I Froze My Eggs, Ended Up in the ER, and Almost Lost an Ovary
Three days after I took charge of my reproductive future, I woke in a cold sweat, dry-heaving in pain. Less than .025% of women who freeze their eggs end up with ovarian torsions: Lucky me.
Four days after charging $14,000 on my credit card for egg freezing surgery, I was jolted awake at 6 AM with an agonizing throb in my right ovary. At 28 and in pretty stellar physical health, I knew dry heaving in pain wasn't normal. It felt like someone had rammed a rusty hunting blade in my right side and was slowly twisting it deeper—within minutes, I had blacked out. I came to feeling paralyzed and knew I was in trouble when I didn't have the strength to grab the Percocet bottle a mere two feet away. Why the hell did I do this to myself? I thought, laying drenched in a cold sweat on the floor, replaying all the reasons why I happily chose to freeze my eggs just a few days prior, at the ripe age of 28.
It started innocuously enough. On the cusp of my 28th birthday, I had a frank conversation with my gynecologist where I explained my situation. A rising media career and newfound happiness with my singledom, coupled with an insatiable desire to travel, meant that I didn't envision getting married anytime soon, and couldn't imagine having kids before 35. She was eager to help and suggested I go to NYU, known for pioneering the technology since 2004. A month later, I walked into my consultation hoping egg freezing would buy me more time, but I walked out with a new epiphany: egg freezing would use genetic testing on embryos to ensure only the healthiest, pre-screened egg would be implanted. The doctor told me about a 33-year-old woman who froze her eggs and, upon testing 13 embryos, found that 12 of the 13 had chromosomal abnormalities. They were able to isolate and implant the one fully healthy embryo. The argument for egg freezing seemed overwhelmingly convincing to me, and I booked my surgery a few weeks later.
The doctors I spoke with were impressed by my pragmatism and told me I was ahead of the curve in choosing to do this now, at 28, when my eggs were the healthiest they would ever be. But not everyone was as supportive: An old coworker nearly spit up her salad as I casually mentioned I was freezing my eggs over lunch. "But you're so young, successful, and beautiful. You'll definitely get married! Why would you do this?" she cried, without quite realizing how insulting her tone was. Her response only re-affirmed why I was doing this: not for a man, or a ticking clock, but for me, and the ability to live out my dreams on my own schedule.
Egg freezing is having its moment in the public eye. Celebrities like Sofia Vergara and Kim Kardashian have come out with their own tales of egg freezing, and despite some backlash, America is beginning to embrace the marriage between technology and fertility. Recently, Maria Menunos told Good Morning America that she'd frozen her eggs at age 33, describing the decision as "a bit of an insurance policy." While statistics are hard to come by—egg freezing is bucketed an experimental procedure by the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine), making standardization of collecting data near impossible—it seems Menunos is in good company: egg freezing is now a mainstream topic, so much so that companies like Facebook and Apple have made headlines for covering the cost of egg freezing for their employees.
The long process of freezing my eggs was daunting, emotional, and took over my life for a month. A week after my initial consult, I found myself the youngest by a mile in a room full of women over 35, at a two hour '101 of Egg Freezing' class at NYU. I was used to the older women's stares—most assumed I faced major fertility issues or was sick with some life-threatening disease. I openly explained that I was just being pragmatic. The overwhelming response was, 'I wish I had done it at your age. This is too much to handle physically and emotionally now.' The nurse overseeing the class showed us how to inject the various hormones ( HCG, Estrogen,ect) in our thighs. Egg Freezing 101 barely covered risks in a slide show. I'm sure it was in the fine print somewhere.
Less than .025% of women who freeze their eggs end up with ovarian torsions. (Lucky me, finally reaching the 1% at something.)
On Day 1 of injections, I sat at the edge of my bed, teary and trembling, holding 50ccs of Menopur hormones. You never truly feel quite as single—and somehow empowered—as the day you have to stab yourself with a syringe full of hormones, knowing you're suddenly in charge of your whole future. It was powerful and it was terrifying. In an effort to stay positive I started a tradition: with every injection I set intentions for the qualities I hoped my kids would have, then blasted Florence and the Machines and danced like a 7 year old to distract myself from the burn and sting of the needle. I also started meditating twice a day. Those small traditions were what kept me sane.
The schedule was grueling. I stabbed myself with various hormone injections every morning and night, and every 24 – 48 hours I had a 7 AM blood test and ultrasound at NYU. There's nothing like starting off your day in stirrups. I was advised not to date—I would have been a wreck under the hormones, and sex was strictly verboten—or have client outings. Drinking and smoking were off-limits for the duration as well. My estrogen count started at 61 and shot up to over 1,900 in just two weeks. By day 13, I was overwhelmed, crying in public and at work. My mother flew in to help. I've never felt more loved by her than when she, a former nurse, injected me with hormones and pulled me up by the hand, the two of us dancing wildly in my tiny living room.
