July 31, 2017 | In Her Words
Agnes Fischer is an advertising executive and the author of Eggs Unscrambled: Making Sense of Egg Freezing, Fertility, and the Truth about Your Reproductive Years, published in April of 2017. The book explores and illuminates the myths and misconceptions surrounding fertility, age, and egg freezing. Prior to writing the book, Agnes also wrote about her experience with egg freezing on her blog, FrozenPlease.com. We spoke to Agnes about her egg freezing experience, her writing, and how she hopes to change the fertility conversation.
Extend Fertility: What prompted you to start thinking about freezing your eggs, and how did you make that decision?
Agnes Fischer: My journey with fertility started when my ex-husband and I were actively trying to get pregnant, first naturally and then eventually with medical intervention. We ended up having a couple of rounds of IUI, and when that didn’t work, my doctor suggested that we move on to IVF.
But at that point, my ex and I actually decided to separate. That was a real psychological twist for me—I was in my mid-30s thinking about starting a family, and suddenly, I was in my mid-30s, single, and nowhere near starting a family. That got me thinking, “Wow, if it was hard to get pregnant in my mid-30s, it’s only going to get increasingly harder. What am I going to do about that?”
I had a good friend who had a very hard time getting pregnant. She didn’t find out about the fact that, for her, getting pregnant naturally would be almost impossible, until she started to think about getting pregnant. At that point, she became really vocal about women understanding fertility earlier, and talking to their doctors about it earlier. She was the one that really pushed me to consider freezing my eggs—to the point where she was like, “I will pay for it, but you need to freeze your eggs!”
EF: What was the egg freezing process like? Was there anything that surprised you?
AF: Once I got over the barrier of starting the process, which was the hardest part, the actual cycle was really easy and short. I think that’s what surprised me the most. Even though I’d had a lot of friends who’d gone through fertility treatments, and even though I had gone through the process of taking hormones to try to get pregnant, I didn’t really understand the egg freezing process until I started talking to the doctors about what was going on with my body. I quickly realized, “Oh, this is just a manipulation of the first half of your menstrual cycle.”
The thing that I was most afraid of was giving myself the shots every day. That really freaked me out—and I think a lot of women are worried about the shots. But after I got through the first one, I realized the shots are actually really easy. I was like, “Oh, this is fine. This is not painful, it’s not hard, it’s totally stupid-proof!”
If you’re going to a good clinic, you’re aware of all of the possibilities, all the risks. You’re at the doctor every other day. At a good clinic, they take the time to explain things to you, answer all of your questions. There is very little in the way of surprises.
EF: How did you feel about the process? Was there an emotional aspect to it?
AF: There absolutely was. I was coming off of a divorce and had been trying to start a family. So throughout the process, I just kept thinking, “I should just complete this process and have a baby on my own.” I really wasn’t in the place to do that, but I kept thinking about it. Even after I froze my eggs, I spent almost a year thinking, “I should just go back and become a single mom.”
I thought that once I froze my eggs I’d be like, “Okay good, I’m fine, I’m ready to move on with my life now.” But that didn’t happen for me, obviously. It’s not quite that simple. Maybe it is for some women—but it wasn’t for me.
But I gave myself a year. I thought, “You know what, you froze your eggs to buy some time. So why don’t you just take a year or two, chill out, and enjoy your life? You’re financially independent, your career is going well, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want.”
Now, I’m still thinking about potentially doing the single mom thing. But I’m also just much more relaxed about it. After writing the book, and talking to so many women, and examining this egg freezing and fertility thing from so many angles, I realized women are often led to believe their only happy ending is marriage and a child. I keep thinking, “Now that I’ve bought myself some time, is that what I really want?” Those are the sort of conversations I now have the freedom to have with myself.
EF: What prompted you to start writing about egg freezing?
AF: What struck me as I was going through fertility treatments and then freezing my eggs is that there really wasn’t any real, open conversation about fertility. I think that’s what misleads us. We see Hollywood actresses getting pregnant well into their 40s and now, in some cases, in their 50s. Nobody talks about how much money and how much energy actually goes into those pregnancies, and that often it’s surrogates, or donor eggs, or lots of very expensive treatments.
I think normal women, who are just living their lives, are left believing they have all the time in the world. I felt very strongly about speaking out about [fertility issues], and removing the stigma from it.
So I basically tracked the entire egg freezing process on my blog. I uploaded videos of me giving myself the shots and talking about the experience, and I wrote about the experience, and I had a couple of guest bloggers contribute who had gone through the experience. It was cathartic and therapeutic for me, but also, a lot of women reached out to me and said, “Wow, thank you, it’s amazing that you’re putting this out there, it’s so personal.” It’s interesting that once one person starts talking about it in an honest, open, real, human way, people open up about this kind of stuff.
EF: How did you transition the blog into your book, Eggs Unscrambled?
AF: After I was done with the egg freezing process, a publisher—Judith Regan—took notice of the blog. She loves a strong voice and a different take on things, and took notice of the fact that I wrote about it in a very raw, open way. She said, “Egg freezing is such a timely topic and the way you’re talking about it is so great—would you consider writing a book?”
I was naive. I thought, “Sure, why not, that sounds like an easy feat.”
It was hard! I will say, I have a day-to-day job that keeps me very busy and I’m not a trained writer; it was a difficult experience. But I’m so glad I did it, because it’s really connecting with women. It’s just a real, honest conversation about what happens in our bodies, and how women need to start thinking much earlier about their fertility.
I worked with my doctor [Dr. Nicole Noyes] and her resident on the medical aspects of the book. How quickly your fertility declines; that so much of a healthy pregnancy and having a healthy child depends on the health of your eggs, which is to say, the age of your eggs; the fact that you can use your eggs, if you freeze them at 26, to get pregnant in your late 40s, if you’re healthy, because it’s all about that young, healthy egg—things like that are constantly fascinating to me.
EF: If you were talking to someone who was thinking about freezing their eggs now, what advice would you give them?
AF: If you’re debating doing it: Just do it! It’s a few weeks of hardship, and yes it’s expensive, but it buys you some time, freedom, peace of mind, and down the road, options.
If you’ve already decided to do it or you’re going through the process now: Honestly—it’s a little thing, but—don’t buy all of your medications at once. I still have like $2,000 of Follistim in my refrigerator!
EF: What’s one thing you’d like to see change about the fertility conversation?
AF: One of the biggest problems with fertility awareness right now is that often, you’re thinking about it only once there’s a problem—it’s usually a reaction to something, whether it’s because you’re not able to get pregnant, or because “oh no, I’m turning 35,” or because “I just broke up with so-and-so.”
I really want women to start thinking about it proactively, the same way that a lot of people start thinking about retirement and starting a 401K the minute they start their first job. We should be thinking about families and family planning in that same way.
I spoke at this panel discussion a few weeks ago, and there were a lot of women in their 20s there who seemed to think, “Oh, I’m too young to start thinking about this.” It was really interesting to get them to think about [fertility] and talk about it openly, and to see their eyes start to open up a little bit.
That’s not to suggest that every 25-year-old should run out and freeze their eggs—but they should at least be having proactive conversations with their doctor about it. They should be given the option.