Nothing prepared me for the experience of freezing my eggs

RENDEZVIEW: As reproductive technology continues to improve, so too does the number of women now opting to freeze their eggs. But it's what we're telling them about the procedure beforehand that left me surprised, writes Bianca O'Neill.

I have enjoyed many long walks on the beach throughout my 20s without a screaming newborn to ruin the sunset cocktails that followed. I spent my early 30s travelling the world without having to worry whether a pram counted as my check-in baggage allowance.

Up until now, it's been a beautiful life filled with old men that I don't know telling me that my biological clock is ticking.

Now I am almost 37 years old, wanting to start a family, and in reproductive terms, a geriatric (a delightful medical descriptor afforded to women procreating - or trying to - over the age of 35).

But before I acquiesced to the idea of dedicating years to the miracle of life - Aka cleaning vomit and urine off various surfaces (and for once, not even at a music festival) - I thought I'd better hedge my bets and pop a few eggs in the freezer. After all, 36-year-old eggs are better than 40-year-old eggs, right? Within the geriatric community, I'm basically a spring chicken.

RendezView. Woman at gynaecologist. (Pic: iStock)
RendezView. Woman at gynaecologist. (Pic: iStock)

When I told my friends that I was planning to freeze my eggs, they looked at me, perplexed. "Like Kourtney Kardashian?" one asked. "Yes," I answered solemnly, even though I got the idea from a particularly great episode of The Mindy Project that spoke to me on a deep and spiritual level.

As reproductive technology continues to improve, so too does the number of women now opting to freeze their eggs.

According to figures recently released by the Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database, the number of women with eggs in storage facilities in Victoria has increased by 122 per cent over just three years, from 1,085 people in June 2015 to 2,411 in June 2018. Coincidentally, the average age of women using these services in Australia is 37.

In the US, the Society for Reproductive Technology reports that 10,936 women froze their eggs in 2017, while the market is projected to grow 25 per cent annually over the next two years.

There was a long course of injections in the lead-up to the egg extraction procedure. Picture: iStock
There was a long course of injections in the lead-up to the egg extraction procedure. Picture: iStock

In other words, it's a big, lucrative business. And undergoing the process comes at a cost - with some women paying up to $10,000 to have their eggs extracted and put on ice.

I spent weeks online reading horror stories about the process of freezing your eggs. The best ones talked about how they would break down in tears over an ad for Sultana Bran. The worst spoke about the incredibly painful and dangerous experience of Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (a condition where the medications you're given produce too many follicles and cause complications).

When the time came to begin the process myself, I was prepared for the worst. But in fact, the whole experience not only unemotional, and symptomatically unremarkable, but also strangely empowering.

Like all patients undergoing the procedure, I was warned about the many potential side-effects - notably severe bloating - and told to avoid making big life decisions or attending essential meetings lest I burst into tears or outrageous screaming fits. None of these things eventuated, though.

I spent five days injecting myself with a cocktail of hormones - funnily enough at the same time as I attended Fashion Week in Sydney. And as someone with a deep fear of needles, I was deeply impressed that I managed injected myself without fainting in my Airbnb.

I added a second (and much larger needle) to the process for another five days, and once my specialist had given me the all-clear, I was booked in for a day surgery that involved strategically vacuuming the follicles that I'd produced.

Fourteen eggs in the freezer later, I was ejected into the world and told not to drive home. There was a little soreness, absolutely, but nothing Panadol couldn't eradicate.

I'm not doubting the bad experiences that a lot of other women go through in the process of egg collection for a minute, but for me, it barely made a blip on my day.

And that's the thing; for every horror story about labour, there are plenty of routine, safe births each day that you never hear about. For every nightmare child who never sleeps through the night, there are plenty of kids who do.

Freezing eggs allows many women greater options when the time comes to start a family. Picture: iStock
Freezing eggs allows many women greater options when the time comes to start a family. Picture: iStock

We spend so much time, as women, talking about the horror stories that sometimes we forget to tell the good ones for fear of looking like a brag. But why are we trying to scare each other?

We hear about women being pressured into having children to assuage the 'ticking clock'. But what about beating the clock at its own game?

For me, this process was one of the best choices I've ever made.

Freezing my eggs had never occurred to me until recently. I'd always thought I had one of two choices: IVF or natural. I'd never considered there would be an in-between option, one which captured my fertility now and also gave me more options for the future. One which meant that I could freeze time literally, and make the big decision further down the road - with fewer concerns about my age.

For me, this process was one of the best choices I've ever made. I just wish I'd done it earlier.

Now I can make decisions in my own time, and I can stop feeling rushed into something that is a huge life change. And if that's not empowering, then nothing is.

Bianca O'Neill is a freelance writer.



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