The Egg Freezing Diaries: One Woman Shares Her Fertility Preservation Story

Standing in my bedroom with a syringe in one hand, aimed at my tummy, I paused for breath for the first time that day. How on earth did I get here?

If you’d have told 25-year-old me that a decade later, I’d be trying to preserve my fertility by injecting myself nightly with hormones, I would have chuckled in your face. That’s not how it was going to go for me.

It was all planned out: by 35, I’d have at least one of the two children I knew I wanted. I’d also have a three-bedroom house with a small garden, a husband, and at least one pet (obvs). As happens so often, the familiar tale I told myself turned into another all-too-familiar tale. Due to a car crash of a break-up aged 33, the life I so badly craved disappeared. 

That’s how I ended up on a fertility website late one night in March 2021. The pandemic had put life on hold. Like so many, I felt out of control, and this seemed like one small way I could claw some of it back. I was not alone. After steadily rising, the number of Google searches for “egg freezing” hit an all-time high last October, while fertility clinics around Australia reported a surge in demand for the procedure during COVID.

For those uninitiated, egg freezing is a process where a course of hormone injections (self-administered twice a day) are used to stimulate a woman’s egg reserve before the eggs are extracted under sedation. They are then frozen using vitrification. At my first appointment, fertility consultant Dr Amin Gorgy explained what this would mean for me. “This new fast-freezing method changes the water inside the egg into powder, which does not damage the egg. Therefore, the survival rate after freezing and thawing is about 95 per cent,” he told me. 

According to US research, for women under 35 to have an 80 per cent chance of having a baby using their frozen eggs, they need 14 eggs collected, and for those 36 and above, the magic number starts at 17 and rockets up to 33 eggs by age 39. The average number of eggs collected per cycle for women aged 35-39 is just 10, so someone my age might end up doing two or three rounds of the process to get the optimum number of eggs. The eggs are then stored in liquid nitrogen until you want to use them to get pregnant (you have up to 10 years in most Australian states). 

Until recently, the physical and monetary cost of this process put me off. But suddenly the balance tipped, and I realised I was going into every date carrying the weight of my fertility anxiety with me. How can you objectively appraise a man sitting in front of you when there’s a voice in your head screaming, “Is he your baby daddy? Is he?” at full blast? I came to think of egg freezing as an insurance policy, one that would take a psychological load off me in the short term.

Image: Shutterstock


The cost of one cycle of egg freezing according to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority

Prep work

Have you ever seen your womb on a big screen? If you haven’t, I recommend it. We’ve all seen grainy ultrasound scans, but when it’s your own uterus, it takes on new meaning. Deep caverns of black give way to murky grey and white dots form silhouettes that shape-shift before your eyes: an intricate mess of life at its very source.

This was the beginning of my egg freezing journey, a fertility test to see what my ovarian reserves are like, and whether or not I was a good candidate for egg freezing. As Gorgy looked at the screen, he told me he could see a good number of follicles, which is usually an indicator you’re still producing a good number of eggs. That, combined with a blood test to determine your levels of anti-Müllerian hormone – a hormone produced by your ovarian follicles – give an indication of where you are in your fertility journey.

My results showed that things were in order. The fertility test, before you even get to the egg freezing part, can be a barrier for some people. Friends have told me, “I just don’t want to know,” fearing if the results aren’t good, it might send their anxiety spiralling. For me, the idea of not knowing became worse than whatever the outcome was.

Tests done, the egg freezing process would begin on or just after the day of my first period. A few weeks later, I met a nurse at Gorgy’s clinic who showed me how to inject myself with an injecting pen and syringe. “I know you think you won’t be able to do this, but trust me, within a few days you’ll be a professional,” she assured.

Later that night, I assembled the syringe, pinched the tummy fat under my navel and pushed hard. Nothing hurt until I took out the needle, then came the sting and a tiny drop of blood. Rolling my gym tights back up, I sat on my bed and cried. Not because it hurt, but because what I was doing suddenly felt very real. But over the coming days, as I settled into a routine, the initial sting settled into something more manageable. I learned to do my morning injection after having a coffee or something sweet, as it felt less brutal.

On the days I had to go to the clinic for a blood test and ultrasound to monitor my progress, I got up half an hour earlier so I could walk through the park on the way. I cancelled plans and took things very easy. The temptation to pretend everything is fine is so strong. But admitting it wasn’t, telling my close friends what I was doing and why was the key to my survival.

