Continued from I’ll Take a Shot of Hormones with a Side of Hope, Please!.
Note: I’ve been amazed at the private responses I’ve received about these recent posts on fertility from men, too! Ladies, it is not just us who thinks about these issues and challenges. That said… to the brave men out there who are following this journey (or just finding it for the first time), some of these posts may push the TMI boundaries, so consider yourself warned.
After the eventful first shot in the ER restroom, the next four days of shots in order to freeze my eggs were relatively easy. Two days in I started feeling very crampy, however, as if my time of the month was coming. I asked the nurses about this and they said it was completely normal and meant the hormones were starting to do their job.
To back up for a minute — as many of my girlfriends have asked and I, too, didn’t know this — it is surprising how little we actually know about our “cycles” until we need to. Most of us focus on knowing when Mother Nature will pay her monthly visit, and we kind of leave it at that.
Some of us know a bit more because our biology may be a little more challenging. But what I didn’t know was that each month, typically one egg becomes the dominant, chosen one. The purpose of the hormone injections during the egg freezing process is twofold — 1) to increase the numbers of eggs that will grow, and 2) to keep them growing at the same pace.
After four days of injections, I was feeling it. Multiple eggs growing at once is a very strange and very crampy, bloated feeling. But I was doing surprisingly well, felt good overall, and the headache had finally gone away. I had purposely not made many plans during this time so that I could be as stress-free as possible and available every night between 6 and 8 pm to do my shots. It quickly became a part of my nightly routine and I oddly kind of enjoyed it.
Let’s do Shots!
My next appointment, we had a bit of a surprise. “Your body is really responding to the injections quickly,” the doctor said. “It’s actually a little faster than I’d like, so we’re going to decrease the amount of hormones and when I get the blood tests back, I’ll let you know how much.”
We were also adding the next batch of injections. These were the “mixing” ones (where I had to measure and mix the solution) and we’d do the first one right then and there. The shot involved taking off the original needle, using the C-Cap to make the mixing between vials easier, integrating a certain amount of the liquid meds with the powder in two separate vials, and then switching the hypodermic needle back to the smaller, thinner one to give the injection. This would be in addition to the other shot I was already doing, but a decreased amount.
Within a minute, my skin felt extremely itchy. I was glad that I was still at the doctor’s office and was able to show him. It appeared I was having an allergic reaction. A welt was forming on my belly, and we waited a few minutes to see if it spread, and it did. The doctor drew lines around the edges and said if it went beyond those lines that I should take Benedryl.
In the meantime, we switched out those meds to a different kind that was pre-measured and made with a different preservative (which apparently is what caused the allergic reaction). Thankfully when I tried that one the next day, there was no reaction.
Getting used to it all was actually much easier than I expected. I formed a ritual surrounding the injections that made it very formulaic and quick. One of the times I was even hosting a dinner party with friends and did all of my injections in less than three minutes with my guests in the other room.
Each injection now had to be done in a different area, moving around my belly, side to side, a little higher or a little lower, icing the areas before the shots.
A week after the first chaotic injection in the ER restroom, and two more doctor visits with ultrasounds and blood tests, I was up to three shots a day. I felt a deep empathy for diabetics and anyone who has to give themselves shots daily because it was about this time, 7 days in, that I started to feel a bit like a human voodoo doll, or not even human at all. It didn’t feel sexy and in many ways, it felt really awkward. I was bloated and uncomfortable. I had formed an intimate relationship with my… abdominal adipose tissue. My belly felt tender and a little swollen all over, and the emotions hit me again.
Huggies & Kittens
It was a strange feeling; with every shot came with it a host of mixed feelings because on one hand, I was really proud of myself for taking such steps and giving myself this insurance even if it wasn’t a guarantee. On the other, I felt sad, again, that it still hadn’t happened for me and I didn’t know when it would or with whom. But I kept my focus on the bigger picture that these eggs could potentially be my future child. I hope that I may never need to use them, but knowing they were there would be a sigh of relief.
One of the things I was afraid of – that the hormones would make me into a crazy person – never happened. Not really. I did have a moment at Petco (okay, 15 minutes) with a kitten that fit in the palm of my hand. I’m not even a cat person, but this little one had me in tears. But then again, I’m easily moved to tears. Speaking of… have you seen the new Huggies commercial? Oh my goodness, the tears when I saw it for the first time!
The last ultrasound and blood test appointment was on a Friday. The process was going fast and the eggs would be ready a little earlier than anticipated. The retrieval would take place on Monday. Two more days of shots and that was it. I had enough meds left over that if I wanted to do the process again (and save up again for it), I’d likely not need to buy any more.
That Saturday night would be my last shot — the trigger injection. This was one final shot 36 hours before retrieval that allows the eggs to loosen from the follicle to make the extraction easy.
I was getting nervous about the anesthesia and was given my pre-op instructions, which included nothing to eat or drink after midnight, and arriving at the surgery center by 7:15 am. I’d be prepped, then meet the anesthesiologist, talk to the doctor, and then we’d begin at about 8:15 am. The whole procedure would be about 15 minutes.
All throughout this time, I spent a lot of quiet time, reflecting on it all, and trying to stay as zen as possible. Lots of couch cuddling with my pups helped keep me balanced, no doubt.
