Turning 27 last month has put me in a weird headspace. It's a headspace where I'm thinking about things like 5-year plans and IRAs and making monthly budgets and getting a credit card with relevant airline miles. It's also a headspace where I'm looking at said credit card and thinking about how it would feel to put a cycle of egg freezing on it.
I was 17 when I began asking my doctors about fertility. It wasn't that I was in a big rush to have kids-- on the contrary, actually-- but I had been diagnosed with PCOS, and I wanted to understand my options. PCOS is an umbrella diagnosis that describes a variety of otherwise unattributable malfunctions in a woman's reproductive cycle -- things like irregularity and anovulation and unbalanced hormones. It also happens to be a leading cause of women's infertility, so... super great for me!
The particular problems with my reproductive system were frustratingly vague. From all the blood tests and ultrasounds and the like, everything appeared intact and healthy. Ovaries? Check. Eggs? Check. Uterus? Check. Actual ovulation? Uh... better luck next time! No doctor could provide an explanation as to what the underlying cause was and what might ultimately fix it. I was told it would be a matter of trial and error to see whether I could have biological kids, with methods ranging from patience to oral meds to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
But obviously the trials and inevitable errors couldn't start until I was actually prepared to have kids, so until then I've had to plan for my future with a little cloud of mystery hanging over me. Cynically, I began to regard my reproductive system as a fussy vending machine, and trial and error sounded a whole lot like standing in front of it and putting in quarter after quarter and shaking it to try to jar loose the thing that I wanted. And I don't have a lot of quarters.
It's been 10 years since I was diagnosed with PCOS, and I'm starting to understand I might need to play the long con with my ovaries, for both career and financial reasons. I reside in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the world, working as a freelance theater artist and writer (read: chronically low income), and in a wonderful long term relationship with another theater artist (read: no one to blame but ourselves). I dedicate much of my time and energy to scraping together rent payments and networking to get that next, newer-bigger-better project to work on so I can experience even a modicum of financial security. In other words, I'm years away from homeownership, marriage, kids, etc.
The way I want to live my life means I probably won't be ready for kids until after my peak reproductive years. Combine that with PCOS and I might as well just throw my date book out the window. But, at least at this point in my life, having a biological baby is important to me, so if I can, I want to. The question is whether my eggs will be past their expiration date when that time comes around.
It's no secret that fertility treatments are expensive and not guaranteed to work, but as someone who, because of my lifestyle and income expectations, can probably only afford to have kids on the back half of my child-bearing years anyway, what would actually be the least expensive way to hedge my bets? Sure, it's possible that I could have a baby without medical intervention or oral meds, but what if I can't? The Type A worrier in me wants to prepare for the worst case scenario. So if there's something I could be doing now that might mitigate that cost later, I'd like to be doing it.
Enter egg freezing. I've known young women who have sold their eggs, but I don't know anyone who's gone and frozen them. In an interview with NBC, Dr. Michael Kettle from the San Diego Fertility Center explains that egg freezing as a fertility treatment utilizes the same processes as IVF, but the gap between when you harvest the eggs and when you use them is much longer -- years, in fact. One cycle of harvesting and freezing can cost over $8,000, and a cycle of implanting the eggs costs about as much, not including medications and storage.
The total cost for egg freezing is around $20,000 for both stages, so this kind of treatment isn't cheap. But given enough time, that kind of money just becomes a cash flow consideration; while $8,000 might be huge expense for me now (I'm sweating just thinking about it), with eggs safely frozen, I could save up for however long it took to get the second half of the treatment. If I were to wait another 10 years to start the procedures -- around the time I feel like I would be equipped to have children -- I would have no choice but to spend money for harvesting and implantation cycles all at once.
Covering the cost of any large expense like this would be tight for just about any family I know, but some fertility clinics offer payment plans and there are even loans for fertility treatments like egg freezing. And there's always crowd funding of sorts: I've sometimes considered asking my parents to forgo the traditional bride's side contribution to my (eventual) wedding in favor of putting some money in the grandbaby bank. Considering the usual trappings of wedding planning and the prodigious size of my father's family, they may get out for less just contributing to the grandkid Kickstarter rather than ponying up for ungodly quantities of cocktail shrimp and favors no one will ever use. You can't hug a floral arrangement.
All in all, I don't know what the right decision is, or even if there is one. I could wait and see if kids are in the cards naturally, or I could take steps to make sure that option is available to me in the future. Uncertainty has never been a friend of mine, and contemplating the future makes me anxious -- especially with that much money at stake. But what is the price of having peace of mind? And what is the price of over-preparing? The newly-27-year-old me doesn't know.
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