Written by Kathleen Apodaca | Photography by Tamara Léger
As a fitness instructor and nutrition specialist, I know how to use food and exercise to produce desired results with my body. I’ve managed an autoimmune disease with food and changed the shape of my body with exercise. However, when it comes to fertility health, I feel I have very little control.
Like many women, I have the dream of becoming a mom one day. However, at 36 and single, I started to question whether this dream would ever become a reality. Typically, if there’s a goal I want to achieve, I put a plan together and go after it. I decided to approach my fertility health in the same way.
My consultation with the fertility specialist was in December 2019. I believe that knowledge is power, and I went in wanting to learn about my fertility health and if freezing my eggs was a good option. The doctor gave me a crash course on a woman’s fertility. As women, we are born with all the eggs we will ever have. We do not produce more. As we age, our egg quality and quantity diminish. The doctor explained what egg freezing was, and how it would give me the ability to preserve the quality eggs I do still have and potentially increase my chances of having a baby later in life.
Egg quality in a woman’s 20s is about 75 percent. By age 40, quality drops to 10-15 percent.
Baseline tests were the first steps, and I had blood work and an ultrasound. The results of these tests would be used to determine the amount of medication I would need to produce the highest quality and quantity of eggs during my egg retrieval cycle. The goal of the egg-freezing cycle would be to produce a minimum of 20 mature eggs. Women typically only produce one mature egg each cycle, but the medications are used to increase those numbers. I liked that I had a goal to work towards and I was determined to get there.
A few weeks before my start date, I met with my assigned nurse. I went in eager to learn but left the doctor’s office in tears, feeling extremely overwhelmed and alone. During the appointment with my nurse, she reviewed every single injection with me. I remember thinking, “Do normal people really do these medications right all the time?” It seemed complicated. I was told I would not be able to exercise starting a few days after the medications and up until a week or two after the procedure. My ovaries would be stimulated to produce multiple mature eggs, which would make my ovaries heavier, and if I were to exercise, I’d be put at risk for ovarian torsion. As a group fitness instructor and someone who uses exercise to de-stress, this was an unwelcome surprise to me.
EGG FREEZING 101
Egg freezing is a method to preserve a woman’s ability to get pregnant in the future. The process begins with taking hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs in a month instead of just one. Eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and then frozen for later use. When a woman is ready to get pregnant, the frozen eggs are thawed and combined with sperm in a lab to hopefully create a healthy embryo. The embryo is then implanted into the woman’s uterus.
A monthly storage fee is charged until you’re ready to use your eggs, and documents are completed prior to egg freezing stating what you’d like to do with them if you choose never to use them. Some of the options include donating them to other women or to science.
The Preparation Process
Once I was given approval to start and the medications arrived, I had an emotional breakdown. I was alone in my apartment and thinking about how I never expected this to be a part of my journey to motherhood. I started my first round and took my first shots on Saturday, February 8th surrounded by some of my best girlfriends. Feeling loved and supported was exactly what I needed in that moment.
Over the next 11 days, I took my injections and went into the doctor’s office for ultrasounds and labs. At first, things seemed to be going well, but on the sixth day, the doctor only saw eight large follicles. This was devastating considering my goal was 20. By day seven, I was extremely uncomfortable. I was bloated, my pants felt tight, and I was ready for the process to be over. Because your retrieval date depends on how follicles are developing, you typically won’t find out when the procedure will be scheduled until two days before. It can be a challenge to plan, but I was relieved to go in on day 10 to find out that I was ready to “trigger” and would have my procedure soon.
The Retrieval Procedure
The day of the procedure I woke up excited to finally have the process over with and to see how many mature eggs the doctors would retrieve. You’re required to have someone with you the day of, and I was grateful that my dad flew in to be by my side. I didn’t feel nervous until I went into the operating room. They showed me where my eggs would be stored, which felt very overwhelming and reminded me how different my reality was from the vision I had planned for. I started to cry, but then I saw the familiar face of one of the nurses. She put her hand on my shoulder and told me everything was going to be okay.
The procedure was quick. When I woke up, they told me they had retrieved only eight eggs, and I immediately started crying. I wondered why my body didn’t produce the number we were working towards. The next day, I found out that only seven of the eggs were mature and viable. Was there something wrong with me? Could I have done something differently? So many questions ran through my mind. I had just put my body through so much, invested time and money, and without the outcome I was hoping for.
The pain the day of the procedure was minimal, and I took the remainder of the day to rest. I had some cramping and mild abdominal discomfort for the next few days but felt good overall. It takes a while for the ovaries to return to their normal size, and I focused on eating healthy and hydrating so that I could feel like myself again quickly.
Try, Try Again
After reviewing the results with my doctor, they suggested trying another round. Thankfully, I had fertility benefits through my company, and figured it was worth it to try again. I scheduled my next egg-freezing round for April, but with COVID hitting in March, my procedure was pushed back to May. With new medications added in, this round started off more promising than the first. I had more follicles throughout the cycle, I knew what to expect, and didn’t feel as physically uncomfortable. This cycle, the doctors retrieved nine eggs. Better than my last round, and to have 16 frozen eggs was enough for me! I was happy to move forward with my life knowing I had taken steps towards the goal of becoming a mom.
Unfortunately, the day after my second egg retrieval, the doctor called with bad news. Out of the nine eggs they retrieved, only one was mature. I was shocked. Just one? How is that even possible? My doctor said there are still a lot of unknowns with fertility and that these things just happen. Again, the questions I had after my first round started to run through my mind. Could I handle another egg-freezing cycle? It was tough news, and I decided to take some time to figure out what to do next. I opted for two more rounds, but it was frustrating and emotional to put my body through this process again, and without the desired result.
Ultimately, the decision to freeze my eggs turned into a year-long journey that included four rounds of fertility medications, four cycles started, and three egg-freezing cycles completed. I now have 14 eggs frozen that, if needed, will one day make me a mom. I often question whether I should push myself through one more round to get to my goal of 20. For now, I’ve decided to take the time to heal mentally and physically.
This journey has been so much more than I anticipated. It is lonely, challenging, and frustrating, and has tested me in many ways. However, it has also taught me how strong I am, and how strong women all over the world are. Since sharing my journey, so many women have reached out to share their own stories. I’m amazed by the support and strength of others who have gone through fertility treatments. To all the women out there with the dream of becoming a mom, but aren’t quite there yet, I hear you. You are strong, and you are supported.