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By Charlotte Roberts
rene had been considering freezing her eggs a couple of years before the lockdown hit. With a lot more time on her hands she elected to freeze her eggs, using savings she would have usually spent on holidays or doing up her house towards the procedure.
She’d just bought her first property and after losing a year and a half to the pandemic, she wanted to ensure that when she met her next partner she wasn’t panicking about starting a family right away.
The egg-freezing procedure has increased in popularity since 2009, although the success rate still remains fairly low. In 2017, 10,936 women froze their eggs – 23 times as many as in 2009, according to data collected by Sart. Though the procedure was expensive, she saw it as a solid back-up plan and could take advantage of her lack of usual spending during pandemic-induced isolation. She told us about how the process was for her and the way it’s impacted her approach to dating and her future.
I think the main reason for freezing my eggs was because I didn’t want the societal pressure of feeling I had to have it all figured out by a certain age. I’m 36 now and a British born Nigerian, in our culture your parents expect you to have everything figured out by 30. If you’re not married with kids by that point you’re almost “expired goods” (laughs).
Of course this pressure is unintentional; they’re a product of their environment. Growing up in the west I was afforded far more opportunities than my parent’s generations and we can finally put ourselves first. I wanted to achieve a lot more before I decided to settle down. I know my mum struggled when she first came here. She was a working class mum, juggling work and her kids. I saw her sacrifice so much for us and I didn’t necessarily want that for myself.
I want to make sure I have the right foundations before I start a family. I’ve only just bought my first place and I want to be in a place where I’m financially stable, can step into my own as a woman and know confidently what I’m bringing to the table. Obviously the dream would be to meet someone and conceive naturally but I think in case it doesn't, freezing my eggs is my back-up plan. I’m hoping I don’t have to use them but unfortunately I think lockdown was a big, fat reality check. I’m 36-years-old and I need to face my front as my mum would say.
“I think the main reason for freezing my eggs was because I didn’t want the societal pressure of feeling I had to have it all figured out by a certain age”
I’ve been around a lot of my friends who are in their 40s, all single with no kids and they’ve now gone into panic mode. I didn’t want the pressure of being pushed into the wrong relationship just because you want a family. I wanted to make sure I’ve got options not based on a fear mentality because my biological clock is ticking. I want to fall in love with someone and the first question is not ‘do you want babies?’
I ended up freezing my eggs this year in July. The money I would have spent on going on holidays but couldn’t due to covid, I put towards the egg freezing procedure. It was also circumstantial, we’d been locked away for a year and a half. When we started working again after lockdown, I wasn’t spending the way I was spending before. I want to be totally transparent with the costs because it’s not fucking cheap but I saw it as an investment.
I didn’t know anyone else that had gone through it at the time and because I was going through it during a pandemic it felt very much me, myself and I, although the nurses were amazing. But since the show premiered (Irene starred on Channel 4 reality show High Life), the response has been amazing, people have been messaging me about their experiences. I’m really happy we’re having these conversations and even in my immediate circle it’s really opened up discussion, but I do also realise and respect it’s not for everybody.
“Unfortunately I think lockdown was a big, fat reality check”
When I first started doing my research I thought it was going to be between three to four thousand but in fact, to have the procedure on it’s own is four thousand.
You rack up costs with all the checks and tests you need, they also charge you for the ultrasounds, so that’s where you incur a lot of hidden costs. There are cheaper ways of doing it and there are some things that you can get done on the NHS but I had saved up enough to do it all privately. My doctor Dr Adrian Lower, who works at the Aria Clinic is one of the top gynecologists in Europe.
I also knew he’d worked with a lot of women of colour. We usually have a higher fibroid threshold and he really took that into consideration when doing all the ultrasounds, that experience was important to me. I always say we have our car MOT’d every year and I think we need to do that with our bodies. You never really get your body tested in the same way, to ensure everything is working OK, you just assume your body will work for you but what I’ve really learnt from this process is actually you work for your body.
“I always say we have our car MOT’d every year and I think we need to do that with our bodies”
As far as the process went I actually found it fine. I know it’s not the same for everyone but what I would say is you really have to be in touch with your cycle. I really rely on the app Flo. I’m really in tune with my cycle and I can tell you my period dates for the past five years. A lot of the tests you do require you to know your dates so they can check when you’ll be ovulating. Those are the first things they’ll ask you so they can work out your cycle dates and then that’s when they will be able to decide whether you are suitable for egg freezing.
