For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to have kids. I know deep down in my heart, 100% hands-down, that I’m meant to be a mother one day. When I was younger, I would use phrases like “When I have kids…” or “One day when my children…” But as I got older and more time started to pass, the verbiage began to change to “If I have kids” or “One day when my children, if I have them…” And you might be asking, what made me flip my words exactly? Well, it was mostly that looming metaphorical biological clock, if I’m being completely and brutally honest.
I’ve had serious relationships in the past, with wonderful men who I could have seen as potential fathers and really great long-term partners. But, life doesn’t always work that way, my friends–sometimes it just has other plans for you. A few years ago, I was on a fast-track to marriage and kids with a really great guy. I could have “had it all”, so to speak. But in the end, it turned out that things just weren’t right with us. And ultimately, when I ended up leaving him, I felt like I was also waving goodbye to the potential of having a family of my very own. Starting from scratch in your 30’s doesn’t always leave you feeling very optimistic.
Fast forward to 2 years later. I was dating my way around Toronto and not having much luck. On the brink of turning 35, I felt like I needed to take matters into my own hands. I didn’t want to wake up one day and feel like I was just sitting around waiting for the right person to come along, because guess what? I’m always gonna be the right person for me right now. So, I waltzed into my doctors office on a mission to explore some of my options–or at least get a head start. Little did I know, that it’s pretty easy to get a referral to a fertility clinic, in order to get a consult and a few baseline tests done. So she handed me a list of a few clinics within the area to look into and then asked if I could let her know which one I decided on, so she could send in the referral. She just wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with my choice, since it can be a pretty personal subject to tackle. And just a quick side note for the record, I have a pretty amazing doctor.
Once a decision was made on my end, I was referred and then booked in for an appointment at the fertility clinic. When they initially contacted me, I was informed that my appointment and most of my tests were covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). They were also very clear on the amount I would have to pay out of pocket, which was only to cover the cost of a couple of the blood tests. I genuinely couldn’t believe that everything else was covered and I kept thinking – why the heck didn’t I do this sooner? But at the same time, maybe I just wasn’t in the right place before, I might not have been ready. And trust me, I know that this isn’t something everyone wants to do or should do. But I’m the type of person that just feels better knowing either way–good or bad.
What proceeded was an initial consult with a dedicated team consisting of a doctor, nurse and administrator who were all there specifically to work my case. I won’t lie, meeting with them was really hard for me as a single woman. From what I gathered, they’re likely used to couples trying to conceive or single women looking to freeze their eggs. But, my position was kinda wedged right in between those two things. My main goal was to just kinda see where I’m at and then make somewhat of an informed decision about my future, one way or the other. Questions were asked about my current status, by way of my love life and family life. And I felt like everything was just coming right to the surface. Everything was out on the proverbial table–all of my choices and all of my failures, for lack of a better term. I continued to push so desperately for them to take all angles into consideration regardless of my situation, because I really just wanted to know all of my options overall.
They drew a whole bunch of my blood for a myriad of different things and then told me to come back on the first day of my period for the first physical test. So when I went to bed one evening a couple of weeks later and woke up at 3am with that all too familiar feeling, I called them right away the next morning. They had me come in for an internal and external ultrasound. Listen, I’ve had many an ultrasound in my day, and have even had that wand shoved right up my hoohah before. But never have I ever had it done whilst on my period. Yeah it’s probably about as fun as it sounds, folks. Also don’t get me wrong here, I’ve had lots of sex on my period, but, these wand things are different, trust me. So after that once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was sent on my merry way and told to come back on day 5 of my cycle for the next test. Once again, I’m not sure that I truly prepared myself for what I was in for with this one either.
Day 5 rolled around and in I went to have a small catheter inserted right up inside of me so that it could fill my uterus up with a bit of fluid. The goal was to then have the doctor do an external ultrasound to check the lining, shape and status of the uterus itself. And then yet another series of a bit of poking around, with a side of some looking right up inside of my bits. It wasn’t my worst experience, but it wasn’t my favourite one either, since there was some light cramping similar to having a pap done. I really wondered what the heck I was putting myself through, since this was all voluntary–like, you actually asked for all of this, Catherine. Right away, the doctor gave me a thumbs up (I mean it, she gave me an actual thumbs up) and even complimented the “integrity” of my uterus. I may use that one in a pick-up line one day, or even on my dating profiles. “Hey, I’ve got great uterine integrity, wanna chuck a baby up in there?”
It was a quite a few weeks before I got the call to come back in to chat all about my combined test results. During that time, I tried my best to work on my mental health. A million things ran though my mind: What if I’m infertile? Am I gonna be able to handle that news? What if something is actually wrong with me? Should I just quit waiting for a partner and have a baby on my own? My grandfather was adopted, so there’s always that; why not adoption? I just couldn’t let any one thought consume me, I had to be patient, I just had to wait. So, I finally went in when they called and met with the doctor.
What proceeded was a fairly insensitive conversation on his part. Although I understand that in a clinical sense, people can be very matter-of-fact or very curt, but he was just genuinely lacking in basic empathy and compassion. He informed me that my egg count was lower than average for my age and that he couldn’t predict how rapidly it would decline from here on out. And then came the immediate conversation about egg freezing. He went on and on about it, giving me the full rundown and all of his recommendations on how I should definitely proceed with it. He explained how many times I would need to do it, the costs, and everything involved. Not once did he actually listen to what I had to say about it, even though I kept trying to divert the conversation elsewhere after I felt that I had received enough information on the topic. He was persistent that this was my only viable route. It wasn’t until he could tell that I was getting visibly upset that he stopped and said, “well you don’t have a partner right now anyways, so your options are pretty limited here.”
Listen, I get it. As a single woman, I can’t just magically imagine up a baby in my mind and then BOOM I’m preggers and living happily ever after. But, it doesn’t take much to listen to someone, to try be understanding, and then to use a certain amount of decorum in an emotionally-charged situation that has to do with someone’s whole darn life and overall health. Ultimately in the end, he gave me two options. One is to work on freezing my eggs–which with my lower than average egg count would have to be done in 2 separate extractions at around $10,000 each turn, with no guarantee on how many eggs they could remove. Not to mention that the whole process from start to finish can be quite hard on the body. And then there’s the annual storage fee, which can range from $300-$500 per year. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of medications or even the IVF when it’s finally go time! He also recommended that I fertilize them with sperm right away and then freeze the embryos. And honestly, that whole conversation complicates things even further, in my opinion.
My second option is to just keep on living my life and then if and when it’s time, come back in with my partner to work on making the process of conceiving much easier. He didn’t recommend this one, since it’s not possible to know exact numbers on my egg-count all of the time and on how rapidly it is declining or will decline over time–unless I’m literally going in for tests like every week. Now, I’m not naive. I’m going to be 36 this year. And although studies have shown that generally women in their 30’s can still be ultra-fertile until around 40 (and then the rapid decline commences) I already have a bit of a snapshot and it ain’t good. I know that my egg count is low and will only get lower from here.
The pressure that this puts on me some days can feel almost insurmountable. I’ve had to completely shift my perspective though, and for that I’m truly thankful. It’s okay to do things on your own time and at your own pace. It’s okay to take action, but it’s also equally as okay to be patient and wait for good things to come your way. I’m realistic, but I’m also hopeful. I want to be a mother one day and I’m confident that I will be. It just might not be in the most conventional way. But, guess what? I’m not conventional. And I actually think that’s kinda cool.
For now, I’m still undecided about what to do. I haven’t gone through with freezing my eggs and, currently, I’ve left it at the fact that I would go back to the fertility clinic if I ever really need to.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Catherine Sugrue)