It was at the age of 36, earlier this year, that I decided to freeze my eggs. My husband and I never planned on having kids, but my mother just couldn’t accept that, so we did it for her – “just in case we changed our minds,” she said.
I knew that many of my friends had frozen their eggs in their late thirties, so I started my research by talking to them about it. Most of them had done this in the UK or Canada, countries from which they held passports, but their feedback was that it was incredibly expensive. One of my cousins had done the procedure in Spain, at a fraction of the price, so I began looking into that as well.
As it turns out, Spain was the most cost-efficient option out of the three countries and offered an online program through which you could Skype your doctor if you had questions – perfect for someone living abroad. However, it would still require me to spend up to three weeks in the country, which I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do because of work.
Even though it’s where we live, we never considered Dubai as an option for this procedure for one main reason: the country where you freeze your eggs is where the insemination has to happen. Seeing as we weren’t sure how long we would be calling the UAE home, we decided that it was safer to have this done abroad. In addition to that, egg freezing and IVF are still very pricey procedures here.
Because of its proximity to the UAE, the price of the treatment, and the fact that I had family to stay with there, we finally settled on Beirut. The total procedure, including the medication, would cost us $2,000 – compared to the €4,000 it would cost in Spain.
The doctor I was seeing in Lebanon agreed to me starting the hormonal treatment required prior to the extraction of the eggs while I was still in Dubai, which meant that I was able to take less time off work and fly to Lebanon only when it was necessary, a few days before the procedure.
To begin with, he ordered a number of blood tests, which I had done in Dubai and sent to him, to allow him to determine the correct dosage of hormones I would require. I had to get the prescription issued in the UAE in order to obtain the medication here, which I did by working with a local doctor.
On the first day, I asked my husband, Mike, to stay home with me – “just in case.”
The hormonal treatment is timed according to your menstrual cycle, starting three days into your period. It begins with Gonal-F shots that are delivered just like an EpiPen – they’re pre-loaded to the right dosage and you simply stick the needle into your stomach. The hormones go into your fat, not your blood, so there’s no concern about air bubbles or anything like that.
I took those once a day, but it was crucial that I did so at the exact same hour every day. I chose 7 a.m. and set a daily alarm as a reminder. On the first day, I asked my husband, Mike, to stay home with me – “just in case.”
It’s important to note that I went into this as someone who suffers from PCOS, which put me at risk of developing something called Hyper Ovarian Syndrome, where your ovaries are working so hard that they swell up and you literally look like you are pregnant, so that had to be monitored closely. I had also been on Glucophage for some time, which the doctor said I could carry on taking. But I decided not to. I stopped the Glucophage, coffee, cigarettes, and anything that would affect the quality of my eggs. I was going to do this once, and I was going to do it right.
I continued this treatment for the next five days before flying to Lebanon to meet the doctor in person and for him to perform an ultrasound. This would allow him to observe my progress and determine whether or not I needed more hormones before entering phase two of the treatment. As it turns out, my eggs looked good but some were bigger than others, so he instructed me to continue this process for three more days. In addition to that, he also prescribed two other shots, which meant that I was now taking three different injections every day while in Lebanon.
The two new additions were slightly more complicated to administer than the Gonal-F, because they didn’t come pre-loaded. Instead, I had to mix a saline solution with a powder in a syringe using a long needle, then switch that out for a shorter needle. Thankfully, I had my father, who is also a doctor, there to show me how to do this. I also found YouTube tutorials to be very helpful.Just as with the first shot, it was crucial that I stuck to a strict daily schedule.
During the first five days of the treatment, I found myself feeling more attentive and loving than I normally am. My skin was glowing too. I started to get slightly bloated around the third day, but it was nothing too drastic. When my doctor introduced the new shots, however, everything went downhill. I remember looking up their ingredients and discovering that one of them was made from the urine of menopausal women. I was a little traumatized by that. By that point, I had a crazy amount of hormones being pumped into my body and I started getting bruising and rashes on my stomach. On top of that, I couldn’t stop crying – for no reason whatsoever – and couldn’t control it. I remember watching a Friends episode when I started out laughing and ended up crying hysterically. That lasted three days.
I was constantly uncomfortable and I was eating like there was no tomorrow. I gained about six kilos in five days.
Because of the bruising, I had to move the injection site to my arm. I was constantly uncomfortable and I was eating like there was no tomorrow. I gained about six kilos in five days. My breasts blew up and got really hard – especially my left one. It’s still not quite right, even months later.
That’s how the treatment affected me, but everyone has a different experience. One of my friends, for instance, gained a lot of weight but had no other side effects, while another became an emotional train-wreck and suffered none of the weight gain or bloating.
During that period, I was going to the hospital every day for ultrasounds. The waiting room was full of women who were there for IVF treatment, and that was really difficult to see. There I was, freezing my eggs just in case, while they were there on their umpteenth round of treatment, just hoping that they would get pregnant. I was high-fiving the nurses on my way out, and they were crying in their husbands’ arms. I couldn’t imagine how they were feeling – the emotional rollercoaster of the hormones compounded by the fact that they were trying so hard to conceive.
I carried on with the ultrasounds until the doctor was happy with the size of the eggs. At that point, he instructed me to stop all the hormonal shots and switch to two new ones – one to stop me from ovulating, which when taken makes you extremely uncomfortable for a day, and then the “trigger shot”. It’s called that because it’s the one that preps your body for the release of all the eggs exactly 36 hours after taking it. Two days later, at 7:30 a.m., I was ready to go.
I was put under sedation at the American University Hospital in Beirut and woke up fifteen minutes later. Using a needle, the doctor had extracted 12 eggs, all of which were viable and went into the freezer. According to the research I had done ahead of this, a good average number of eggs is ten, so I was pleased. Overall, the experience was a lot easier than I expected, thanks in part to the hospital staff, who made sure I felt comfortable throughout.
I stayed in Beirut for two days after the procedure before heading back to Dubai, just to make sure everything was fine. The day after I got home, I got my period. It was painful and strong, and I couldn’t use tampons because the area was still sensitive. It felt like the worst period of my life, but I had to just power through it. It lasted about seven days.
I was hoping that my body would go back to normal after the procedure and that my mood would stabilize, but that didn’t exactly happen. It could also have been the fact that I headed straight into a really tough month of work, but I would just come home at night and cry from stress and exhaustion and just not feeling like myself. I had gained so much weight, I was bloated, I felt fat and ugly, and my left boob was still not back to normal. The doctor said it could take up to four months for my hormone levels to stabilize.
That lasted over two months. In the end, it was a supervised fast and lifestyle changes that helped bring my body back to its normal state.
All of that being said, if you’re thinking of having your eggs frozen, I think that you should definitely do it. And the younger you are, the better. The ideal age is 28, so the longer you wait, the more the quality of your eggs can be compromised. I had this done at 36 and the doctor extracted 12 viable eggs. But if the day ever comes when we decide to use them, there is no guarantee that any of them will work.