When I was 35 and single in New York City, I was convinced I’d be alone forever. Undergoing a costly procedure to buy myself time seemed like the right choice.
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I started thinking about whether I was going to be able to have kids, but it occurred sometime between February 2012, when the guy I’d been sort of dating for the past few months broke up with me, and May 2012, when I turned 35, because that is the age after which, as a single woman in New York City, everyone knows that no one will ever love you.
I knew, very, very, very deep down, that this wasn’t actually true — that in fact people found love and even had children after the age of 35, even in New York City — but it felt like this knowledge was a tiny little nugget of rationality that had been wrapped in duct tape and put in a steel box and locked with a code and launched into space, and was therefore inaccessible.
Also, I had — have — never been pregnant, so there was a part of me that was convinced that something was deeply wrong with my ovaries; in 15 or so years of having sex, I’d only twice been worried enough about a broken condom or a failure to pull out to take Plan B. I told myself that if I weren’t infertile, there would have been at least one abortion in there, and secretly envied my friends who’d had abortions, because at least they knew that they could get pregnant.
Dating got weird. I didn’t really want to be dating in the first place — I was still thinking about the guy who’d dumped me in February, who I was still really sad about, to the extent that I cried during Savasana, and cried even harder when I realized I had become one of those women who cried at yoga. But the voice inside my head that told me, every morning and every night, that I was running out of time was the voice that put me on OkCupid and HowAboutWe, even though going on mediocre dates made me feel even worse. This was who was out there? And simultaneously: Could this be a person I want to create another human life with?
What I really needed was time. Time would allow me to meet people without the added pressure of trying to figure out, within five minutes of meeting them, whether we would make a nice, normal baby. Then I saw an article about egg freezing that said it was becoming SAFER AND MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN EVER BEFORE!!!!!!!! — or at least that was what I gleaned from it — and I thought, Time. This will give me time. I made an appointment.
You could say that I panicked, and you would not be completely wrong. But I got spoiled in my late twenties and early thirties because I usually had a boyfriend, which meant I always had a wedding date. But after I broke up with a Serious Boyfriend, aka the one I thought was maybe The One even though I outwardly scoffed at the notion that there was such a thing as The One — maybe One of Several Potential Ones? But enough of A Potential One that we moved in together, and our families met each other, and he told me about the monstrous 6-carat diamond he and his brother were supposed to split with their intendeds (I pictured a man in a yarmulke on 47th Street cutting it precisely in half with a laser) — I was suddenly, at 33, the Single Friend, because I was never dating anyone for long enough that they would be a potential wedding guest. But I had never been the only single person at a table of couples, or had to have the awkward conversation with the only single guy at the wedding, the guy who was surprisingly handsome and sweet but who turned out to be going through a nasty divorce, was a deeply religious Christian, had two children, and lived in Maine, and yet made me think, Well, this could work.
I distanced myself from my friends who got married, mostly because it felt like a reminder of my own personal failure. I was unapologetic about the selfishness of this stance, as I was about the selfishness of allowing myself in general to be selfish. I got off OkCupid and told my friends that even though I was 99% sure I would never have sex again, it also felt liberating to be alone, to never have to think about anyone else’s needs or fears. Then again, that also meant I was only ever listening to my own.
In my twenties, I felt like the shared experience of struggle comes with it the shared experience of possibility, and possibility is still exciting. Every choice doesn’t portend a monumental, potentially life-altering result; it seems like the Choose Your Own Adventure book still has many potential endings. In my thirties, though, choices started to feel overwhelming, each one pushing me farther down a specific path beyond which there was no turning back. I started to see the appeal of religion — never to have to make any decisions! There was, I realized, freedom in that too.
I told my therapist that I was considering freezing my eggs, and she said she thought it was a good idea if it would alleviate some of the anxiety I felt about dating, and I said it would but it would also cause me a different kind of anxiety because it was so expensive in New York City — thousands of dollars in tests, then thousands of dollars for the drugs to stimulate egg maturation, then thousands of dollars for the extraction of the eggs. All told I would be looking at close to $15,000 to buy myself a few years of reduced anxiety, plus $2,000 or so each year to keep them frozen. I told myself it could be amortized over, say, five years and then it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I needed to come up with the money, so I cashed in a couple of 401(k)s from short stints at other jobs that had a couple thousands dollars in them each, and put a freelance check in my savings account, and figured I would charge the rest.
I also had the idea that egg freezing was basically foolproof; I’d get the eggs, and a couple years later, when I decided I was ready to have kids, I’d just knock on the door of the ol’ fertility clinic and they’d stick some more needles in me and voilà, babies. It turns out, according to the fertility doctor I met with, who had the genial, slightly condescending “I know what’s best for you” air of a good salesman, that egg freezing has only a 40% success rate. He must have seen the disappointed look on my face because he assured me that that was in fact at least double what it would be out in the wild, and if I waited a few more years, my fertility would drop precipitously. He drew a crude representation of this on a sheet of paper as we talked, and I swore I could feel it dropping even more.
Still, 40% sounded better than 0% or even 20%, so I had him take blood and do an ultrasound, and it turned out that I had eggs, I was healthy, it would be fine. I had eggs to freeze.
It would be fine. I would be fine.
