More expensive than a luxury holiday and more painful, too. Why, at 34, I chose to hit the snooze button on biological clock.


Description: My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston

‘The only plan the world offered me was a needle to the ovaries.’

Sarah and I have been friends for almost all our adult lives. She’s one year older than me; we share the same birthday. She got married last January, at 35, to a man she’d been dating for less than a year. A few months after Sarah’s wedding, we met for dinner and she told me her news: ‘I’m pregnant!’

I said all the right things. I’ve said them before. Many times. The nice side of me had to tell the evil thoughts to wait until got home before they said everything they wanted to: ‘You will die alone.’ ‘no-one will ever have a baby with you.’

Sarah took a sip of water. ‘You know my friend Carlene froze her eggs.’ I was shocked. ‘What? Why? She’s only 35.’ Sarah shrugged. ‘Egg quality goes down after 35.’ I got defensive. ‘Didn’t she have to inject herself with hormone shots? And isn’t it a million dollars?’ Sarah nodded: ‘Yes.’ ‘I’d never do that,’ I said.

This was my consolation prize? ‘I’m pregnant, but don’t worry, you can freeze your eggs.’ I moved to topics I was more comfortable with. My disappointment in men. My disappointment in weight. My disappointment with disappointment. Sarah finished eating quickly.

I couldn’t blame her. We left and stood quietly at the door before I shoved out a final congrats that sounded to false I had to add, ‘Seriously!’ But I couldn’t get the egg freezing out of my head. It made me mad. It made me hate being a woman. It made me hate being successful, even though I’ve fought hard to make it as a TV writer and producer in Hollywood. It made me hate being picky. Had I passed up ‘The One’ on a dating website? The Buddhist alien enthusiast? The guy who wore a cardigan and said he loved sodomy?

I was nearly 35 without a plan of my own and the only plan the world offered me was a needle to the ovaries. And I’m scared of needles. It didn’t seem fair. My desire to defend womankind from needling this procedure was fuelled by a fear that I was going to have to do it myself. That I should do it. That egg freezing was a technology designed for me.

By the end of the week, I’d made an appointment with a fertility doctor.

Egg freezing – or, to use the technical term, oocyte cryopreservation – used to be the last resort of cancer patients who wanted to try to preserve their fertility before treatment. Unlike embryos, which scientists have been freezing since the ‘80s, eggs were considered to delicate to survive the process because they contain a large amount of liquid, and the slow-freezing method that was successful for cryopreserving embryos created ice crystals. Fifty percent of frozen eggs were harmed during the procedure. But five years ago, embryologists started experimenting with a freezing process known as vitrification to chill the eggs to -1960C in seconds. It means that each egg, made up of a single cell, is more likely to survive unharmed – 60-70 per cent of eggs now survive the freezing and thawing process.

The doctor explained what would happen next.

First, I’d have to stop taking the pill. I was nervous about this because I’d been on it since I was 17. I was worried I’d break out in acne. She said I probably would, but it shouldn’t stop me. She told me the second step would be the test for STIs. After my first period off the pill, I would start hormone injections (that I’d administer myself), and 12 days later I would have the egg retrieval. The hormone shots (that I’d give myself) would encourage my ovaries to overproduce eggs during ovulation, so instead of having one egg in one ovary I’d produce as many as 15 or as few as two.

The whole thing would cost $20,000, roughly the price of an extravagant honeymoon with a man who loves you and wants to put a baby in you for free. Because I’m successful with no dependants, I could afford the procedure. I know there are women who would like to freeze their eggs, but can’t afford it. I hope that if enough people like me do it, we can bring the costs down. I thought for a minute and told the doctor, ‘Sign me up.’

As soon as I’d made the decision to freeze my eggs, I told my friends and sister. Everyone seemed supportive. I wish a few had protested a little more, but it was like when you say you’re going on a diet and everyone nods instead of telling you you’re crazy. I’m getting old. And they know it. Several of my friends are on their second marriages and second round of kids.

I wasn’t ready to tell my parents; to admit I’d failed somehow as a daughter. But I did tell my gynaecologist. Turns out she’d just frozen her eggs. She’s 37. She wished she’d done it at my age. It was reassuring that a beautiful, smart doctor was also having trouble meeting men. She told me I’d make it through, then lifted her hair to reveal acne along her jawline. I pretended not to see but panicked inside. I had two months until the procedure. Two months to get my first real periods since I was 17. Two months to get PMS and acne.

After a few weeks off the pill, I began to feel a little crazy. But I had a wedding to attend. At the rehearsal dinner, I told my table I was freezing my eggs.

There was a man at the end of the table, David. I heard him say he lived in New York. I noticed he laughed at a few things I said and I wondered if I’d spend the night with him, even though he was only 29. the next night, after we danced at the wedding reception, David kissed me.

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