It Took More Than 7 Months For Me to Freeze My Eggs — Here's What I Learned Along the Way

POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

Modern science can be a beautiful thing. It's given us genetically engineered, plant-based burgers you can pick up in fast-food drive-throughs. It's helped bring closure to decades-old cold cases through the magic of DNA testing. And most recently for this single lawyer, writer, producer, and host, at the age of 34, it's allowed me to preserve my fertility by freezing my eggs.

I'm not alone in my desire to have children later in life. More and more women are delaying getting pregnant, for one reason or another. In 2018, the median age of first-time mothers in the US was 26, according to the Pew Research Center. That's up from 23 in 1994. But while we may be putting off motherhood, women today are also more likely to have children — and have more of them — than in the previous decade. In 2016, roughly 86 percent of women between the ages of 40 to 44 had given birth, and mothers were averaging 2.07 children each, according to census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. In 2006, those numbers were 80 percent and 1.86, respectively.

While every one of these women has her own reason for waiting, I see my currently childless existence as a product of never quite finding myself in the right circumstances with the right person. I was even married once at the age of 21 to my high school sweetheart, which is "supposed" to be the perfect situation to have a child, at least by society's standards. But even then, law school and other career considerations aside, I simply wasn't ready to take on caring for another human. And yet just as resolutely, I've always known I wanted to, one day. When my ex-husband and I got unmarried (as I like to call it) at the age of 24, I knew it would be quite some time before I would even think about bringing a baby into this world. That was the first time I thought about freezing my eggs.

From that perspective, you could say freezing my eggs has been a life choice 10 years in the making. I only even knew it was an option because I had heard of friends donating their eggs in college to make ends meet. The egg donation process is exactly like the egg freezing process, except those ladies get paid upward of $5,000-$10,000 per cycle for helping others have a chance at becoming parents. If you're doing it for yourself as an investment in your own future, the cost of the procedure hovers around $10,000 (give or take, depending on your individual cost of medications), plus several hundred dollars each year for storage, none of which is typically covered by insurance.

When I finally found myself in a position to pull the trigger on something I had wanted to do for so long, I turned to Extend Fertility in Manhattan. I had my first phone call with one of its fertility advisers on Dec. 10 and was in the office for fertility testing one week later. I thought the whole process would take no more than a month or two, then I could rest assured my family planning options would be preserved for the future. Wow, was I wrong. Fast forward through a very big birthday (in the fertility world), multiple rounds of retesting, and a trip out of town that pushed things back an extra month, and my actual egg retrieval procedure didn't happen until July 21 . . . seven months and 11 days after that first phone call.

Read on and I'll tell you exactly why I took my sweet time with the process and share with you my thoughts and the advice I got from the doctors at Extend Fertility, every step of the way.

Freezing My Eggs Was Much More Involved Than I Thought It Would Be
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

Freezing My Eggs Was Much More Involved Than I Thought It Would Be

One of the main reasons I chose to work with Extend Fertility is the comprehensive diagnostic fertility testing the clinic provides before you commit to going through with egg freezing. The purpose of the testing is to predict how many eggs a patient might be able to successfully retrieve in a single egg freezing cycle. Extend Fertility has developed its own algorithm to arrive at this prediction based on your age, the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) level in your blood, and the number of antral follicles present in your ovaries.

My First Call With Extend Fertility Was on Dec. 10

AMH is a hormone that gets secreted by the follicles in our ovaries during the reproductive cycle. Extend Fertility tests for this level by drawing your blood and sending it out to a lab.

Antral follicles are small sacs that contain an immature egg that could eventually mature and be released. Extend Fertility lets you know your antral follicle count in real time, while performing a transvaginal ultrasound that produces an image of your ovaries. The doctor literally counts them out and measures them while you're lying on the exam table.

Generally speaking, the lower your age and the higher your AMH level and antral follicle counts, the more eggs you're likely to produce before your retrieval. This is where things got tricky for me.

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I Had My First In-Person Appointment 1 Week Later on Dec. 17

After researching egg freezing for quite some time, I knew it was recommended by some doctors to go off of birth control before attempting to freeze my eggs, because the pill may suppress the reproductive system (specifically antral follicle count and egg growth). I had been on the birth control pill since I was 15 years old, with the exception of a two-year period around 2011 to 2012. In November, I stopped taking it, thinking that was soon enough to get this process going. I was proven wrong.