My mom picked me up at 6:30 a.m. We had a little traffic – yes, even at that hour, LA has traffic. But we got there. I filled out a bunch of paperwork, including consent forms. I had to think long and hard about what I’d want in the event that something happened to me while the eggs were in storage. Would I donate them to science? Would I want them thawed and disposed of? Would I gift them to a random couple who needed an egg donor? Who would I put in charge of carrying out my desires?
Thankfully I’d had two weeks to think about it, and was prepared with my answers and consents.
Looking mighty attractive in my hospital gown and slippers, the nurse got my IV started. I expressed to her, the doctor, and the anesthesiologist how nervous I was, but it wouldn’t be much longer before they could give me something to relax. Or rather, put me out!
As is the case when I get nervous, I ask lots of questions. I realized in that moment that I didn’t actually know, specifically, what the procedure entailed. The nurse explained that a tiny needle with suction is basically on the end of an ultrasound device. This is what is used to go in, drain the follicles, and suck out the eggs, which are then given to the lab’s embryologist to take care of the freezing and preservation. No cutting, no stitches. The female body is a miraculous thing, really. I can only imagine how miraculous it must feel to be growing an actual human inside rather than a bunch of eggs.
I walked into the operating room, laid down on the table, the anesthesiologist said she was going to give me something to relax, and that was the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room with the nurse telling me it was all done.
DONE! It may not have been by my original deadline of the end of 2014, but it sure was close. Signed, sealed, and frozen by the second week of 2015!
The retrieval procedure itself could not have been any easier. I was told right away that we got eight eggs, as anticipated. Irony ever present, the weekend before a friend came over and brought me eight stalks of lucky bamboo as a gift; eight being the Feng Shiu number for fertility.
After the retrieval
That day, I felt tired but overall fine and gave myself the day off to do absolutely nothing. Those who know me well know that “nothing” is not something I’m very good at, but I relished in it and felt so beyond relieved and grateful that this journey was now complete.
The next day, the doctor called to tell me the final results. In the end, only seven eggs were mature and successfully frozen, as one was still too immature. “There’s a reason for that,” the doctor told me in a very matter-of-fact follow-up call the next week. “Only the best, highest quality, healthy eggs will mature.” This was all great news! Some women only get four or five. And because of how mine responded to the hormones, my doctor said getting a lower number that are of great quality is actually more desirable than getting 10 to 15 that are not as fully developed.
“Lucky seven!” my mom exclaimed, ever ready to be a grandma to my one-day child or children.
It took about five days to feel “normal” again. The initial days following the procedure were actually some of the more difficult of the whole process in terms of how my body felt. One of the days, my mom came over for lunch. I said I was still so bloated and wondered if it was normal or if I should tell the doctor. When I showed her, she said, “oh, honey, you could pass for five months pregnant!”
I told Lanee this and she laughed, thinking my mom and I were exaggerating. And with full trust in our friendship, I texted her a photo that will never be shared. “Oh WOW!” she texted back. “Yep, congrats! You’re preggers alright!”
The egg freezing journey technically began on a baby changing table and was ending with a “pregnant” selfie.
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife… Isn’t it ironic?
What happens next?
If and/or when I choose to use these eggs, it’s enough for probably one pregnancy, maybe two. There’s about a 90 percent success rate with this part, which means that typically 5 to 6 eggs will be thawed, fertilized, and grown into embryos by the lab’s embryologist. Of those, 2 to 3 may be viable and then implanted. If any more than that are successful, the embryos, too, can be frozen and saved for a later date.
The recent conversations I’ve had about all this have been fascinating. Some feel very uncomfortable that this is playing with science and nature. It is, in fact, doing that, but how incredible that someone like me has this option! It is not perfect, nor is it a guarantee, but creating life is a magical thing to begin with, so if science can intervene and give some hope to people in my shoes or any number of different shoes (cancer, biology, genetics), then how lucky are we to live in a world where science has progressed to such an advanced place?
I understand the traditionalists’ arguments. I used to be one of them. ‘You do not mess with nature’ was my theme song. But I was busy with my career, traveling the world, having adventures, making some mistakes, notching up some victories, and was fully immersed in the cliche journey of figuring out the answer to “who am I and what do I want?”
But now, at a stage in my life where I’ve done all of that and science may be the only thing that allows me the opportunity to get a little closer to the dream of becoming a mother, who am I (or you or anyone else) to judge until you’ve walked that same journey?
For anyone following these posts and considering the process, I whole-heartedly recommend it. I feel a sense of weight lifted in terms of having just a little bit more security than I did before. I feel like I have created some space and some options. I may even decide to do it again in six months or a year. I am happy to continue the discussion, here in the comments publicly, or privately, as it’s a very personal, scary, emotional, expensive, and challenging process.
In addition to the eggs themselves, the thing I most gained during the entire year and a half of this journey was forgiveness and acceptance. There was a whole lot that I needed to let go of, to cry about, to yell about, to get angry about, to feel naive about, and to hurt about, before I could move forward. It was so much more than the practicality of it all for me.
It’s the kind of self-reflection that many don’t ever do, unless an outside stimulus of some kind forces you into that pressure cooker, like wanting something you don’t have so badly alongside a clock ticking so loudly that you end up in the ER with a mother (pun intended) of a migraine. It meant taking a long, hard look at my decisions – good and bad – over the years that brought me to this very moment.
For now, dear eggs, rest safely frozen. There may be a day, perhaps one day soon, that I’ll be coming for you.
Do you have questions about how I chose to freeze my eggs or are you considering it yourself? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear your thoughts. After all, it takes a village…