There’s no slick way to tell a man on a first date that you need to be home by 9:30pm to inject fertility drugs into your belly, because you’re getting ready to freeze your eggs. So instead, as Jake and I shared a kiss on a foggy San Francisco corner after sharing Korean BBQ, I told him that I had a 5:00am conference call with someone in Australia.
As my Lyft dropped me off, I raced upstairs to my small studio apartment. Back home, I took a deep breath and entered my bedroom, which was also my living room, office, meditation space, and, now, my “fertility preservation laboratory.”
A slew of medications were spread across my mirrored coffee table. I started my nightly ritual of lighting candles and putting on some reiki zen music. I lay down on my couch and lifted up my blouse. I grasped the first syringe like a pencil, pinched some skin next to my belly button, and without pause, inserted the needle with a dart-like motion. The ease of the needle piercing through my skin gave me a sense of power. I pushed down the plunger, slowly feeling the fertility drugs ooze into my body, like little bubbles of stinging hope.
I swapped the syringe for my iPhone and snuggled into the couch as I read a text from Jake: “Wish our date didn’t have to end so soon. Go out with me again next Friday night?”
My throat and chest tightened in anxiety. What could I say? “It depends on the timing of my egg extraction… How about I sext you from the fertility clinic next week?” I burrowed my face into the couch cushion and cried silently, so my neighbours couldn’t hear me.
At 33, I had decided to freeze my eggs because I wanted to feel more control in my life, but lying next to a red plastic container full of used needles — and holding a phone full of messages from men I probably wouldn’t end up in a relationship with — I felt more lonely and out of control than ever. How did I get here?
Here’s what I thought would happen when I moved to San Francisco at age 31: I’d be a successful entrepreneur attending an invite-only event, and another founder, with at least a few rounds of funding for his startup, would come up to me and say, “You’re a powerhouse, and I like your work ethic. Boss-lady, would you go coffee tasting with me?” And then our courtship would start with bike rides and urban hikes around the city. On weekends, we’d escape to romantic Airbnbs, or stay in town and buy goodies at the farmer's market for a rooftop picnic. Then, after our companies got acquired, we would get married and launch our next startup, a family.
That’s not what happened. Instead, I had a dating app showdown, convincing myself that every new match was a new possibility. But the truth was, the only serious relationship I was in was with my phone.
Shortly after moving to San Francisco, I sat at breakfast with Christine, a 38-year-old single friend and mentor. “Alex, don’t let yourself settle for a relationship or lifestyle that is just good enough. Invest in peace of mind, and freeze your eggs. The younger the better.” I nodded in agreement, and then anxiously devoured an entire avocado.
Lying next to a red plastic container full of used needles — and holding a phone full of messages from men I probably wouldn’t end up in a relationship with — I felt more lonely and out of control than ever.
I was torn: On one hand, I was flattered to hear that a woman I looked up to thought I was worthy of taking a step to prevent myself from settling. I could release the pressure of the clock, and if I wanted to, tap into my frozen eggs at a more perfect time in my life with the right partner. But the idea of going through with the egg-freezing process as a healthy 31-year-old felt desperate, and prematurely overdramatic, like I was destined to be single for another three years. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I had plenty of time. I decided to think about it.
Two and a half years and thousands of dating-app swipes later, I found myself working on my laptop at 9:30 on a Friday night in a downtown cafe, when voices and laughter outside the window caught my attention. My throat tightened and eyes swelled with tears as I watched couples stroll by hand-in-hand, then saw my own reflection staring back — alone.
Their happiness pained me. I was envious. I felt bad for myself. I wanted all of that; I just didn’t want to feel like I was forcing it. I moved to a different seat, away from the window — I didn’t want my internal struggle on broadcast. I quickly forced myself to snap out of it as I started daydreaming about what I could achieve on my own.
All of a sudden, the thought of freezing my eggs before I turned 34 in a few months — on New Year’s Eve — gave me sudden hope. I made an appointment the following week for blood tests and a consultation with a doctor at San Francisco’s top fertility clinic.
About a month later, I was sitting alone again, in the clinic waiting room, but this time it felt empowering. My egg-freezing journey started without a hitch, and despite fainting the first time I gave myself a hormone shot — because I forgot to breathe — the harvesting proved fruitful, and felt more rewarding than my love life.
It was easy to joke with the doctors about what I’d name my 40+ growing eggs, if they were all viable. On the other hand, it was not something I dared to mention as I curled up next to Jake on our third date, an evening picnic in a picturesque San Francisco park. “Why you wearing your skirt so high?” Jake flirtatiously asked me as he tugged at the fabric at my waist. I coyly covered my bloated belly as I moved his hand away, looked into his hungry eyes, and imagined saying, “Oh Jake, I so badly want to roll around with you in this public park, but I don’t want to endanger the eggs that I’m harvesting to freeze next week.” So instead, I quickly leaned in with a distracting kiss and whispered, “To keep you in suspense, my dear.”
A few days later, on extraction day, my mom sat quietly next to me in the clinic waiting room. Though I was nervous, I felt proud that I was close to freezing a large number of my prized eggs. But as they called my name, and I walked past anxious couples sitting in suspended silence, I was reminded that freezing my eggs was a temporary fix. There still weren’t any guarantees.
By freezing my eggs, I hoped the rest of my life would begin to thaw out, and I’d gain more time to find love. But the holidays rolled in, and as quickly as Jake came into my life, he ghosted right out of it. I reached out with a few flirty texts to reignite the flame, but he never responded. I was disappointed and confused, but I wasn’t surprised. Like so many other promising new relationships I’d started, I’d spent all that time nurturing a possibility, and again I felt like I was exactly where I had started.
On New Year’s Eve, I found myself on a rooftop in SF with friends as the countdown started. At midnight, as the fireworks danced in the foggy sky, I stopped to admire the outlines of couples kissing on rooftops nearby. I lit my sparkler, and with the light flashing before me, I felt a deep sense of love and affirmation all around me, and in that moment, even inside my body.
The truth was, that no matter how much I tried to control what was happening in my life, the same uncertainties still remained. Freezing my eggs was an investment in a future I hoped would arrive someday, but it was up to me to create the love I craved in my life right now — and, like little flashes of light, freezing in time, I was already doing it.