My Results on Dec. 26 Were Heartbreaking

On Dec. 26, I had just flown back to New York City after spending Christmas with my family in Ohio, and I headed straight to Extend to sit down with reproductive endocrinologist Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow, MD. She explained that my AMH level was 0.52. To put that in perspective, the average AMH level for a 33-year-old woman is around 2.7. Dr. Malsow broke the terrifying news to me that my level was low even for someone who is on birth control.

I already knew my antral follicle count was nine, because the doctor counted them aloud during my ultrasound. Those numbers combined gave me an anticipated egg retrieval of between four and 10 eggs. Based on the limited amount of time I had been off of birth control, Dr. Maslow recommended we wait, so that's what we did.

I Waited Close to 2 Months to Get Tested Again
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

I Waited Close to 2 Months to Get Tested Again

I went back for another round of diagnostic testing on Feb. 8. First, I got my blood drawn, then headed to the exam room for another ultrasound. This time, my antral follicle count went up! I was thrilled when the doctor counted out 12 follicles, with five on my right ovary and seven on my left ovary. But I had to wait for the blood results to see the bigger picture.

On Feb. 22, I Learned the Results of My Second AMH Test

On Feb. 22, I got the call from Dr. Maslow that my AMH level had also gone up significantly, to 1.49. She said this was evidence that my reproductive system had likely been suppressed from being on birth control, just as she had expected. To hear that it had tripled was a huge relief, but to my surprise, it didn't change my prospects much. Now it was estimated I might get between four and 11 eggs, rather than the initial four to 10.

It was then that Dr. Maslow explained that AMH is not the best indicator of fertility. "Some people will have low AMH levels and never know it because they never go through diagnostic testing and never have an issue conceiving," Dr. Maslow said. She went on to note that the very best quality indicator is age.

"Patients have a better chance of developing a successful pregnancy from eggs frozen when they were younger even with a lower AMH than when they are older even if they happen to have a higher AMH," Dr. Maslow said. At this point, I needed to get serious about what it would mean for me to continue and how likely it would be that I would get enough eggs to have a good shot at eventually having a baby, if I ever needed to use them.

Dr. Maslow informed me that, roughly speaking, a woman who freezes 10 eggs at the age of 33 has a 66 percent chance that one of those eggs will develop into a successful pregnancy. The rate drops to 50 percent for a woman who freezes the same number of eggs at age 35 and 40 percent for a woman who freezes 10 eggs at age 38.

With my 34th birthday right around the corner on March 2, the knowledge that I'd be teetering between the 66 percent and 50 percent age bracket — that is if I could even get 10 eggs during my procedure — weighed heavily on my mind, but Dr. Maslow reassured me that time wasn't quite so much of the essence as I might feel it to be. I decided that I would go through with egg freezing but that I would wait a bit to give my body more time to rid itself of the potential effects of close to two decades of being on birth control.

I Didn't Go Back Into the Clinic For 4 Months

While I waited to give my body the best possible chance at producing the most eggs, I scheduled the next step in the process, which Extend Fertility calls your "logistics appointment," for June 10. This is where you sign your paperwork, make your final payment to the clinic, and get trained on how to give yourself the daily injections that help your follicles and the eggs inside them grow. It's an intimate setting with a handful of others who are also about to embark on their own egg freezing journeys.

This is also when you decide what you want to be done with your eggs in the event you don't end up using them or become incapacitated or in the event of your death. You could choose to let them thaw out, donate them to science, or donate them to another person. In the state of New York, if you want the option to donate your eggs to someone else, you have to undergo additional genetic screening, which runs about $1,000. Right now, this is true whether you want to donate anonymously to someone in need or to a family member who might want to use them. (It's worth noting that fertility law is constantly changing.) In other places, you can give your eggs to someone you know without having to undergo this extra screening, so long as the person receiving the eggs waives it. This is also when you get to designate who gets ownership of your eggs if you die. I picked my dad, so if there are any decisions to be made concerning my eggs and I can't do it, he's the guy they're going to call.

