Quick preface… fertility can be a very tricky, emotional, and personal subject to discuss. If the topic is at all triggering for you, please know that I’ll be speaking very candidly about a lot of my personal fertility experience below.
When I was in my 20s, I had my life plan all figured out. Now, at the still relatively young age of 35, I would have been married with two kids, maybe one more on the way, we’d be living in the suburbs with our Golden Retriever, and life would be good. Maybe we’d throw in a white picket fence and good school district for good measure.
But let’s rewind for just a sec, because, as they say, “When you make some plans, God just laughs”.
If you don’t know by now, I’m a happily divorced career-driven business owner that’s the proud parent to a Bernese Mountain rescue dog named Luxembourg. While I’m very happy in my current relationship status, I have no kids, no desire to have kids right now, feel no desire to rush into marriage again, though I do still see kids and marriage in God’s plan for me… just not right now.
So, after many discussions with doctors and those close to me, as well as taking plenty of time to figure out my personal feelings on the subject, I have decided to freeze my eggs.
My Experience Freezing My Eggs
About a year ago, I decided to learn more about the process of freezing my eggs. I didn’t know what to expect, spoke with the one doctor my OBGYN suggested, and immediately felt overwhelmed.
So let me break it down for you (in my own words). At a very high level, egg freezing looks like:
- Around three months of prior planning (egg retrieval in month three);
- Three months (if possible) of supplements and prior prenatal planning;
- $10,000 to around $15,000 in my Chicago market, some of which may be covered by insurance (it’s a lot of money, though definitely cheaper than having a kid right now);
- Around two weeks of consistent injections;
- An out-patient procedure that takes around 20 minutes, but you need somebody to drive you home because you’ll be all loopy from the meds;
- A few limitations, though not as many as you might think;
- Very similar to the IVF process, though you’re just going through the first half now, second half whenever you would like;
- As many years as you’d like of guilt-free life enjoyment prior to having kids, if that’s what you ultimately decide to do. One of the best parts of egg freezing is that YOU get to decide when you would like to start and stop having children, rather than having your biological clock decide for you. It’s actually VERY empowering.
At the time of my first conversation, I had very different goals in mind. I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon, crush through several Grad School credits, and travel without stressing about COVID. Unfortunately, while there are few limitations in this process, those goals are entirely intersected with where those limitations exist, so I put freezing my eggs on the back burner.
Though just prior to my 35th birthday, I knew it was “go time”…
Once I knew the high level details of what the egg freezing process looked like, I started asking questions. I discussed it with my close friends, the women I see every day in the dog park, and the doctors that I trusted. While there were several egg freezing clinics offered, three immediately popped to the top in terms of service level and overall experience.
After speaking with OVA though, I was hooked. Their service was second to none! When I spoke with the other providers, I felt like a number. They didn’t get back to me in a timely manner and I didn’t feel like they really cared as much as I would have liked. With OVA, they were kind, courteous, conscientious, and VERY experienced.
First of all, I felt like the staff at OVA were immediately holding my hand through this incredibly personal process. It was the kind of patient/clinic relationship I was looking for in this process and it was the perfect fit!
Secondly, the team at OVA knows their sh**. OVA and their lab have hundreds of babies born from their previously frozen eggs. Remember that this is a process that was deemed non-experimental in 2012 – that means hundreds of little eggs were frozen, thawed, and born all thanks to OVA in the past decade. That’s a lot compared to a lot of the clinics you’ll find out there. No matter the clinic you decide to select, you should always ask them how many live births they have from their frozen eggs (note, I did not say embryos because that’s a different story.) It should be a relatively significant number, because eggs are very fragile and delicate and you want experts handling them every single step of the way. At the end of the day, the clinic you select will be where you later create a viable, healthy embryo or not, so you want to make sure they’re expert-level at everything they do.
In full transparency, once I selected OVA as my provider, I reached out to them to see if they would like to partner, knowing I would likely be writing about my experience in some way anyways. They offered me a discount, which was VERY kind, though my comments and this post are completely unfiltered – the good, the bad, and the ugly!
When I mentioned that $10,000 to $15,000, did you break out in hives? Yeah, me, too. My insurance did not cover a single cent, and most don’t, but it’s always worth it to double check.