Still, there were moments of deep, and scary, loneliness. Sometimes I tried to tell myself that these moments were somehow making me a stronger person, but at other times I thought, Fuck being a stronger person — where is the joy in being a stronger person? When Hurricane Sandy happened, I sat on my couch in my apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and the wind and rain scared me less than the feeling that I was really alone, that I could have been one of those people on Staten Island who drowned in their houses whose bodies weren’t discovered for days.
After a couple days I made my way to Chelsea, where I usually volunteered once a week walking an old disabled woman’s dog, to see if she was OK because she wasn’t picking up her phone, and she was sitting in her apartment in the dark with the dog. Everything smelled bad, but she seemed to be in relatively good spirits, and I walked the dog and came back and gave her my flashlight, and then she asked me, in the voice of the truly lonely, when I was coming back.
I didn’t tell many people I was planning on freezing my eggs — it was a private thing, the world didn’t need to know. But I think what I really feared was the momentary flash of pity in their eyes before they told me what a good idea they thought it was. I saw that flash — or at least, I thought I saw it — in the eyes of the few close friends that I did tell, the ones who told me they admired what I was doing and empathized with how much it sucked that the biological clock was so real and how much it sucked that it was so expensive and how much it all, well, sucked.
I called the fertility clinic and told them I wanted to do it in February 2013— you had to sign up a couple months in advance, and I was going to L.A. for most of January for work — and they told me to come in for a final round of tests and an orientation session where a nurse would go over everything. At the session, I sat around a conference room table with four other women; we each had folders in front of us with various documents and brochures. Everything had to be executed perfectly: You had to pick up the drugs at one of only a few pharmacies in the city that stocked them, and they suggested buying only a batch at a time because they had to be kept in the fridge and they cost thousands of dollars and you didn’t want them to go bad. Then there was a whole timed, two-week regimen of injecting yourself with hormones — everyone had a different drug cocktail prescribed for them, scribbled on a sheet of paper by our respective doctors at the practice, tailored to our age and, presumably, how fertile the tests had shown we were — and a schedule of when we had to come back to the office for more tests during the two-week window. They had us practice filling up the special syringes for one of the drugs, and one woman raised her hand and said she was afraid of needles, and could she hire a nurse to come to her apartment twice a day to inject her? (Yes, but it would be very expensive.) You weren’t allowed to exercise during the two weeks, and you might get bloated and be in pain a lot of the time, and could also be quite weepy, though the nurse, a very no-nonsense type, probably didn’t actually use the word “weepy.”
Then when the hormones had stimulated all your eggs to mature and release and you were ovulating, you’d come back to the office and one of the doctors would extract your eggs and freeze them, and we had to make sure we had someone who could pick us up, and I mentally ran down the friends I could count on to do this and came up with a couple potential candidates, and then momentarily felt sorry for myself that I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband to do this and then reminded myself that it was exactly because I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband that I was doing this in the first place and that in some convoluted way this would be something that would help me get a boyfriend or husband, and felt a little better.
The nurse told us the eggs were held at the clinic, and she assured us that it was not susceptible to flood or power failure; it was an NYU clinic and the NYU hospital had, famously, flooded and lost power during the hurricane and the patients had to be evacuated and I thought, No one would care about a cooler of eggs during a hurricane, now would they? Before I left, I signed the form that said in the event I no longer wanted my eggs, or I stopped paying for their storage, that I wanted them destroyed.
I spent most of January 2013 in Los Angeles for work, and when I tell the story of why I decided to move, I like to say that the abundance of the Pasadena Whole Foods was what finally put me over the top, which always gets a knowing laugh, particularly from anyone who has tried to buy produce at the Key Foods on Avenue A or waited in line in the rain outside the 14th Street Trader Joe’s just to get inside or visited the Union Square Whole Foods bunker on a Sunday afternoon and wanted to die. And certainly it was a factor, but so was a coffee meeting I had in L.A. with a friend of a colleague who wanted, I think, a job, although we ended up discussing dating in Los Angeles versus New York.
Dating, he said, was very hard in Los Angeles.
“Oh?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s much harder than it was in New York. I mean, I was a guy in media in New York. It wasn’t exactly tough for me.”
I looked at this unremarkable man, and thought, Right. I’m sure it wasn’t.
The rest happened fast. I got back to New York and my boss agreed that moving to L.A. was a good idea, and then I was pricing out movers and looking at apartments online and getting excited about not having to buy a new winter coat, like, ever again. In the flurry of getting ready to move across the country, I almost forgot that I was supposed to be getting ready to ensure that my future self would have a 40% chance of artificially conceiving a child.
And then at the last possible moment, the day or so before I got my period, I decided I wasn’t going to go through with it.
It’s the most apt metaphor to say that I realized I was putting all my eggs, literally, in that particular basket, and I had imbued the idea of freezing my eggs with so much meaning that I expected to see all of my anxieties and fears about getting older and being single and dying alone to disappear instantly the second I went through with it.
But I also felt like if I went through with it, the eggs would be left behind in New York, in cold storage, in some petri dish or vial or however they preserve them, and I would be across the country. It would mean no clean break, no fresh start. I’d be actually leaving a part of myself 3,000 miles away, as though to keep just the most microscopic connection to my old life, and I wouldn’t get the clean break with all of those anxieties that I needed.
Instead, I set off for Los Angeles, not completely sure I was doing the right thing but also pretty sure I wasn’t doing the wrong one. I even thought that maybe, one day, I might find that duct-taped box I’d sent hurtling through space, the one I thought was definitely gone forever.