Note: This is the third in a series of five blog postings in which I document going through the process of "oocyte cryopreservation" last summer. Click for part one and part two. I share my personal experience in an effort to spread awareness of this fertility option to other women my age. Please do not consider it a substitute for advice from a medical professional.
The following is my daily diary as I go through the hormone cycle leading up to my oocyte preservation procedure, scheduled to last for 11 days. On the 12th day, if all goes well, my fertility doctor will retrieve and freeze 15-20 of my eggs for potential future fertilization and use with IVF.
I've never tried heroine, so the idea of shooting up makes me nervous.
Fortunately, my dear friend Kristen, who went through the process of freezing embryos (her eggs and an anonymous donor's sperm) two years ago, has agreed to walk me through the experience. I'm supposed to inject at about the same time each night, so I choose 10 pm.
I empty 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 gaze at the pharmaceutical display spread across my kitchen table, my stomach starts fluttering. I take a sip of water and sit down. If only I could have a glass of wine to calm my nerves... but no. The doctor advised against consuming any alcohol or caffeine for the duration of the process.
Kristen gives me step-by-step instructions. First, the Menopur (FSH & LH): Open syringe, attach mixing needle. Extract saline solution from one small bottle, inject into second tiny bottle with powdered medication, wait for it to dissolve. Draw mixture back into syringe. Swap mixing needle for (blessedly) much tinier injection needle. Ice tummy, cleanse with alcohol swab, dry thoroughly ("It hurts more if the skin is wet," Nurse Ratched, as I nicknamed her, had warned during our injections class at the fertility center.)
"Now," says Kristen. "Deep breaths. Then just do it."
Hands shaking, I stab the needle into the fattiest area of my belly. It's just a tiny little pin prick. No big deal!
The hard part, it turns out, isn't stabbing myself, but rather pressing the liquid out of the syringe into my flesh, which stings, and then holding the needle steady inside me for five long seconds to make sure all the meds get in, which makes me feel slightly queasy. Kristen counts with me, "Four-mississippi-five-mississippi." I withdraw the needle with a huge sigh of relief and toss the sharps into my hazardous waste bin.
The Follistim (FSH) injection is slightly easier: place medicine cartridge in injection pen, affix needle to top of pen, dial up correct dosage of meds, remove cap, stab into belly, press down on pen as medicine clicks out of vial, hold. Done.
That really wasn't so bad. I can do this.
No Kristen to cheer me on, so I'm nervous. I don't want to mess up my (pricey) meds, so I move slowly, triple checking each move that I make. I spontaneously decide to skip icing my belly first, since the shots barely hurt last night.
Bad idea: They hurt more.
It's the last day when exercise is permitted until I get my next period, in order to avoid the possibility of overstimulating my developing follicles. I weep in yoga. I feel not so much sad, since I'm proud of myself for taking charge of my fertility, as I do overwhelmed. This is heavy stuff. I feel as though I've agreed to participate in an animal husbandry experiment, and I'm the trial subject.
I'm bloated: I'm not pooping much (TMI?), and my ovaries are sticking out. Not something I ever thought I'd hear myself say, but it's true. I can see them pushing slightly outwards. I can also feel them jiggling whenever I walk, and it's not pleasant.
I have a check-up at the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center, where I'm having my egg freezing done. The ultrasound reveals that 10 follicles are developing in each ovary, which is excellent. However, they're "on the small side," says Dr. Westphal. This makes me mildly nervous, but I choose to meditate, sending happy, growing thoughts to my sore, overstuffed ovaries.
"Keep up with the current routine," my doc says, "and come back in two days."
The injections are getting easier each night. However, as the hormones begin to affect my mood, making me short-tempered and weepy, undermining thoughts begin to take charge, and the clear, strong voice of reason fades. I have to keep answering the same pesky questions over and over again:
Why am I doing this?
Because I want to preserve the option of being able to have biological children with a partner I love some day. Because I want to take the pressure off dating.
Is it utterly selfish to freeze my eggs?
Maybe... I suppose one could argue that wanting to have children of one's own is always inherently selfish. But I feel it's my calling in life, and I haven't given up hope. In which case, this is me taking control of my life in a positive, healthy way.
Why don't I just adopt, rather than go through all this expense and hassle?
Maybe my partner won't want to adopt. Or if I'm on my own, it's harder for single women to adopt than to have babies alone. It can take years to adopt either way. But again, who knows? Maybe I will end up adopting. This is just about preserving my options.
Back to the clinic for my check-up. The ultrasound reveals... That my follicles have grown beautifully! I have over five large ones in each ovary, plus more than a dozen smaller ones. My uterine lining is three layers thick (this, I'm told, is simply grand). Dr. Westphal instructs me to begin a daily morning shot of Ganirelix, which suppresses the release of any of my precious, now-mature eggs prior to retrieval, and to check in with her again tomorrow.
I walk to my car, climb inside, and sob for the next 15 minutes. These are tears of gratitude, tears of relief. Thank-freaking-god this $11,000 process is going well.
I text my best friend Jen to let her know: "Crying cause I'm gonna get me some eggs."
She writes back: "You deserve some tears of joy, you hormonal nutcase," which only makes me cry harder.
Another ultrasound at the my doctor's office reveals that my follicles are even bigger and better. I am, it seems, uber-fertile. Yay, me! We're going to do the retrieval a day early, which means one less day of shots -- even better. My last day of Follistim and Menopur will be tonight.
I am, however, incredibly bloated, I complain. My belly pops out, yet annoyingly, I still get hungry. I'm starting to become more short-tempered, and I made persnickety remarks at a morning meeting.
Dr. Westphal advises me to buy whey protein powder and consume 3-4 doses of it per day. I hate that stuff: I'm a fan of whole foods, getting protein from eggs and fish, not a powder. But she says it will help a great deal with the bloating, so I'm in. I go to Whole Foods and buy a version that is organic, all-natural, and also contains greens powder.
I shoot up the Ganirelix in the morning. At exactly 9:30 pm, 35 hours prior to my procedure, I administer my final shot: one dose of Novarel, which contains human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that stimulates the release of the egg during ovulation.
I don't take any meds, don't give myself any shots, and obey my doctor's orders not to eat or drink anything after midnight.
Tomorrow, one day earlier than anticipated, I'll go in at 7:30 am for the egg retrieval procedure. Next blog from the other side! Wish me luck.
PS: I'm now living with the Love of My Life, Kiran, and we are trying to get pregnant naturally. I hope not to have to use my frozen eggs, but I am happy to have them as an insurance policy.