The fertility clinic has a sign in the entrance that politely asks patients to make childcare arrangements before their appointments. “The sight of children can be upsetting to those who are having difficulty conceiving,” it says diplomatically.
“Hey mom,” I stage-whispered one day in the waiting room. “Don’t you think it’s kinda rude that you brought your child to the fertility clinic?”
It’s always a bit awkward when I’m chillin’ in there with my mom and dad. Just about everyone else is there with a partner, and I’m just sitting there next to my parents, looking like a high schooler with ADHD on my iPhone, ignoring my mom’s endless requests to play Scramble with Friends. It doesn’t help that although I’m 25, I look like I’m 15. Everybody else probably thinks my sick parents are there to farm me out and collect $4,000 for each of my healthy little eggs. Joke’s on them, though, because I’m actually the sickest one there!
The egg freezing process is just half of an IVF cycle, which is comforting because it’s a well-established medical protocol that millions of women undergo each year. With the whole cancer thing on my mind, I had kind of assumed that this egg freezing side project would be a walk in the park. And it is. If that walk is at 3am, and that park is full of armed, deranged hobos.
First, you are given $3,000 worth of purified hormones, giant needles and mixing instructions and somehow trusted not to accidentally murder yourself with these tools, despite your total lack of medical experience. The stimulation lasts for 8 to 10 days, and involves 3 or 4 visits to the fertility clinic. Each visit involves a transvaginal ultrasound, and these become increasingly uncomfortable as your ovaries continue to swell. You also get a series of blood draws to monitor your estrogen levels. So, for the folks keeping score at home, that means that every single day of the stimulation cycle you’re getting between 1 and 3 needle sticks. Awesome, right? Where do I sign up?
Second, once your ovaries have been tricked into maturing literally ten to twenty times as many eggs as they would normally produce, you return to the clinic to be sedated. A massive needle is inserted through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries, and the oocytes are then aspirated and cryopreserved. You wake up, crampy and bloated, and hope that somehow your body recovers from the giant hormone bomb that you just set off inside of it.
I thought that the worst part about egg freezing would be stabbing myself with the needle, but actually, that’s been a piece of cake. The first night I did it, I was sitting in the lotus position on my bedroom floor. I’d put on a Bon Iver playlist to try to center myself and remain calm. “Holocene” was playing. Once I’d mixed the solution, I swapped the mixing needle for the injection needle, swabbed an area of my belly and picked out a freckle to be my bull’s-eye.
I stood there staring at it, sweating and trembling, for a good thirty seconds while Bon Iver crooned on, oblivious. I must have looked like an idiot. I was pinching up as much abdominal fat as I could muster, holding a needle poised over it like I was about to stab the life out of it. Finally, I squeezed my eyes shut and plunged the needle toward my flesh.
I missed. I didn’t feel anything. I must have missed!
How did I miss?
I opened my eyes, looked down and saw that actually, the needle was projecting out of my abdomen like a grotesque birthday candle. The whole thing was so painless, I literally thought I’d managed not to touch myself at all. Emboldened by this, thinking I was out of the woods, I confidently pressed down on the plunger and emptied the solution into my flesh.
Sweet Jesus, it was like injecting the contents of a cauldron of boiling lava and acid into my stomach.
I did that every day for eight days.
Around day three, I started to feel a bit bloated and uncomfortable. By day five, I was waddling around trying to keep any of internal organs from touching my obscenely swollen ovaries, which I by then estimated were taking up approximately 80% of the real estate in my lower abdomen. Today is day nine, and I feel like I am nine months pregnant and about to give birth at any minute to a sick egg-baby with eggs for hands, eggs for feet and eggs for a face. GET THESE THINGS OUTTA ME, DOC!
Tonight, I’ll trigger the final maturation process with one more shot. I’ll probably be massively uncomfortable on Sunday, but on Monday morning, all my little future-babies will be frozen, slumbering indefinitely in their little storage tanks, waiting for the day when I’m cancer-free and ready to start my family.