On the 16th day, I went in for surgery under general anesthetic. The actual surgery is fairly simple and takes less than 30 minutes: my eggs were removed with a large needle placed strategically through ultrasound guidance. I emerged from surgery an hour later, woozy but otherwise happy the 19 eggs were retrieved (10 – 15 is considered a success I was told). My stomach was noticeably swollen to the size of melon. When I insisted that my belly felt abnormally enlarged, the nurse simply gave me a one-sheeter on 'Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)' and told me to call if I worsened. For the next three days, I waddled around. A waitress mistook me for pregnant, and on Monday, I showed up to work looking 6 months pregnant. I was so uncomfortable I went home early. I was planning to call NYU on Tuesday when, mid-slumber Monday night, the excruciating pains hit.
I was rushed to the ER. Upon my arrival, I was diagnosed with ovarian torsions. With torsions, your ovary twists on itself, occluding blood supply. Ultimately, this can lead to the death of the ovary. Ovarian torsions account for less than 3% of gynecological emergencies. Less than .025% of women who freeze their eggs end up with this condition. (Lucky me, finally reaching the 1% at something.) Normally, a woman's ovaries are the size of walnuts. Due to the sudden blast of hormones, mine had ballooned to the size of grapefruits. Despite the morphine drip, the irony of the situation wasn't wasted on me and I had a good chuckle: I froze my eggs so that I could have babies, and in doing so I had almost lost an ovary forever.
The nurses explained the needle would have to go in inter-vaginally. When I asked about morphine or drugs, they said they couldn't help.
The ER doctor (who, as fate would have it, was my high school crush, whom I hadn't seen in 13 years) explained I was spared from surgery because my ovary had "untwisted" on its own. But he was concerned that my swollen belly was too big. I had over 2 liters of fluid built up from the original surgery and it kept getting worse. We decided to drain the fluid, but no one explained how this was going to happen. I was wheeled to the NYU Fertility Center a few hours later, surrounded by seven women in a room, and put on stirrups. Dread washed over me at the sight of a needle the length and width of a shish kebab and a long plastic draining tube attached to a giant liter plastic bottle. "You're going through my belly, right?" I asked innocuously, almost sure this was a mistake. The nurses explained the needle would have to go in inter-vaginally. When I asked about morphine or anesthetic drugs they said they couldn't help.
A girl my age with shaky hands inserted the needle over and over again as I clutched a nurse's hand with all my might and screamed out in pain so loudly they gave me a gauze for my mouth. I felt it all. The needle would pierce its way through me, and then she'd swivel it in a circle. I'd scream as the needle hit my insides. The image of my own blood and mixed with fluid filling up a full liter bottle was oddly comforting, and after 20 minutes of excruciating attempts to remove more fluid, I wailed one last time in total agony after the last stab failed to procure more fluid out of me. The women left, and I doubled over in fetal position, crying and wanting my mom more then than ever before.
I barely made it through the first night. My best friend Alexandra slept over and told me that every 15 minutes until morning I'd awake drenched in a cold sweat, screaming for Percocet. I had to switch to Oxycodone the next day to manage the pain. She stayed with me that whole week, as I was physically unable to even roll out of bed on my own, much less standing up. Walking to the bathroom 16 feet away was a team effort and took a solid 10 minutes. Mandatory bed rest ensued as I was at high risk to have a repeat ovarian torsion: My ovaries were still the size of grapefruits. I couldn't leave my apartment for two weeks and wasn't allowed to workout for a month following the ER trip.
Last weekend—a month later—I finally went to yoga, had a glass of wine on a first date, and wore my favorite dress. On my date, I nonchalantly explained that I'd frozen my eggs and was pleased to receive a progressive, supportive reply. While I'm still not back to the old me, I have a newfound appreciation for my body as a vessel for life, not just something to starve into a bikini.
I'm often asked if I had known the risks, would I have still gone through with freezing my eggs. My answer is a whole-hearted "Hell yes." What happened to me was terrifying, but incredibly rare. For me, the benefits of egg freezing still far outweigh the small risk. I can live out my dreams, on my timeline – and that's priceless for me. After the ER I decided to share my story on social media so that another 28-year-old woman won't have to think she's crazy for planning her future before age 35. Dozens of young women have reached out to me for advice since, and I've finally been able to do the one thing no one could do for me: give an honest perspective about what freezing your eggs at 28 means, and what sometimes goes wrong.
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