At the end of my first week of injections, my tummy had a flush of purple-green bruising under my belly button. I felt heavy in my uterus. Not pain, as such, but a strange sense of movement and weight. The injections hurt, but not as much as I’d worried about. Even as my hormones escalated, I realised what I was doing was empowering.

The final countdown 

As my ovaries were stimulated to create more eggs, the fatigue was overwhelming. Normally, I’m energetic, but I was in bed by 9pm most nights. I was exhausted and had period-type aches. All normal, but still a lot to cope with. How long the process of ovarian stimulation – the injections – takes can be between nine and 15 days. By day 13, Gorgy said I was ready for egg collection. When it’s decided you’re at a good point to get the maximum number of eggs collected, you’ll be told to take “the trigger”, which is a separate injection you give yourself 36 hours ahead of the eggs being collected under sedation.

In my final appointment, Gorgy told me he was expecting around four eggs from this round. Current advice states that to get the most chance of being able to use your eggs to get pregnant later in life, you need at least 15 eggs in the frozen bank. Eggs can get damaged on thawing and not all of them may fertilise, so having more protects your assets, so to speak. Only getting four from this round meant a second, and maybe even a third, was now on the cards. I left the appointment in tears but, after a couple of days, I had settled into resignation. Four eggs is better than no eggs. And there would be more.

The morning of the egg collection, my mum and I arrived at the clinic. I’d booked that day and the day after off work, for my mental as well as my physical health. The extraction is done using a needle into the vagina under sedation. It takes less than half an hour, although the process of coming around from the anaesthetic takes a bit longer. Even so, I was in and out in two hours. The pain after is manageable with paracetamol and lots of rest. No exercise or sex for two weeks, and you’re done.

A month later, I repeated the cycle. This time, Gorgy upped the dosage on my medication to try to get more eggs, and it worked. Fifteen days after my second round began, I got a call from the clinic. “We’ve got good news, you got 21 eggs,” the lab technician told me. Pride, relief and happiness settled over me. It was over. I’d done it.

A week after my final egg retrieval, I went for a big walk in my favourite park. I cried a bit. Tears that it was over, that I had my insurance policy written. But also sadness that I was still single, and that I felt like I had to go through with something so taxing to begin with. I took a few deep breaths. It’s time for the next chapter.

Image: Shutterstock

Your egg-freezing questions, answered

How can I find a trustworthy clinic?
“Choose a well-established clinic with a good reputation,” says fertility specialist Dr David Wilkinson from City Fertility in Melbourne. “Word of mouth can be useful to get direct feedback from someone you know who has interacted with the doctor and the clinic.”

Is there anyone who can’t freeze their eggs?
Your doctor will check if you have a history of blood clots or bleeding problems before going ahead. And age, of course, is a major factor. “A woman who has already undergone menopause will not respond to ovarian stimulation,” Wilkinson says. “The best time to do it is at a younger age when you have a better ovarian reserve.”

Is egg freezing safe for babies?
“Studies show that children born using frozen eggs have the same health compared to children not born using frozen eggs,” says Dr Giselle Crawford, fertility specialist at Monash IVF. “We do have to remember that… the first children born from egg freezing are in their early 20s. We will continue to collect long-term data on this, but so far the information is very reassuring.”

How long can my eggs be stored?
“From a biological point of view, indefinitely,” says Crawford. But, she explains, storage of eggs is subject to legislation, which differs from state to state and ranges from five to 15 years. “There may be the option to extend the storage at a later date,” says Crawford. “It’s important that your clinic can stay in touch with you about your storage wishes, so ensure that you keep your contact details up to date.”

Will the egg freezing process use up my supply?
“No, not beyond what would occur with the natural process,” says Crawford. “Every month, with every normal menstrual cycle, as you ovulate one egg there are also approximately 20 others that are ‘recruited’ but don’t reach maturity for ovulation and ultimately die. It is these other recruited eggs that we are hoping to help grow to maturity and retrieve for freezing.”

Does Medicare cover some of the cost? 
It depends. “Medicare rebates are applicable when the egg freezing is medically indicated but not when it is considered elective,” says Crawford. “Most would fall into the elective category. Examples of medical indications include a woman needing to undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer or certain autoimmune conditions.” 

Are there any risks?
Yes, but they’re low, Wilkinson explains. “If a very large number of eggs are retrieved there is a risk of a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This risk can now be minimised using newer medications. The egg retrieval procedure is a minor surgical procedure performed vaginally – as with any surgical procedure there are risks of bleeding, for example. These risks are very small when performed by an experienced surgeon.”

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