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Ali Cornford is a Canadian currently living in New York.
I never imagined I’d be in my mid-30s, heading solo to my fertility doctor’s office in Manhattan, all before 9 a.m. on a workday. Every visit was like throwing dice on the table; from my first consultation to the final retrieval procedure, I never knew what news was in store.
The uncertainty of the egg-freezing process, and the total lack of control over how one’s body will respond, is hard to comprehend until you’re in the thick of it. Even though I had close friends who had been through the experience and did their best to help prepare and guide me, the emotional rollercoaster of fertility was not one I was mentally or emotionally prepared for. Of course, I had anticipated the physical side effects from the daily injections, the frequent bloodwork and the routine vaginal ultrasounds. But the toll it took on my psyche was unexpected.
In an effort to help other women who are considering this journey, let me be blunt – egg freezing is not easy. Assuming you’re able to manage the hefty $10,000-plus price tag, there is no guaranteed outcome for the number of eggs you’ll be able to retrieve. This lack of certainty is maddening. As a friend who is currently on her third round of IVF recently summarized, “It’s an impossible-to-control, high-stakes process.”
But there is an upside. I learned more about myself, my body and my support network throughout this process than I ever thought possible. And even though my own results were disappointing, I would do it all over again.
My therapist was the first person I spoke to about my desire to freeze my eggs. I had never mentioned my fears about family planning to even my closest girlfriends. I had privately worried, but never said out loud, that I wasn’t sure if putting my career first and relocating to a new city in my late 20s had been the right decision. Perhaps I had delayed the one thing I am most certain about in life – wanting to be a mother – for too long.
But throughout the egg-retrieval journey, opportunities to have honest, candid conversations with the women in my life presented themselves like never before. Over brunches, drinks and phone calls, they were my much-needed support group, sharing fertility stories of their own and from their communities. The frustration of not being in control of what is happening to your own body was a topic ripe for discussion. We debated the balance of career, family, travel, money and independence for hours. All of these moments opened new avenues for deeper conversations and connections.
One of the deepest connections I forged was with someone I was already very close to – my own sister. For the first time, she told me about the pressure she felt to give birth to my niece “naturally,” as well as her own struggle of coping with an emergency C-section. She understood, in a way most others wouldn’t, why I felt like an underachiever when I was told during an appointment that my follicle count wasn’t at the “normal” level. Even in something as miraculous as fertility, there is the persistent societal pressure to get things “right” – to achieve certain numbers and averages.
To that end, I am eternally grateful that my fertility doctor, who listened thoughtfully to my concerns and explained options carefully, never made me feel like a number. Growing up as the daughter of a physician, I know firsthand when a medical professional goes above and beyond to treat their patients as humans – and with humility. My doctor did just that. She never gave a false sense of hope and was pragmatic about our options, but also shared in my emotions through the continual ebb and flow of frustrating news.
It felt fitting that my own mother joined me on FaceTime when I needed to administer an injection – 8 a.m. daily, 7 p.m. nightly, and then the fun finale shot at 11 p.m. Of course, her medical training was an added bonus, but having someone on the other side of the screen is what mattered most, as did her newfound use of the egg emoji in our text exchanges. We’d stay on the phone catching up while I iced my swollen belly, a new nightly ritual that I looked forward to. She even named my follicles after her future grandkids, so that we didn’t have to refer to them in the numerical, clinical sense.
Despite my first round of egg freezing resulting in a disappointing outcome, it gave me a newfound respect for my body and my resilience. I have a sense of pride knowing there are things outside of my control to which I still gave my best effort. Most importantly, I’ve strengthened and forged new bonds with the women in my life. I knew I was lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing women, but these ladies showed up for me in a way that truly made me feel loved and supported, as I discovered a deep network of us who are dealing with the same struggles – but doing the best we can. The more we talk about these things, the easier they become.
What else we’re thinking about:
I took the suggestion of curbing my alcohol intake during this process, entering my first-ever mocktail era. A friend recommended ISH Spirits, and they are about as close to the real thing as you can get – a delicious little mind trick that I highly recommend.
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