In recent years, the process for Black women freezing their eggs has become more common than taboo. Studies suggest women who become pregnant after the age of 35 are considered high-risk with an increased possibility of complications. On the brink of celebrating her 35th birthday, entertainment lawyer Revae Tharps was faced with this hard truth. From birthday ideas to future family planning, she decided the best present she could give herself was the gift of hope for future fertility. She chronicled the day-to-day of her egg freezing journey and shed light on both the trials and tribulations experienced throughout the process.
In her personal essay below, she hopes to inspire other women to learn more about their available fertility options with the encouragement that the pursuit of motherhood is still very much possible, even after the age of 35.
The Deciding Factor
I’m a celebratory type of person. We all know them – that ridiculous person who texts six months in advance about their birthday with their entire “birthday weekend” itinerary. That is me.
In November of 2019, about seven months before my 35th birthday, I began my usual birthday planning mental aerobics. It wasn’t 30 or 40, it was 35 and still a milestone birthday to me. I’d officially be in my mid-30s and considered grown, grown by the outside world, even though internally, I knew I was still trying to figure this “adulting” thing out. I’d also officially be considered . . . GERIATRIC! OK, OK. Not me, per se, but my future pregnancy. The pregnancies of women after turning 35 are called geriatric pregnancies and are considered high-risk.
Very quickly, my mind shifted from birthday planning to family planning. I’d always wanted kids, but I wanted them a certain way. First, I wanted to become a lawyer, land my dream job in entertainment law, become more financially stable, meet the guy, get married, live a year in marital bliss, and then have the kids. Well, I was an entertainment attorney working for a great media company, stable, and I had met a guy. Who knew if he was THE guy. I just knew that I was enjoying the process without the added pressure of my biological clock, so in that moment I decided to take control of what I could – ME.
In the Beginning
I spent hours online researching egg freezing: the process, the associated costs, the outcomes, risks, and IVF. I reached out to my girlfriends to see if they’d ever looked into it for themselves, and they hadn’t, which is why I decided to document my journey via social media.
Next, I called my company’s benefits hotline to inquire about fertility benefits. It turns out my company offered “fertility preservation,” which is what egg freezing is considered. They would provide coverage for up to two rounds of egg retrievals, storage of the eggs for one year (I’d have to pay for any subsequent years), and up to two transfers if I decided to go through with a full cycle of IVF in the future. I immediately enrolled in the program, found my doctor, and scheduled my initial consultation for the following week.
During my initial visit with my doctor, we went over my medical history, and she talked me through the process and answered all of my questions. I learned my doctor had gone through IVF to have her son, and I loved that she could relate. Afterward, she conducted an ultrasound to check my uterus, count the follicles (a.k.a. “eggs”) in each of my ovaries, determine my baseline, and make an initial assessment of whether or not I was a good candidate for egg freezing. We talked through additional questions and concerns, and then finally I was on my way with an information packet, prescription for birth control pills to regulate my hormones, an extensive list of vitamins and supplements to begin taking and the instruction to call the office on the first day of my next menstrual cycle to schedule an appointment.
So, How Did I Pay For It?
Since my job offered fertility preservation coverage and I made the decision to freeze my eggs during my company’s open enrollment period at the end of 2019, I elected the plan with the highest level of coverage to help with costs since the retrieval would take place in 2020. Though it meant I would pay a little more monthly in 2020, in total, I’d end up paying less than if I’d kept my 2019 plan because of the lower deductible, lower out of pocket maximum and lower co-insurance with my new plan. Further, I upped my contribution to my FSA so the majority of my out of pocket payments for the procedure (e.g., office visit copays, blood tests, retrieval facility fee, medications, etc.) would be pre-tax. I also learned if you do not have insurance coverage, cash payment options are available.
My next appointment took place on the third day of my December menstrual cycle. During this office visit, I had my blood drawn to check my hormone levels and completed another ultrasound to check my follicles. My follicle count was lower than before, but luckily my doctor wasn’t too concerned. A few days later, the blood test results came back and confirmed my ovarian reserve level was lower than average for my age.
As you could imagine, I started panicking. What I initially set out to do as a “back-up” or “insurance policy” became very real. Even if I conceived my first child naturally in a year or two, I could possibly have trouble conceiving a second child in the future due to my age and my lower than average ovarian reserve level may have made a successful egg retrieval unlikely at the time. Let me just say this: I always wanted two children. Additionally, I learned about a few of my other hormone levels and how they could impact a future pregnancy. I’d often joked about 35 being considered “geriatric” and how ridiculous that sounded since the 35-year-olds I knew were in good shape and lived healthy active lifestyles. Until that very moment, I honestly never thought I could possibly have issues conceiving. But facing that reality made me extremely grateful I took the necessary steps to start the egg freezing process when I did.
In early January, I was ready to start the follicle stimulation process, or at least, so I thought. I ordered my prescriptions from a specialty pharmacy, and two days later, they arrived at my door in a large box complete with alcohol pads, syringes, and needles. There were a total of four medications, all administered with a needle in my lower abdomen. Admittedly, it was intimidating. I always hated needles, and now I would have to inject myself daily for the next few days. I visited my doctor for an ultrasound on the third day of my January menstrual cycle with high hopes of receiving the green light to start administering the shots that night. Unfortunately, my follicle count was even lower than the last time.
There was only one word to describe how I truly felt deep down inside. I was devastated. Why were the numbers lower than before?! Why was this happening?! I questioned my femininity. Was I less of a woman? Would I ever have a baby?