The paper on the examination table crinkles as I turn. I’m a little freaked out at seeing the inside my uterus for the first time.
“Yes,” I lie, staring at the wall instead.
The doctor waxes on about the minuscule amount of eggs I have left in my body and makes this whole process sound so complicated. Although I don’t have a medical degree, I can easily diagnose the problem: I waited too long to have children.
It all started when I was dining at an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the table next to me, two women who looked my age were discussing egg freezing. By the end of the night, without even knowing it, they had convinced me, an eavesdropping stranger who was going through a divorce, to give egg freezing a try.
Time never felt more important than it did when I was in my 30s and knew my marriage wasn’t going to work out. Egg freezing was my way of making up for my mistakes and the decisions that had seemed right at the time but now, in retrospect, were not so right after all.
If my husband and I hadn’t waited so long to get divorced, maybe I’d have already met someone and had a baby by now, the natural way, with chocolate cravings and maternity wear. If I hadn’t blown all my savings on two expensive Brooklyn sublets trying to figure out whether my husband and I were better apart, I wouldn’t have to put this $10,000 procedure on my credit card.
The truth is, I’d never known that feeling of really wanting children, the way my mother did. She said she would’ve done anything to bring me into this world the moment I kicked inside her for the first time. She died when I was in college, and I’m now the age she was when she had me: 36.
I can’t stop thinking that I’m behind schedule. The ideal time to freeze your eggs is when you are young, when your eggs are as ripe as an avocado that puckers with the light touch of a finger. Here’s the problem: This isn’t a time when you want to freeze your eggs because you still believe that life will work out on your own time and your own terms. If I had frozen my eggs a decade ago when I was in my 20s, I could have produced 30 some eggs with little effort, but a decade ago I had just moved to New York City and was more concerned with finding the cool speakeasy hidden in an alleyway, the one with $13 cocktails served in porcelain teacups.
After I sign the paperwork, I learn that there are really only two rules in egg freezing. One: Timing is everything. Two: No stopping the nightly hormone injections, no matter what.
Nothing about my life really changes. I meet my friends for happy hour. I show up for work at my boring advertising job. No one thinks I’m pregnant and offers me a seat on the subway. But when I walk around Manhattan, I feel different. Inside, I have a secret: I am growing eggs!
Or at least I think I am. When I go back for a check-in, I stare hard at the monitor. I don’t see anything.
“It’s hard to tell how many are in there,” the doctor says. “Two, maybe three. Remember, we’re fighting an uphill battle.”
I want nothing more than to prove him wrong. I up my cheese consumption because the Internet tells me it can help with fertility.
“This is fascinating,” my friend Allison says when I meet her for dinner and tell her about my eggs. “I’m kind of getting attached to them.”
I am, too. I don’t want my eggs to leave my body, but they have to because I can barely afford the dinner in front of me, let alone quintuplets. The eggs might have been just little dots on a monitor, practically invisible to the human eye, but I imagine life growing inside me, even though I’m not sure whether what I’m actually looking at is a spot of dust on the screen.
The whole thing reminds me of the story of my birth. My mother had a tough pregnancy, and when I came into the world perfectly fine, she had trouble believing it. All my life, she told me the same story:
"Go count her fingers and toes," she instructed my father. "Make sure they're all there!"
“I did!” he replied. “She’s perfect.”
I want my eggs to be perfect, too, I think, when I arrive in a midtown doctor’s office as bloated as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. A breezy nurse wheels me into a procedure room for the unveiling, while the rest of Manhattan is having Bloody Mary cocktails and eggs over easy.
“It’ll be all over in 15 minutes,” the nurse says.
The bright lights above fade to nothing, but when I wake up to the foggy outline of a nurse, I am suddenly coherent, with only one thing on my mind.
“How many eggs were there?”
She glances at my chart. “We got seven.”
But then she explains there’s bad news: Only four were good enough to save. I had hoped that with the right timing, anything was possible, but it turned out that not even the most advanced science could bring the outcome I wanted.
While egg freezing started as an insurance policy for the future, I find myself not thinking at all about the future. Finally, I know what it feels like to want a child of my own, and I want her now. Learning that about myself was just as good as getting 30 eggs.
I change out of my hospital gown and into my jeans, back into the role of a single 36-year-old woman trying to start over in life. Outside, the sun warms my face. Taxis dart in between lanes. The city is just as I left it. What’s changed is me.
Betsy Vereckey is a freelance writer who lives in Hanover, N.H. She is working on a memoir.