Though let’s talk about how those prices are broken out… about half is the actual procedure itself and half is the medications that you take during the actual cycle. The reason this is important is because some insurance companies will cover at least some of the meds and everyone’s medication cycle is very different depending on how your body responds. The clinic you choose should be able to check to see if any medications are covered and, if so, you would have to order directly through your insurance, which means you should order early so that you have them in hand in time for your cycle. However, if you’re like me and are paying all out of pocket, I just ordered through OVA and they handed me my meds at one of my appointments. (Note that they’re not a pharmacy, but they work with their pharmacy besties to get the meds your need at the lowest rates and it makes the whole process a whole lot easier. Easy is nice, because this can be a pretty complicated process.)
If the clinic you choose is as awesome as OVA, they do offer a small “Freeze with Friends” discount! It has been so great to be able to go through this process with my friends, so I highly recommend it regardless of the discount, but it’s a nice incentive to go through this process together. Also helpful is that if you do know of any women that have recently frozen their eggs or completed IVF and will no longer be using their medications, it might be worth it to ask if you can use the medications they have sitting around before they expire. I had two amazing friends that recently completed their egg freezing process and offered me their medications and they helped lower my costs a surprisingly large amount. (Thanks again, ladies!!)
In the event you decide to go through multiple egg freezing cycles (because more eggs = higher likelihood of successful live birth(s)), then OVA does offer discounts for future rounds, as well.
On the back end, egg thaw, fertilization, and transfer will cost around $6,000 to $7,000 and the medications cost significantly less than an egg freezing cycle. I’ve also been told that insurance will typically cover the costs of those meds, so I’m crossing my fingers.
Lastly, storage, because my eggs have to be in consistent cryotherapy. This was one area, of many, where OVA really stood out to me. They hold my eggs onsite in their care the entire time! When I was digging into the process, I found out that many clinics would put my little eggs onto a truck, haul them out of state to some third party, store them there, only to transport them back to me whenever I’m ready to use them. No thank you! There are SO many things that could go wrong in that process! What if the truck runs out of gas or something? What if that third party runs out of money? Needless to say, I chose a clinic that I trust to have my eggs in their line of vision in an underground bunker of a freezer for as long as possible. So yes, I am paying a little bit more, but at this point I feel it’s important not to skimp. While the first year of storage is included in my cycle, costs will be around $700 annually going forward. Not cheap, but worth it.
So, if you want to be comprehensive about it, the way I think about it is this:
Cost of the original egg freezing cycle
+Cost of your egg freezing meds
+Cost of any additional cycle and/or meds needed
(-Any leftover meds from friends or discounts offered by your clinic)
+Cost of egg thaw, fertilization, & transfer cycle
+Cost of egg thaw, fertilization, & transfer meds
+Cost of storage for as many years as you would like
= Total price of egg freezing*
*Note that this is a very, very high number, though I’d be willing to bet that it’s still lower than having a kid right now. For me, the right choice.
About two months before my ideal egg freezing timeframe, I went into my clinic for my fertility assessment. The clinic was welcoming and fun! OVA did a great job making a clinic that could be very scary and “medicinal” seem more like joining a sisterhood!
The assessment appointment included bloodwork and an ultrasound to count my follicles, which are what carries your eggs. This appointment is designed to help you understand what your current fertility health looks like and what you might expect going through this process.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t love the results. While I know I’m on the “older” side of freezing my eggs, I still feel very young. I mean, I run marathons and complete triathlons and work out and eat healthy… my eggs must be in peak condition, right? Well, not exactly.
While my hormones were spot on for where I would want them to be, my follicle count left a lot to be desired. Ideally, if I was in the right place for it mentally at the time, I wish I would have gone through this process when I was 30 or 31. Though hindsight is 20/20, so here we are at 35. I’m just glad I’m doing this now instead of waiting another year or two.
Thankfully, my conversation with my doctor was very encouraging. While I am anticipating potentially going through this process twice, he made several recommendations that may help the quantity of eggs we collect during this cycle, as well as the quality of eggs. The stronger the egg, the more likely it would result in a live, healthy birth, so both aspects have been important to me as I step into this process.
