs I would have. I didn’t wait for the phone call, I fell right asleep in the passenger seat while I was driven home.
It was early-to-mid afternoon when I woke up, ate some grain crackers with smoked salmon and went back to sleep. I didn’t feel much pain, just some annoying cramping in my lower abdomen. Several people told me to keep a high salt, high protein intake in the days after the procedure. There’s often water retention, some weight gain and bloating associated with the hormones and the procedure itself- so I tried to stay diligent about fluid intake as well. I was groggy -- and in between states of consciousness for some time on Thursday. I think I was able to watch a movie that evening and despite better judgement, I even went for a short walk. It wasn’t easy. My abdomen was sore and I had to take an extra strength Tylenol. Back to bed. This weekend would invite a lot of rest. Oh, and the embryologist called: he was able to get 12 good eggs. A dozen eggs!
I feel the need to make a point that even when it’s over it’s still not over. I thought my last entry would conclude with the number of eggs retrieved and we would all go home happy and I would jump back into work and working out with maybe a slight pause in programming. But, no. It’s been much more involved than that- and in many ways, the after-math has been more difficult than the ramp-up.
You see, the estrogen levels in my body are still high. I’m bloated. Not like -- I ate a few too many slices of pizza bloated-- like, I look borderline 3-months pregnant bloated. My friends who’ve been through this all said it would happen. As I coasted through the beginning of this process, I thought- I’m going to sail right through the finish line. Well, days later and I still haven’t been back to yoga, I can’t imagine running- I get uncomfortable sleeping on my stomach! The inflammation and swelling has extended to other body parts as well. It’s not just me. Bras don’t lie. I went back to work today and wore the poofiest dress I own. (Thank you, Nordstrom spring season 2014- I think?)
I didn’t have much drive to squeeze into a Halloween costume over the weekend. My clothes are definitely tight in the torso. I’m still drinking fluids as much as possible and my intestines are finally beginning to reawaken post-sedation. I look forward to sweating, working out, fitting back into my clothes, sleeping on my stomach and know that this temporary discomfort is outweighed by the assurance I’ve afforded myself. But, it still sucks. I spoke to my doctor and nurse today and they told me to wait another few days before expecting to see my body return to normal. That’s also what my friends told me. One week. One week of feeling like the Michelin man. (Dang! Now that would’ve been a terrific Halloween costume of choice!) I will add for any women out there (or men who are still reading) that if you’re booed up-- the doctors will tell you no intercourse until after the woman experiences her first cycle following egg retrieval. THIS IS IMPORTANT for two reasons: first, your ovaries are still enlarged (read: painful); and second, you are extremely fertile, have just triggered ovulation and even after your retrieval, there may be a mature egg or two hanging out, just waiting for sperm to find it. The idea is, of course, to get pregnant-- just not right away. Right?
I’m not writing every day anymore. In fact, my intention was to wrap up my first-ever attempt at a blog in a pretty little bow once egg retrieval was over. Well, it’s not over when it’s over. Today was my first day back to yoga. I haven’t worked out much - and certainly not intensely- in a long time (by my standards). I’m still not feeling 100% back to normal. I wonder how much of that is psychological. I suppose the reality is that my body is still adjusting. It felt good to sweat, but also because I still feel like my ovaries are enlarged and I have this sense of being “bloated” internally, it’s harder to move gracefully. As a person who, for years, has exercised regularly, it’s the best baseline I have for what feels normal. Is that normal? ;)
I’m starting to feel less bloated. Finally. Hallelujah.
Thursday, November 10
I never thought I’d be that girl
I just got home from my workout and it just hit me: i finally feel back to normal after all that being bloated and sleepy and sad and grumpy. I wonder if it was the hormones? I feel super energized and happy! And my body is sore. In a good way... not in pain. Maybe it’s just the endorphins after not having exercised in a while. I ran three miles last night and felt that sweet boost of energy that felt so foreign. My girlfriends who have gone through the egg freezing process warned me that it would take a solid 7 to 10 business days (LOL) to feel like yourself again. It’s like nothing ever happened... except... the pressure is off to turn some guy into the man of my dreams because of some biological clock. I have to laugh -- and roll my eyes-- because I never thought I’d be that girl. Older women around the world are saying “I told you so.”
The younger ones probably have better things to do-- like snapchat pictures. Eventually, when they do have the time and curiosity to focus their attention inward about what it is they really want out of life, and how to go about creating it.