My doctor was amazing, and bare in mind I was doing this through lockdown, so I didn’t have a lot of face to face interaction, you’re doing it over Zoom essentially.
He talked me through what my reasoning was and after that initial consultation because I was in the middle of my cycle we started the injections just two weeks after that. On the first day of your period, you go and collect your drugs and then you have to inject yourself every day for the first six days at the same time every day. They suggest you do it between 7-9pm.
You’re injecting Overleap which is a hormone that stimulates your ovaries to overproduce basically. From day 6 you take Cetrotide in the morning which basically stops your ovaries from releasing from your eggs. At this point you’re doing two injections a day and then lastly a booster injection which harvests your eggs and then you can extract them. In between that you’re doing an ultrasound every three to four days to see how you’re getting on.
One actually got sent to my house as it was during lockdown, so they sent me a kit to my house and there’s this app you download and my consultant would see me on the app. I would scan myself and he would screenshot the result, technology really is wild. After all that I then had my extractions.
People’s reactions differ to the hormones, they do say you can feel overly emotional, and physically, a lot of bloating. Luckily I didn’t really have many side effects, I just felt a bit bloated, you can feel you’re carrying extra weight down there.
I didn’t really get that emotional on the injections. The hardest bit for me was the lifestyle change. You’ve got to think about where you’re going to be that evening when you’re on the injections. When I was doing the injections, things had just started reopening again, and the injections had to be kept refrigerated. I couldn’t just leave in the morning and not come back before the evening. One time I went to a BBQ so I took my drugs with me and stored them in her fridge!
“30 seems to be the age we should have it all figured out, but I think by 30 you only just start to unpack your traumas”
I don’t have a fear of needles so the injections were actually fine once I did it the first time, it didn’t hurt. After the extraction process that’s where things got more difficult. I was very emotional, the littlest thing would set me off. You’re also not allowed to use tampons just afterwards, so I had to use sanitary towels as the extraction process is quite rough on your area. You also can’t exercise. I normally would be up and have exercised and ready to work at 8am.
Not being able to do that really threw me off, not being able to have that routine.The whole process from injections to extraction was about five weeks. You can choose to freeze your eggs for up to ten years, I chose ten years as it gave me the greatest flexibility. There wasn’t a huge price difference in choosing ten years and another time period. In total I think it was about £1500 on top of everything else.
When I first started, when they do your biometrics taking into account your age etc, they tell you that a good number of eggs to get is 10-12 and I was lucky in that I was able to collect 28 eggs and they harvested and froze 21 of which were viable. Sometimes people have to go through two or three cycles to get that number, which means that six thousand 2 or 3 times over. I’m really lucky that my body is super fertile and produced a lot of eggs.
Hopefully in the next two years I’ll meet someone and I can do it the natural way and I don’t have to use them. Perhaps if I want baby number two I’ll use them as I’ll be that much older. They do say it’s a lot for you to go through and actually only a small percentage of the eggs can convert into a full term pregnancy. It was also a preventive measure, I travel a lot for work and God forbid anything happens to me, so it was important for me to have that reserve somewhere.
“I also wanted to freeze my eggs before I took the vaccine. It really was a decision based on ownership of my own body and my own choices”
From a cultural perspective, 30 seems to be the age we should have it all figured out, but I think by 30 you only just start to unpack your traumas and figure out who’s going to be the right person for you.
There’s no way I would have had the mental capacity to think about these things in my 20s, not with the lifestyle I was leading. Lockdown really brought a lot of this stuff for me, I had so much time to think about it and we’d also lost a year and a half of life, the possibility of meeting someone had been taken away from us. I also wanted to freeze my eggs before I took the vaccine. It really was a decision based on ownership of my own body and my own choices. I’ve witnessed first hand the impact of the lack of women’s ownership and I wanted to invest in a better future for myself and personally, I think it was worth every single penny.
Lockdown provided the perfect opportunity for Irene Agbontaen to contemplate her fertility, whilst living on her own she decided to take the plunge and invest in her future.
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