How to Increase Egg Count and Quality
I’m going to be honest, there is little to no evidence here on how to increase egg count or quality. Basically, I’ve gone to all of my friends, listened to every possible resource, and spoke with my doctor before deciding to try almost anything. Will it work? Really, I just don’t know. But I figured it was worth a shot.
(Allow me to repeat, the suggestions within this post are NOT a guarantee of success. This is my own personal journey and what has worked for me, though it may not work for you.)
Most of the resources I found leaned on Western and alternative medicine. Luckily, I’m kind of “woo-woo” when it comes to natural health, so I was on board with most things I heard. Ideally, I would have been doing this all for about three months because, according to my doctor, it takes about three months for your follicles and eggs to fully mature. That means that the follicles that you harvest from actually started forming a few months prior. Three months may be the magic number, but I happen to have had two available, so two it is!
Positive State of Mind
The single most important decision I made was actually a suggestion from my doctor. I decided to step into this journey with optimism. No matter the results, I have looked at this journey as a way to better myself and my life, more than anything else. I want my future children to live in a world of hope and light, more than anxiety and dread, and that all starts with this journey.
Of course, this is easier said than done. As always, my trusty journal was my sidekick through this journey, as was my Devotional, my meditation app, and my incredible crew of girlfriends that were going through the same journey.
In my first call after my assessment, my doctor told me, “There is no conclusive evidence, and some of my fellow doctors might laugh this off, but in my 30+ years of working with women in their fertility journey, I know that there is something to be said about state of mind. Have faith, be in a calm place, and practice mindfulness. You are doing what is right for you and your future family.” I agree!
After reaching out to several fertility resources, I found a diet that would work for me longer term. Specifically, I ate 50-60% calories from healthy fats, 20% from high quality protein, and 20% from carbohydrates in the form of starchy, cooked vegetables & low-sugar fruits. Of course, there were a couple of “gimmes” here and there, but this was the basis of what I’ve eaten for the past couple of months.
Wherever possible, I did eat organic foods, including grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish and seafood. Organic fruits and vegetables have been shown to significantly improve fertility. In my mind, it just goes to reason that whatever my meats and seafood consume before they make it to my plate ends up being digested by me, too, so I went all organic wherever possible.
Two foods that were frequently shown to be good for fertility, but rarely made it onto my plate were bone broth and caviar. Remember that my plan has been to eat this way for months. That would have been A LOT of caviar. Though I did spoil myself with a little caviar from time-to-time… it’s for the good of my future children after all!
Foods I generally avoided included the usual culprits that you might be familiar with if you’re in the world of health. Pasteurized, non-organic dairy, refined sugar & sweeteners, soy, industrial vegetable oils, fried foods, and synthetic additives, colors, & flavorings. These have the potential to cause inflammation and insulin resistance, which has the potential to lower fertility rate.
Throughout the past couple of months, I also essentially eliminated alcohol and caffeine. While there are a plethora of studies that show excessive alcohol consumption impacting fertility, even 1 to 5 drinks per week can reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving – aka, your fertility is impacted. Related to caffeine, many of you know that I already stopped drinking coffee a few years back. While very low doses of caffeine seem to be okay, I decided to switch to caffeine-free turmeric lattes in the morning instead. (I order from a small, Denver-based brand called Golden Root and can HIGHLY recommend them! This is something I’ll definitely be keeping in my life going forward.)
Everyday, I took quite a few supplements, easing them into my diet one at a time to see if any offered adverse reactions. In the end, there was only one I decided was not for me, though I’ll include all of the suggestions in the list below in case they’re helpful.
To start off with, OVA offered this incredibly handy supplement sheet, which I’ve followed almost religiously for two months. The only caveat is Pycnogenol, which didn’t seem to do well with my system. Nothing terrible, but I just didn’t feel good. As a replacement, I have been drinking at least two ounces of pomegranate juice daily, which has several antioxidants, offers anti-inflammatory effects, lowers blood pressure, fights heart disease, plus a whole list of other beneficial properties. Those benefits are very similar to what was expected with their suggested supplement, so I felt it was a good replacement.