And like most appointments throughout this process, you also get your blood drawn. I said over and over again while I was going through this that my left arm got the worst of it, and I stand by that to this day! This time, they had to test my blood for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, a precaution that's required before you can be cleared to begin the process. And being the type A person I am, I couldn't help but have them run my AMH level one more time.

A Month Later, I Was Finally Ready to Get Started

I was pleasantly surprised to learn on July 10 that my AMH level went up slightly again, this time to 1.82. "It's hard to know if this was significant enough of a jump that it was because you've been off the birth control pills for longer, though," Dr. Maslow told me at that time. "We also know that the AMH test is just not that precise. If you repeatedly tested, over and over again, you would see a little bit of fluctuation here and there that may not be necessarily reflective of changes in your biology."

Still, after waiting patiently for months and even without a third ultrasound to complete the picture, that was enough for me. I decided then that the next time I got my period, I would go through with freezing my eggs.

My Very First Unboxing Video . . . and It Was Fertility Drugs

Once I was finally comfortable with my levels, things moved very fast. You start the cycle on the second or third day of your period and have to give yourself daily injections for the next seven to 12 days (sometimes a little longer). I got my period the day I heard from Dr. Maslow on July 10, so I went in for my baseline testing two days later on July 12 and started my injections that night.

Between the call on July 10 and my next visit to Extend Fertility on July 12, I had a massive box of medications and supplies overnighted to me to prepare for the start of my cycle. It was delivered on July 11, and in it were needles, syringes, and seven days' worth of three different types of medication: Menopur and Follistim (used to stimulate follicle growth) and Ganirelix (which ensures as many follicles as possible keep growing, rather than the usual process in which only one or two are selected to mature and ovulate). Going through all of that was more than a little overwhelming, but once I got the materials organized, I felt very prepared to move forward.

The next day, at baseline testing at the clinic, I got my blood drawn (again) to determine my hormone levels and had another ultrasound done to count how many antral follicles could potentially grow throughout the cycle. This time, I had 16, and I was overjoyed. I thought the decision to wait had paid off, and I was going to come out of this thing with a ton of eggs. I got the go ahead that afternoon to start my injections that night.

That First Round of Injections Was Tough
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

That First Round of Injections Was Tough

When people tell you that the older you get, the more you need your girlfriends, I think they have egg freezing in mind. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have had the support of my dear friends Ann (who's a nurse) and Chelsea Earlewine (who's my podcast cohost) to get me through that first night of injections, because I was terrified.

Ann walked me through the tips and tricks of injecting myself so seamlessly, including making sure I knew to "prime" the needle, which means making sure the tip is filled with fluid so I don't inject myself with air. Then she administered my first injections to show both Chelsea and me exactly how to do it, in case Chelsea needed to help me later on (and she did). Because of them, when I did it myself over the next several nights, I was much less nervous and more confident that this was something I could actually do on my own.

I also have to give credit to the women who followed along throughout the process with me on Instagram Stories, especially my friend Nicole who saw me struggling with injecting myself in the abdomen. She told me when she went through in vitro fertilization (IVF) that she gave herself her injections in the thighs, and it was a total game changer for her. I tried it her way, and it turned out to be a game changer for me, too. I found it to be much less sensitive than sticking myself in the belly, so I continued to use my thigh for the rest of my injections.

Everything Got Easier as the Week Went On, Except Getting Up So Early
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

Everything Got Easier as the Week Went On, Except Getting Up So Early

Once I started with the injections, I had to go in for monitoring three more times, and two of those appointments had to happen early in the morning before I started my workday. Thankfully, Extend Fertility opens at 7 a.m. for women who work to be able to go through this process without having to take time off if they don't want to or simply can't. Both times, I was able to get in and out for blood testing and ultrasounds of my follicles and still make it to work right on time at 8 a.m. I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to make it happen, but I was able to do it. Two of my monitoring appointments fell on days that I just happened to be off work, so I took the latest appointment times those days, which required that I arrive by 9:30 a.m.

After each monitoring session, which I had on July 15, 17, and 19, I was given instructions for any tweaks that needed to be made to my medications for that night. When I got my results from the third monitoring session, I was surprised to learn that I would be taking the so-called "trigger shot" that night. That meant I was completely done with all three of the other medications after only seven days of injections, and I would be injecting myself on day eight with just one more shot. I was prescribed Lupron, which stimulates ovulation.

