On my 35th birthday, my mother gave me a card that read:
Dearest Justine, life is one choice after another. And choices change. So do decisions. If you decide that you want to keep baby options and motherhood open by freezing your eggs, I want you to be able to do that. The enclosed is for that purpose only, and not for anything else—not a car, a dog, a vacation.
It came with a check for $10,000, and in the memo field, she had written only: L’oeufs (the French word for “eggs”). Eighteen months later, that check is still sitting in a drawer in my apartment—and I have no intention of cashing it.
Yes, freezing your eggs is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of women. Full stop. The sheer fact that I can make a choice about whether to do it means I am in a position of extreme privilege.
In general, women looking to preserve their eggs can expect to pay anywhere from $10K to $22K, or more if multiple rounds are required. Add to that the cost of storing the extracted eggs, which can run an additional $500+ per year, and thousands more to eventually thaw, fertilize and implant the eggs when you’re ready to get pregnant. Very few employer-provided insurance plans cover egg-freezing, even if they cover IVF (meaning they’ll pay for you to try to have a baby now, but not later).
In giving me that check, my mother wasn’t trying to encourage me to freeze my eggs. She was trying to ensure that my decision wouldn’t be based solely on the financial burden. And when it comes to changing one’s mind about kids, she has some experience. She gave birth to me, her first and only child, at 43 years old. She never wanted children—until suddenly, she did.
I acknowledge that choosing not to freeze my eggs now may very well turn out to be a decision I’ll come to regret. But for me, the process of coming to that decision has been one of self-discovery and self-love. Here’s why.
I always imagined I’d have children. And then, at 34, I made the decision to leave my unhappy marriage. In doing so, I knew that there was a possibility I would be single indefinitely and that I might be forfeiting the chance to become a mother—at least biologically—unless I was prepared to have a child alone, which I was not. But I also knew that I did not want to have a child with my husband, and I was not happy, and neither of those things was likely to change. I could stick it out for another five or 10 years and likely wind up prolonging the inevitable, or I could do the much more difficult thing: Leave my husband now and start a new life. I chose the latter.
I’d been with my ex for seven years (though we had only been married for a year and a half), and I didn’t really know who I was without him. I was wracked with guilt and anxiety. Why had I gotten married in the first place? Was leaving him selfish and cruel? Where would I live? Could I even afford my own apartment in New York City? Would my parents be disappointed? After all, they had just spent a lot of money on a wedding. Would my friends quietly judge me? I winced at the thought of becoming the subject of conversation at dinner parties. (“Oh, did you hear about Justine? Apparently her marriage is already over!”)
But even as those questions swirled around in my head, I felt lighter almost immediately after moving out. I knew I had made the right choice. I found an apartment. I reconnected with the old friends I had distanced myself from while my marriage was falling apart. I spent more time with my family. I threw myself into work. I got to know myself again, and I began to remember what it was like to have the freedom to do what I wanted, without always having to consider someone else’s needs.
Over the next six months, as I fell into a new routine and left the past behind, my thoughts turned toward the future. Motherhood was the furthest thing from my mind in that it was almost comically impractical to imagine how a baby would fit into my current lifestyle. I was single, I had no real savings, and I devoted 60 or 70 hours a week to a demanding job. Not exactly the ideal circumstances for having a baby.
By now I was on my way to 36, and while the window to get pregnant was not (and is not) yet closed, it was certainly narrowing. I asked my doctor what she thought I should do. She said that she did not generally recommend egg-freezing, but that if I wanted to pursue it, I should do it before 37.
Meanwhile, I’d started dating an amazing guy (hi, Dave!), who made me feel invincible. He didn’t judge me or see me as damaged goods. We talked for hours about every part of our lives, including what went wrong in my marriage and how I found the strength to walk away from it. I fell in love with Dave (and his 8-year-old bulldog, Frank) almost immediately, though it took much longer for me to admit that to myself or to him.
Dave doesn’t want kids, and when he mentioned that, so casually and so decisively, I remember wishing I’d felt as certain about what I wanted either way. I’d begun to see freezing my eggs not as a way to delay having children, but as a way to defer having to answer the real question of whether I wanted them at all.
I began doing some research and talking to friends who had frozen their eggs. The process sounded unpleasant—hormone injections, daily visits to the doctor, possible side effects and of course, the cost—but it would only take a few weeks. I could endure anything for a few weeks, right? After all, I’d just done the bravest thing I could imagine by leaving my marriage, so this would be a piece of cake. Still, something about it made me hesitant. Most women I knew who had done it were positive that they wanted children eventually, whereas I was just looking for an insurance policy in case I changed my mind later. That felt like an important distinction, and it made me uncomfortable enough that I kept putting the whole thing off. I’d think about it, talk about it, contemplate what the first step might be. But I couldn’t seem to actually take it.
And then last spring, an email landed in my inbox from a publicist for a fertility clinic that specialized in egg-freezing. They invited me to come in for a free fertility test, which would measure my levels of the Antimullerian Hormone (AMH). It seemed like a logical place to start, so the following week I went to the clinic, got the blood test, and made an appointment for a consultation (also free), during which I’d have an internal exam and meet with a doctor to review the results and discuss my options.
I realized that I can’t live the life I want if I am constantly preoccupied with the what-ifs. What if I change my mind, what if I regret my choices, what if, what if, what if. At this moment I’m incredibly happy, and there’s no insurance policy for that.
I left that consultation feeling tense and overwhelmed. According to the doctor, my AMH level was low: 0.849. A fertile woman has levels between 1.0 and 4.0. In other words, my egg supply was dwindling, and if I wanted to proceed, there was a good chance I’d have to go through the process twice to produce enough viable eggs to result in a pregnancy. They gave me a price quote of around $14,000 but warned that the drug prices fluctuated and they could not predict in advance precisely how much I would need, so it could go up from there.
(My regular gynecologist later told me that the whole assessment was likely skewed because I was on birth control at the time. She said that this type of fertility testing is unreliable because the number of extractable eggs, or ovarian follicles, you have in a given month is not a predictor of how many you might have once you’ve stopped taking the pill and started taking hormone injections ahead of the procedure.)
As I continued to contemplate the best way forward, a few things became clear. I stopped being afraid to admit (to myself or to others) that I don’t want kids—or rather, that the person I am right now does not want kids. And I realized that I can’t have the life I want if I am constantly preoccupied with the what-ifs. What if I change my mind, what if I regret my choices, what if, what if, what if. At this moment I’m incredibly happy, and there’s no insurance policy for that.
The decision to freeze one’s eggs is intensely personal, and no one but you can decide whether it’s the right path to take. Many people in my life seemed to have a strong opinion about what I should do, and in the end, I had to drown out that noise and consider my own wants and needs. I moved in with Dave and Frank a few months ago. We’re madly in love, and we agree that if we were to change our minds about wanting kids later and I’m unable to get pregnant, we’d both be comfortable with adoption or surrogacy. But for now, Dave and Frank and the life we’re building together is enough for me. I don’t want to spend any more time worrying about the unknowns. There will always be variables that are beyond my control, and that will always be difficult for me. But I’m living in the moment for the first time in my life, and this moment has been more rewarding and more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.