fbpx
Overcoming the Fear of Fertility During My Egg Freezing Journey
by Revae Tharps
SHARE ARTICLE
LEFT TO READ

minutes

PUBLISHED ON

April 23, 2020

ARTICLE LENGTH

19 Minute Read

SHARE ARTICLE
CONTRIBUTOR

Overcoming the Fear of Fertility During My Egg Freezing Journey

Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)
Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)

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.  

Related: Black Obstetrician/Gynecologist Dr. Jessica Shepherd on the Importance of Maternal Health

Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)
Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)

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.

Next Steps 

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.

The Process

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? 

I’d bought myself time and options so I could still have the life I’d always wanted, even as my biological clock ticked louder.

My doctor assured me that I was fine and reminded me that all I would need to conceive naturally was one egg each month. The follicle count and ovarian reserve numbers mattered for the egg retrieval process because they let her know how my body would respond to the follicle stimulation medicine as well as how many eggs we could expect to retrieve in this cycle. Even with lower numbers, she wasn’t concerned because it was about “quality over quantity.” Since I was 34 at the time, chances were my eggs were still good quality, so we didn’t need to retrieve a higher number to consider it a successful cycle like we would if I were a bit older. For me to have the best possible cycle, I was placed on estrogen for five days to help my follicles mature.  

Courtesy of Revae Tharps
Courtesy of Revae Tharps

I went back in five days, and I was FINALLY ready to begin the follicle stimulation process – THE NEEDLES! On average, my doctor said the follicle stimulation period lasts about 10 to 12 days. During this time, you’re injecting yourself with two to three needles at the same time each day, and going into the office for an ultrasound every other day to track your follicle growth. When your follicles reach a specific size, you give yourself a “trigger shot” that releases the eggs from your ovaries, and the retrieval procedure is scheduled exactly 36 hours later.  

I didn’t have the nerve to give myself the shots for the first time that night. I was so afraid that I’d drop the saline solution vile, mix the wrong thing, get an air bubble in the syringe, or not have the nerve to stick myself. Luckily, I have a close friend who is a doctor who volunteered to come over and give me the shots. I was so grateful for her! The needles weren’t as bad as I thought, and having her help gave me the courage I needed to administer them myself every night after that. 

Pro tip: Find out which shot is the most uncomfortable and give yourself that one last. Otherwise, you might not have the nerve to inject yourself with the other one (s).

As you can only imagine from what I’ve told you about my earlier appointments, my body didn’t respond according to what was “average.” The follicle stimulation process took longer than the anticipatory 10-12 days my doctor initially suggested. Instead, it took my body 14 days to mature the follicles to the size they needed to be to schedule the retrieval.

Related: When the Village Has a Baby

One of the side effects I noticed was that I was more sensitive than I usually am. I cried a lot! I’m talking an ugly, gut-wrenching, soul cry, more than a few times. After receiving disappointing news in a follow-up appointment, I cried at work (with my office door closed, obviously), which is not something I’d typically do. I also cried at home and in the car for any or seemingly no reason at all. The needles, honestly, were not even the worst part. I mean, yes, there were a lot of them. They stung, they left my lower abs sore, but the emotional aspect superseded the physical. Coming to terms with being almost 35, single (as in unmarried), and having to give myself needles as a last-ditch effort to have a baby if it came down to it was a tough pill to swallow. It didn’t help that my process was taking longer than average. Finally, I received some good news! I was ready for the trigger shot which meant the end was near. Another ugly, gut-wrenching, soul cry.

It’s Gametime! 

Before the retrieval, a consent form is given that explains the risks and side effects associated with the procedure. Additionally, you decide what you would like to happen to your eggs in the event of non-payment, death, or if unused by your 50th birthday. You can have them thawed and destroyed, donated to science or to another individual. I only had a few days before the procedure to read through the packet, ask a few questions, make a decision, and sign on the dotted line. I was relieved to find out that you could change your elections at any point in the future.

Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)
Revae Tharps (Photo courtesy of Revae Tharps)

When it was time for my procedure, they moved me into the operating room, helped position me on the surgical table, and the last thing I remember was seeing my doctor before I was knocked out due to the anesthesia. I woke up in a recovery room, with the nurse offering me snacks and my doctor informing me that everything went well and that I’d be notified later that day on how many eggs were retrieved. The entire process, from my arrival to my discharge, took about two hours. Afterwards, I experienced terrible cramping for a day and some bloating for about a week, but that was the worst of it.  

The End Result 

In the end, the process was a success. The number of eggs retrieved was consistent with what we expected from my hormone levels and ultrasounds. Though it wasn’t as high as I’d hoped, all of the eggs retrieved were able to be frozen, and my doctor assured me it was still a good number for a successful IVF cycle should I opt for IVF in the future. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing whether or not the eggs are viable at this stage since they aren’t fertilized (embryos), but she is optimistic because of my age. 

I questioned my femininity. Was I less of a woman? Would I ever have a baby? 

Now that the process was over, there were no more needles, and I could finally get back to a life uninterrupted by doctor visits and set injection times. Most importantly, I was equipped with knowledge about my reproductive health that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’d bought myself time and options so I could still have the life I’d always wanted, even as my biological clock ticked louder. I’d bought myself peace of mind, and it was all worth it.

Even if you are married or decide egg freezing is not for you, but you want kids, I would suggest fertility testing. Reach out to your employer to see if they provide coverage. If not, research clinics and see what your payment options are. One thing I can say is that the experience was truly empowering but now it’s time to get back to my birthday planning!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Join the fam.

Be the first to know about all things Black Love.

*I have read the Terms & Conditions for this website.