I'm talking about freezing my eggs because no one else does
Actor Zoya Hussain opens up about the physical and emotional experience of freezing your eggs
We have normalised painful periods as “something that happens to all women”. It was only when the pain got so intense that I fainted in the bathroom — knocking my head against the wall — that I went to the gynaecologist. After some blood tests and a sonography that felt more like an excavation mission, the doctor didn’t beat around the bush. If I wanted to have children, I was told, I needed to start the process of freezing my eggs immediately.
I met multiple doctors and was diagnosed with endometriosis. A growth had pulled one of my ovaries down towards my uterus and severely damaged it. The doctors explained that the AMH hormone test checks a woman’s ability to produce healthy eggs that can be fertilised for successful conception — and my AMH levels were abysmal. Given all of this, the likelihood of having children the old-fashioned way was low.
Having a child wasn’t something I had seriously thought about. At first, I went into full crisis mode. Do I want to have a child with my partner? Does he want to have a child right now? I was spiralling until my doctor said something that made it all click in my head: egg freezing.
Just the word ‘infertile’ has so many negative connotations embedded in our heads from a young age, that the possibility of it fills us with turmoil. For me, marriage or deciding to have children are milestones you achieve based on your personal growth in life and not a particular age. By freezing my eggs, I was giving myself time and the option of having children.
I went to see Dr Jatin Shah of Mumbai Fertility Clinic & IVF Centre and began the long process. You get tested a lot during your next menstrual cycle on specific days, and then start a round of supplements, testosterone cream, and medicines before you get to the injection stage. The regimen of supplements, medicines, and injections differs for everyone. Shah says that doctors will likely tweak the treatment plan based on the condition of your ovaries, uterus, any other medical conditions you have, your age, and a lot more. The normal treatment period of daily injections – in three phases – is about 10 days. But given the state of my ovaries and endometriosis, Shah recommended we do it for longer for a more successful extraction of healthy eggs without having to do multiple cycles.
I started taking 20ml shots with a small needle into my belly every day, starting with two in the doctor’s clinic. This went on for roughly 25 days. Once you’re in the third phase of injections, you have daily sonographies so they can monitor your egg release and whether you’re ready for extraction.
I’ve encountered two types of doctors in my life: One is the kind who scares you into everything, and the second kind downplay everything. I was lucky to have someone balanced with Dr Shah, but I wish I had been given a clearer picture of what to expect physically and emotionally once the injections started.
I like to know – good, bad, horrendous – whatever it is. I understand they try not to freak people out about the treatment, but if someone’s asking what it’s going to be like, be honest so the patient can plan accordingly.
I thought taking shots every day would be the worst of it, but in reality, they were a mild inconvenience because you have to be very strict with the timing. What hit instantly when I started the process of freezing my eggs was intense nausea. If I moved too quickly, walked too much or too fast, ate something with slightly too much salt, or got a whiff of something, I would throw up. Then came some casual diarrhoea, cramps, flatulence and body aches. Migraines and bloating like never before. If you fall sick during this time, you can take antibiotics, but everything else, especially painkillers, is off-limits. This is what I imagine pregnancy is like.
Emotionally, I was withdrawn. I didn’t feel like socialising. I would react over the littlest things. I don’t know if I can say it was the effect of the injections, or if the increase in hormones heightened my personality and predispositions.
Luckily, I had a great support system around me that gave me space, reminded me to have medications, and supported me through it all. Even though I did drive people a little cuckoo, they were there for me. I know for a fact that a lot of people going through fertility treatment don’t get this kind of understanding and support.
The egg extraction procedure itself, the final hurrah of the entire treatment, was all of 20 minutes. They knocked me out with anaesthesia, and I came out of it very fast – much to my dismay but the amusement of everyone around me.
I’m sharing my experience because I had no one to talk to when I started the process of freezing my eggs. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through something like this. But I understand why people are still apprehensive about opening up in our society, and especially in my industry, given that women’s ‘health issues’ aren’t desirable or sexy. There is so much pressure regarding reproduction and ‘carrying on the bloodline’ that even the slightest whiff of something potentially being ‘wrong’ can permanently tag women in the eyes of society.
Find a doctor who you feel a connection with and can openly talk to. Ask many questions, even if they seem small or silly. It can be a tedious process going from one doctor to another. You might get a side eye if you’re unmarried – right from the doctor to the person doing the blood test to the nurses. All the forms you fill say ‘Mrs’ with ‘Husband’s name’ in the next section. But put on your blinkers because you know why you’re doing this. It is worth doctor-shopping until you find the right person.
Because this process is about you. Not your family or even partner or spouse. Some might suggest that you freeze a fertilised embryo (as a married couple) rather than just your eggs because it’s likely to work better when it comes to the ‘getting pregnant’ stage, but unless you’re dead certain that this is the person you want to have a child with, I’d say go with the eggs rather than an embryo. As Shah told me, the eggs can be turned into an embryo, but there’s no going back if you change your mind in the future.
Egg freezing and related treatments can range from ₹30,000 to ₹7 lakh, depending on the doctor, and the city. You will have to also pay a yearly fee for storing your frozen eggs. Research your options, and talk to your doctor if they have payment plans and insurance providers if they include it in your coverage. I am lucky to have the financial security to fund it with the help of my parents.
I am committed to my partner and do see a future together, where we have a family. But now, after freezing my eggs, I know that no matter what the future holds, the choice of motherhood (or not) is in my hands.
As told to Sara Hussain.