It Started with a Breakup

My IVF journey started a while back, before I ever met my husband, before I had any idea of what my future family would look like. It started with my 40th birthday and the fight that day that made me fairly certain the year and half long relationship I had been in was not the one I would be staying in long term. A month or so later, having fully realized the toxicity of the man I had been living with, I walked away. Away from his functional alcoholism, away from his verbal abuse and into the unknown of being 40 and single, wanting a family but unwilling to settle.

“We’re freezing your eggs,” my mom said. It wasn’t a question. And let me just say right here that I was lucky. Lucky to have the support of my family, because I could not have shouldered the financial cost of that endeavor on my own. But we were a unit, my parents and I, having lost my younger sister to a random robbery/homicide years before. And this was something they wanted to do for me, for all of us really, because they knew how important having a family was to my future, even if I had to do it as a single mom someday.

A few months later, I completed the six weeks of injections and doctor visits and they harvested 10 mature eggs and sent them into the deep freeze. People said the hormones would make me feel and act crazy, but they really didn’t. There was some bloating, discomfort, inconvenience, but it wasn’t that bad and after that, life went back to normal, with my little bundles of DNA just waiting for their big moment.

When I met my now husband in 2018, we got serious pretty quickly. He is 16 years younger than me, and though I immediately realized he was an old soul in a young body, I worried that my age my complicate things on the family front. He told me that having a family was the most important thing to him, not how we had one. “There are lots of ways to make a family,” he said to me during our big “relationship” talk. So I told him about my frozen eggs and right after we got married, that’s where we started.

In the fall of 2019, fresh off our honeymoon, we dove headfirst into the process. Andres got the all clear on his side, and they set up a calendar to ready me for a frozen embryo transfer in mid October. As the date drew close and I was ramping up on hormone injections, they thawed my 10 little eggs and attempted fertilization through a process called ICSI, where they isolate a single sperm and carefully inject it into each egg. They do this because 40 year old eggs tend to be brittle with a hard outer shell that a sperm would have a hard time burrowing through if just left to its own devices. They actually break the tail of the sperm as well so it can’t harm the egg by flailing about the way it normally would. Early on, it looked like 4 of the eggs were fertilized, but by day 3, that number was down to something around two and the day before the transfer, we got the call no one wants.

None of my 10 eggs had been successfully fertilized. The embryos that had started to develop had simply arrested. We don’t know if it was because of the age of the eggs, because they were abnormal, or because they simply didn’t survive the thaw. Embryos do much better than eggs when frozen but it could have been any, or a combination of these things. Our transfer was cancelled. The money we had spent on all the drugs and the fertilizing of the eggs was for nothing. We were not just back at square one, we were at ground zero. I had no more frozen eggs to try, so we were starting from scratch.

We went in for a post failed transfer consult and it was the recommendation of both the RE (reproductive endocrinologist) and the embryologist that if we wanted to try again, we would need to proceed with an egg donor. I was 45. The chances of getting a good embryo from one of my eggs was less than 1%.

We were heartbroken, and still just at the beginning of this journey. And I’ll share more as we go along. But I want to stop here with a PSA If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be not to wait until a breakup at 40 to freeze eggs. Until science catches us with society and can figure out a way to fix the issue where the best time for a woman to have a baby is between the ages of 14 and 24 (hello middle ages), we have to have a way to allow ourselves to live the life we want and never have to settle for Mr. Right Now, just because we do, in fact, like it or not, have a biological clock ticking. Not on our bodies, not on the ability to be a mom for the first time in our forties (more on that later), but on those blasted little eggs that are such a necessary part of this process. So if you can, freeze those babies to be early. It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, but I wish more than anything I had done it sooner.