My Mom Froze My Eggs for My Birthday
One of the greatest sources of joy and anxiety for women I know surrounds fertility. We’ll be exploring the topic from various perspectives here at the Get Go, but I thought I’d start with mine first.
Confession: I’m Instagram Asian-baby obsessed. Some people follow puppy, meme, paleo diet feeds. I follow @TinyGentleAsians and @LauraIz. My friend @ayakanai does the cutest Instagram baby stories. Every time I see a new post or tune into a Instastory I die over the adorableness. I share this obsession with two other friends. Both are married. One just had her first child, and the other has begun to try. I, on the other hand, am totally single. As adorable as a baby might be on social media, having one seems literally inconceivable at the moment. I feel the pull at my heartstrings. I can imagine being a mother. I love my friends’ children. When I hold a baby, I feel such a surge of want. And yet my feelings around my own fertility are conflicted.
A SURPRISE FROM MY MOM
When I turned 36, my mother said she had a very cool surprise for my birthday. Her words: “very cool.” For my 35th birthday, she had given me a trip anywhere I wanted. I was excited for what 36 would bring.
“I’m going to freeze your eggs for you!” she announced proudly into the phone. “Aren’t I such a cool mom?!”
I was speechless. It was certainly out-of-the-box and it did follow the “She’d never get it for herself” rule. I was definitely surprised. My mother was delighted with herself.
MY MOTHER, THE DOCTOR
While well-intentioned, this “gift” made me feel old and like a failure. I had failed to get married and have a family “in time” and needed an insurance policy against my ticking biological clock. It felt less like a celebration of my birthday and more like a cold, scientific referendum on my life choices. My mother, a prominent surgeon, had assessed the situation and come up with an action plan, as she does in her work everyday. Of course, she was right. But I have often wished she were more of a cookies-and-milk mom and less of a high-powered doctor. That she would stick with more traditional mother-daughter birthday gifts and not things that required needles, anesthesia and invasive procedures.
But my mother gave me the gift of her expertise. She did the research and helped me get an appointment with the best fertility doctor in NYC. His success rates were highest and I was “lucky” enough to spend $14,000 to have him oversee my process.
THE EGG-FREEZING PROCESS
The process. Oh God. It was an emotional roller coaster. I hated it. I hated that in our first meeting, the doctor told me how brave I was for doing this. I wanted to punch him in the face right then and there. It wasn’t courage that motivated me, it was my force of nature mother and my own inability to make the most natural thing in the world happen for myself. He meant it kindly but I almost burst into furious tears in his office. It was the first of many outsized trigger reactions.
I hated the hormones. I hated the shots. I hated feeling bloated and weepy all the time. I cried constantly and inconsolably. One late-night in the final stretch of my protocol, I called my mother sobbing. Her words will always stay with me: “I’m sorry I ever suggested this. I thought it was such a cool, progressive thing to give you.
I want to give you the gift of time so you won’t have to worry. Have the career you want. Have as much fun as you want. Wait for the right person. Make your own choices. Live your life.
I’m sorry you feel so bad. I never wanted to make you feel this way. I thought we might do another round just in case, but finish this course, and we’ll never talk about this again.”
I cried even more hearing her words.
MY MATERNAL INSTINCT
It kicked in in surprising ways. I went to see a nutritionist to optimize my eating—good fats, nutrient-rich and unprocessed. I cooked for myself and prepared my meals with attention and care. I ate my avocados and salmon with a generous serving of love towards the eggs I was nurturing inside of me. Beyond nourishing my nutrition, I took long walks and listened to classical music. I got acupuncture. I was gentle with myself. I didn’t work late. I read novels. I wanted the little guys/girls to be healthy, smart, and strong.
The last night before my extraction, I ate my favorite pepperoni pizza from Otto in the West Village. I wanted my eggs to know the real me—I’m not all brain and beauty foods–and have a taste of something would make their future taste buds happy.
THE EGG RETRIEVAL
My then boss, Joanna Coles, then editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, offered to pick me up from the doctor’s office after my extraction.
“I’ll come in the car and I’ll bring champagne!” she trilled in her British accent. “We’ll have a fun lunch to celebrate!”
“It’s not really that kind of thing, Joanna,” I demurred.
Instead, one of my oldest friends, Isabelle, was sitting in the waiting room when the anesthesia wore off. She took me back to my apartment and ordered comfort food that included a chicken Reuben and French fries. It’s funny the things you remember. After lunch, Isabelle tucked me in for a nap. I fell asleep with a hollow cramping from the extraction, but also, a feeling of fullness. Full of lunch for sure, but also full of love, from the support of my family and friends, and also, for those eggs sitting in a freezer at NYU that represented so much possibility.
THE AFTERWARDS (IRL NOT THE FAIRY TALE)
Recently, I was talking with a childhood friend struggling to have a child. At 41, her egg quality was not high. She was filled with regret as she parsed her current options. If only she’d decided to marry sooner, if only she’d decided to freeze her eggs.
My response was this: “It doesn’t matter how you get your baby. The minute you hold him or her in your arms, you will not care the road you took, only that it has brought you to where you are.”
It’s now been years since I froze my eggs. I’ve just launched the Get Go and am figuring out a new business. It’s not my time for a baby. But I still have pangs of worry even though I’ve done everything right.
Worry is something that women seem especially wired for.
Where is my partner? When am I going to be a mother? When am I going to get the family I’ve always dreamed of? When do I get a TinyGentleAsian of my own? Am I doing this thing called life right?
The fertility doctor told me at that first meeting, freezing your eggs isn’t a guarantee. But nothing is guaranteed. There’s no single right or wrong way to get where you’re going whether babies, families, love or career. If everything had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t be where I am today: Exhilarated by a fresh start and happier than I’ve ever been. I can’t predict the future, but now I understand something from the past. How my mother came up with this cockamamie birthday present for my 36th birthday.
I can see it clearly now, how she racked her brain for the best gift she could possibly give, as all mothers do and came up with one that she gave with all of her heart. It wasn’t about the eggs. It was a wish: Have the career you want, have as much fun as you want, wait for the right person, make your own choices, live your life. I hope to be able to give that same gift to my own children someday. Just not yet.