On womanhood, fertility and being betrayed by your body

Guest blogger Courtney shares her deepest thoughts about being single in her mid-30s contemplating having children. “Do I freeze eggs and hope for the best? Let nature take its course and see what happens to my life over the next few years? Do I try to have a baby now, if the possibility will only decrease?”
Image by RawPixel on Unsplash
Image by rawpixel on Unsplash

I wasn’t even nervous until the hold music started playing.

“Your AMH is low, so there’s concern for diminished ovarian reserve,” said the medical assistant a little too casually for my taste. “We recommend you come in for a consult with Dr. K to talk about your options.” I started to feel my heart beat faster, and a subtle nausea swirled in my abdomen. I have been betrayed by my body.

The idea to freeze my eggs took hold quickly in the past few months. I live a full, vibrant life that I’m not ready to integrate a child into quite yet. I like to sleep in. I like impromptu brunches, and happy hours. I enjoy travel for work and play, and I want to be able to grab a last minute cheap flight when the opportunity presents itself. As unlikely as it feels, I still hope that maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to meet someone to share parenthood with. But still, time marches on. I went to an info session, got a doc recommendation from a trusted friend and made a consultation appointment. Since I’m not sitting on $10k, it would take me six to nine months to get the money together. I’d be just shy of my 35th birthday, and still on the “young” side of egg freezing. “It’s a nice insurance policy for a young professional woman like yourself,” said my new doctor. “Freezing now gives you a real nice shot at having a family.”

I can’t remember ever not being disappointed in my body. I was 5’11” by fourth grade and wearing mom jeans before they had a name; they were the only thing that fit. Being a plus size teen in the early aughts meant far fewer fashion options than today. A middle school perm went awry. I had intractable acne. I wore a size 11 shoe. I stuck out in every setting — the marching band, the water polo team, every photo I ever took. In spite of all that, I’ve always been healthy on paper. There was no reason to believe I’d be facing fertility issues, so I didn’t entertain the idea.

I’ve nearly come to terms with the physical presentation of my body. I don’t love it; that’s too much to ask. On my good days, which are many, I feel at a truce with the width of my hips and shoulders. I’ve surrendered to the ebb and flow of hormonal breakouts in my mid 30s, and I don’t sink awkwardly anymore in group photos. I see my body as a case for my brain, which does meaningful-to-me work, makes others laugh, is an excellent baker and most importantly a loyal friend. The shock, fear and disappointment I feel about these lab results are familiar emotions. I’ve long been disappointed in and angry at my body. Angry for trapping a smart, funny girl and woman into a case people judge, who takes up too much space, who is still waiting to be seen as “normal.” In reaching a truce, I began to manage my expectations, but I didn’t consider the possibility I’d ever need to forgive it for betraying me when it came to the most basic human purpose.

So back to the doc I went. Sitting in a consult room, accompanied by a friend who I trusted to ask aggressive questions and take good notes, I started to tear up before the doctor even appeared. I learned that someone with my AMH could still technically freeze eggs, but that “best case scenario,” I’d likely get six to seven, though it could be as low as two to three. Since RE’s (reproductive endocrinologists) recommend banking 10 eggs per desired birth, I’d probably need more than one round of treatment. At a minimum $10,000 per cycle, that’s not an option.

The things that have been said to me in the past few weeks, all by people I consider close friends, have been immensely painful. More importantly, they’re all statements I might have made to someone in my situation, thoughtlessly, before it happened to me:

“There are so many ways to raise a great kid!”

“You can still have a family, of course just maybe not in the way you planned/hoped.”

“I’ve never felt the need to pass on my DNA really, but when I see people spend all that money and struggle through IVF I always think ‘there are so many kids out there who need a home!’”

“If you think this is expensive try raising a baby!”

“You just need more single friends!”

People always mean well. The reality is that adoption is difficult and rife with heartbreak and trauma, not to mention its own hefty price tag. Adoption is about human lives — not a consolation prize for infertility. It shouldn’t be seen as a second-class way to become a parent for infertile OR fertile women and couples. And while I don’t think my DNA is all that special, I feel devastation so intense at this news that I can only assume it’s biological. Donor eggs and embryo adoption have little appeal to me.