After that, I had to go in one more time on July 20 for a final blood test to make sure the Lupron had been properly absorbed into my system and get instructions for my procedure the following day.

Before I Knew It, It Was Time For My Procedure
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Haney

Before I Knew It, It Was Time For My Procedure

It was such a whirlwind experience that when procedure day came on Sunday, July 21, I could hardly believe it. I didn't have to be there until 11 a.m., and by 12:30 p.m., I was in recovery and had learned that they had retrieved eight eggs. You're under anesthesia while your eggs are retrieved, so I really wouldn't have known whether it took five minutes or five hours, but the entire procedure actually only lasted 14 minutes, based on the time stamps of my videos from that day.

My friend Nanette Miranda was there when I woke up to help me get home, and by 2 p.m., I was resting on my couch back in Brooklyn while she went to the market to buy me snacks.

Extend Fertility recommends that you take at least the day that you have the procedure off from work to recuperate. I took two days, just to be safe, but honestly had minimal discomfort and could have been back in the office the next day if I had to be. Physically, I had just the smallest amount of cramping and a bit of a full feeling but really didn't suffer many of the side effects I had been warned about. Based on tips from friends who had already gone through the process, I knew to stock up on salty snacks and Pedialyte to help fend off things like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (swollen, enlarged ovaries and the collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity). That worked out great for me because I basically live on cashews anyway, so I was happy to take that extra precaution.

The one thing that did catch me off guard was a slight case of postoperative depression, which is apparently a side effect of anesthesia. I got really sad talking about my results with Chelsea that afternoon, even though I learned that all eight of my eggs were mature enough to be frozen, which was the best possible outcome given that eight had been retrieved. I burst into tears for no reason at all as she was telling me a friend of hers who had frozen 10 eggs had just gotten pregnant with twins. After a few hours, the sadness passed and I was feeling back to normal by the next day.

All in all, I think the scariest part of the egg freezing process for me was the not knowing. There was not knowing whether my AMH level would come up, then not knowing what it would be like to give myself injections, followed by not knowing how long I'd have to do it. Then came not knowing how many eggs I would end up with, followed by not knowing how many would be mature enough to actually be frozen.

As I made it through each stage, once I knew the answers to the questions I had at the start, the entire process became very easy. I would recommend egg freezing for anyone who is in a financial position to afford it outright or through financing and thinks they may want to start a family one day.

If You're Considering Treatment, Please Consider Your Legal Rights

One final thing I'd like to point out, speaking as a lawyer, is addressed to people considering taking steps to preserve their fertility who are in committed or married relationships. You may be tempted to freeze embryos over eggs, but you should perhaps consider freezing at least some eggs as well, if you can. I understand we've long been told frozen embryos have a higher success rate than frozen eggs when it comes to developing into a successful future pregnancy, but that might not necessarily be true. Please hear me out on this.

I talked with Dr. Maslow about this very issue, and she told me that, based on their data, there is no evidence to suggest that with modern technology there is any better chance of achieving pregnancy with frozen embryos than frozen eggs. Extend Fertility's Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie So confirmed this in an in-depth interview on my podcast, Sassy and Uncalled For. Now, that may seem confusing, because not every egg when fertilized will mature into an embryo that is suitable for freezing, but that will be true whether you fertilize your eggs right away or later, after they've been unfrozen. I do understand there are benefits to knowing right away how many of your eggs will mature enough after being fertilized that they can be frozen as embryos — like genetic testing that simply can't be done at the egg stage — but there are also benefits to waiting to find that out. One of those benefits is complete and total ownership.

While my story is a testament to the fact that we may not end up with as many eggs as we'd like to work with when we go through the egg freezing process, from a property rights perspective, it's important to point out that you alone own your eggs and that is just not the case when it comes to embryos. When you're doing something like this to preserve your chances of having a baby later in life, you're doing it because you don't know what the future holds. That goes for your future children and the future of your relationship.

Speaking not only as a lawyer but also as someone who never expected to get divorced, it's worth pointing out that if you freeze an embryo with your partner, you no longer have total control over what happens to that embryo because half of it belongs to the other person. And sometimes, when people get divorced, they decide they don't want to make babies with their former partner. If that happens, and you only froze embryos, you may be left without the future family you always dreamed of.