"Don't be late, don't be late," I repeated to myself as I pulled into the parking garage at San Francisco's Pacific Fertility Center where I had planned to freeze my eggs. My lateness was surely a reflection of an ambivalence I had about the whole process. I was in too much of a rush to notice the "NOT AN ENTRANCE" sign on what appeared to be a front door. I then scurried up five flights and yanked on the 5th floor door. It didn't budge. I raced down the stairs pulling on the doors at the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st floors. I was locked out of all of them.
After four increasingly stressful phone calls to the reception desk, a building security guard found me in what I later learned was a back entrance no one used. When I finally arrived where I was meant to be, I couldn't get my name out ahead of an unexpected rush of tears. My internal dialogue stirred up a mix of fearful emotions. "Why am I here? This is not the way I envisioned having a baby!" I provided name and address details to a receptionist who, seeing my fragile state, kindly escorted me to a private room to wait for my doctor. I was late for that appointment as well as a marriage and family that, in my mind, should have happened 10 years ago.
I had been married in my early 20s but divorced after the painful realization that I wasn't ready to be a partner or a mom. After years of traveling, figuring out who I was and intermittent stretches of dating unavailable men, I hit 37 wondering where the time went. As a fellow single friend put it "It's as if I forgot to set the alarm on my biological clock and slept through my 30s." I woke up in a panic. What if I missed my chance to have a family?
I had always thought I may adopt a child one day, but the idea that time was taking away my opportunity to have one of my own seemed unfair. I started experiencing each of my failed relationships like I did the locked doors in the stairwell. Each unsuccessful attempt to make one work left me feeling increasingly stressed.
I sat still fighting tears in my doctor's office when she walked in and welcomed me with a smile of a woman who had seen my strain of anxiety before. As she patiently and thoroughly explained the details of the egg freezing process I tried to wrestle my mind around a swirl of details involved. The idea of freezing the cells of babies-to-be in a $12,000 procedure was not part of my original life plan, but 40 minutes later there was one thing I was clear on: I would do this. I couldn't control when I would meet a potential partner but I could control this. The peace of mind alone seemed worth the big chunk of my savings.
I sat through my injection class in a haze as Power Point images of needles and vials appeared. The class made it all seem so simple. "Fill, measure, inject." It was simple. But on my first try I magically made several hundred dollars worth of liquid Menopur disappear by failing to load it into the correct syringe. I winced at the loss and the idea of injecting myself. I then held my breath, grabbed an inch of skin around my belly, and stuck the needle in.
I knew the hormones were kicking in when, on day three, I cried when someone cut me off in traffic. On day seven, a friend's "I admire what you're doing" sent tears streaming down my face.
But as each doctors visit allowed me to see ultrasound images of my little eggs multiplying, I was reminded of what my body was capable of. The truth is, while I was never confused about whether I wanted children, the thought that I might not get something I wanted so badly was painful. So, over the course of my many years being single, I slowly shut down my relationship with my fertility. And, like any difficult breakup, I wasn't sure we'd ever be getting back together.
The morning of the extraction of my eggs, I walked my bloated belly into the procedure room and made small talk with the anesthesiologist. Before I knew what happened, I woke up to a nurse tapping me on the shoulder to congratulate me. In a drug-induced stupor I cried out "I'm soooo proud of myself!!!"
When a technician later arrived with a snapshot of the microscopic eggs, I studied the contours of each with pride and awe. Those that survived the process will be held for safe keeping until I choose to use or dispose of them. While there is no guarantee of their quality or that any will survive the many steps between being thawed and becoming a baby, I am relived to have them.
This year I went to my 15 year college reunion where, for the first time I can remember, the site of pregnant bellies and waddling toddlers didn't trigger feelings of despair. Doing what I could to preserve my fertility has made me less afraid of losing it.
In the months since, I've been taking better care of my health and feeling less averse to being alone. Perhaps not surprisingly, I'm one of several women I know who started the best romantic relationship of their lives within months of her egg freeze. Maybe its like one of my dad's favorite expressions: "Our ships come in on calm seas."
I'm sure if I had been in a little less of a hurry the day of my first appointment I would have seen the "NOT AN ENTRANCE" sign, walked in the "correct" door and not been late. Still I can't regret that 20-minute detour, nor the 10-year one that took me off track from the life I had planned. But I do believe that sometimes when we stop being in such a fear-driven hurry, life is far more likely to get us where we want to be. Right on time.