The only other supplements I took were my usual Vital Proteins Collagen (I linked to chocolate, which tastes like hot chocolate when you mix it with warm water, yum!) and a natural alternative to allergy medication. The best alternative for me was Quercetin, which I took about 20 minutes prior to food on days I needed it most.
While supplementation can be a polarizing topic, I’ve found a lot of success with several supplements over the years and decided taking these supplements almost daily was the best decision for me. In case you’re interested, I’ve included links to my favorite versions of each of these supplements below.
Also, as a pro tip, I suggest always taking supplements with food. This will prevent an upset stomach, while some supplements are also food soluble – which means you have to eat in order for the good stuff in the supplements to get into your system.
My daily supplements included:
- Myo Inositol (includes Vitamin D) – 2 per day
- Co Q10 – 3 per day
- DHEA – 3 per day
- Vitamin C – 1 per day (yes, there’s sugar in these, but they’re delicious and I think I deserve some effervescence after doing all this good stuff)
- Vitamin E – 1 per day (also great for healing scars if you, for example, somewhat recently had a knee surgery)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acid, otherwise known as Fish Oil – 1 per day
- L-Arginine – 2 per day (we started calling these “horse pills” because they are pretty, pretty, pretty large)
- Prenatal Multivitamin – 1 per day (also available in gummy form for those seeking a wild time)
I’ve never done acupuncture before, but I LOVED this part of the process. There are quite a few studies that suggest that prenatal acupuncture can help women get pregnant naturally, while also increasing the chance of a successful IVF cycle. For those freezing their eggs, that means potentially higher quality and quantity of eggs… so I’m in!
As for what I experienced in the appointments, my practitioner felt around several areas of my abdomen, finding spots that were more tender than others. From there, she followed the “meridians” (aka, where the energy flows) along my body to other spots to help activate the “Qi” (or, energy flow). As an example, a spot that was tender above my belly button might be linked to a spot on my inner ankle. For general wellness, she also asked about my daily life and helped out with some other issues as well, such as allergies or a sore shoulder and picked a few spots related. She would then leave me for about 20 minutes to relax and let the energy start to flow, pop back in the room to check on me and perhaps change around a few needles, and let me relax once more.
My first appointment was fascinating! My body immediately went into fight-or-flight mode, which is exactly what we’re trying to train it out of doing. About six needles in, I started to sweat (TMI) and, even though I was trying to breathe through it all, I started to feel subconscious emotions coming out. It was wild! But, each appointment I’ve “improved”, now getting up to about 20 needles at a time. They’re entirely painless, but my body is still learning to handle the additional energy flow, so we’re taking it one step at a time. Throughout the past couple of months, I’ve been going to an appointment every other week and plan to continue doing so throughout my injections.
If you know me at all, exercise is my jam. Triathlons, marathons, every CrossFit/barre/cycle-class craze… that’s my vibe.
Which is why it was super annoying to find out that your ovaries kind of want you to be a bit of a sloth in comparison. In fact, once you get to a healthy body weight, it’s been shown that less or equal to 5 hours of moderate exercise is the right amount of exercise. Any more than that and you risk messing up your hormones and making your body prioritize other forms of recovery, rather than procreation.
So lots of walks, yoga, and low impact RBL Remote workouts have been my focus lately. I may not be ready for a marathon this year, but some things are more important than others at this point in my life. 🙂
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, putting me on birth control for a two week span offered a lot more control over the situation. This allowed me to narrow down the week of my retrieval and helped all of my eggs mature at a more consistent rate. I don’t love putting hormones in my body, but a two-week timespan was right for me.
Though do be sure that this is doctor-approved and that you’re not on any birth control pills during your injections. IUDs are a different story. Speak with your doctor to decide what’s best for you.
Yesterday, I picked up my meds and had my baseline appointment, which included many of the same tests as my original assessment, in addition to a COVID test. I was given the all-clear to keep moving forward with this process, except for one big ol’ thing loitering on my ovaries… but since this blog post is now closing in on the length of the “Iliad”, we’ll wait until my next post to chat about this more.
Wish me luck and see you in two weeks!
Create a great life!