I have so many other dreams — owning a cute house with a bright, spacious kitchen where I can entertain friends, visiting all 7 continents, developing and performing a stand-up routine, starting my own business. I want to hike to Machu Picchu next March for my 35th birthday. I want to pay off my student loan debt. I want to be unencumbered when a friend who needs me calls. These things are inconsistent with a baby right now. I know I could live a satisfying life without being a mom, biological or otherwise. But being told it might not be an option is still a punch in the gut I wasn’t prepared for. It’s a grief unlike anything I’ve ever felt.

I’m most afraid of the decision I’ll be forced to make next. Do I freeze eggs and hope for the best? Let nature take its course and see what happens to my life over the next few years? Do I try to have a baby now, if the possibility will only decrease? (Though this doesn’t come cheap either — donor sperm is about $1,000 a vial.) Despite everything, I haven’t given up on finding a partner. I still hope he’s out there, and I worry that having a child solo will make him even harder to find. As a graduate-educated professional, I worry I won’t be able to keep up with my peers in terms of child-rearing if I do it alone. I know there won’t be private music lessons or dual language immersion preschool. I know that with only one income, I’ll miss the dance recitals or track meets that come later, because I’ll have no choice but to prioritize work for our survival. I worry that I’ll barely pay down my own student debt before taking on more for my child, and I wonder if that’s ok. Some of these worries are superficial, but they are my worries nonetheless.

I also know that, save Reddit, there isn’t a “mid-30s-single-graduate-educated-professional-contemplating-biological-motherhood-or-maybe-not-still-so-she’s-freezing-her-eggs-but-she-just-found-out-she-might-be-infertile” message board or online community. (If there is, point me toward my sisterhood!) There are few stories to read and connect to. There’s minimal empathy for a single woman trying to figure out her future with the help of science and a respectable, yet not quite sufficient salary. I feel as lonely as I’ve ever felt. Fertility, motherhood, womanhood and worthiness are linked in our culture, and despite loving so much about my life, the idea that my path will ultimately not be my choice is heart-wrenching.

I have learned one thing: if I have a child, I hope they never feel betrayed by their body.

 

This article was originally published on Medium. It inspired us so much that we asked Courtney if we could share it with The Juggle readers.

7 thoughts on “On womanhood, fertility and being betrayed by your body

  1. What an amazingly, thoughtful and touching story – Courtney is brave, courageous and so expressive. I think this will resonate with many young women – we need to respect women’s decisions on this issue – there is no wrong answer, only wrong unsolicited advice and different opinions. it is very personal, complex and so many things to consider. Bravo to Courtney for writing her story and cheers to The Juggle for publishing!

  2. Thanks for sharing! My biggest takeaway here is that sometimes – as a friend – I don’t need to say anything at all. Instead, I should practice active listening, respect others’ emotions, and know that I can never fully understand anyone else’s journey. With friends likely going through similar scenarios (in silence), we could all benefit from providing more genuine compassion instead of advice. A simple “I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I’m here for you.” won’t heal someone’s wounds, but it may provide comfort during a hard time. Great reminder as our 20s, 30s, 40s (and beyond) are filled with unique peaks and valleys, which are easier to navigate with a little support. <3

    1. I love your thoughtfulness about listening Nurrie. This is something I’m trying to work on too — not interjecting myself when I don’t need to. Glad to be trying to make the world a gentler place with you!

  3. So much this. My brain says I shouldn’t feel that parenthood is tied to biology but when I heard it might not ever happen I felt that sense of loss. And felt guilty for that, and upset at feeling guilty. That phrase – “betrayed by my body” – is just it. And I am blessed and able in so many ways but it is a real emotion. I feel you.

    1. Thanks for sharing RT. I hope you’re honoring your feelings of grief and finding a way to be kind to yourself in the process. We feel you too.

  4. Courtney, there is a message board! You should browse around ‘Single Mothers by Choice.’ It’s got a lot of people who are thinking about fertility as a single person, others who are thinking about single motherhood, and others who are actually moving forward with the process. I think you will find lots of kindred community who weren’t necessarily thinking about family or fertility, but suddenly learned more about their bodies and now the revelation about potential limits on a having a family is at the forefront of their minds. I think you may also find lots of people who aren’t necessarily committed to becoming mothers, but who are thinking through the same concerns and I’ve found the group has lots of resources and research on information that might be helpful in thinking about your own choices.
    I know it was helpful to me to find this group and I’ve found a virtual community who I can reach out to with questions, or whose ups and downs I can read about when I simply want to feel less alone in this decision making. Good luck, and keep the good friends close by.

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