On my 43rd birthday I gave myself an unusual birthday present. I decided to freeze my eggs.
İn the weeks leading up to this I'd been talking to people including doctors and women who'd frozen their eggs to help me make up my mind. I'd also been making a documentary about the process for Al Jazeera English.
My decision wasn't an easy one, particularly given my age. I feel as energetic as I always have done, and I still imagine that I have heaps of time ahead of me to live out all my dreams. So it was bit of a shock to learn from fertility consultants that a woman's 'advanced maternal age' starts at 37. That makes me, at 43, practically ancient. Not only are my eggs running out, but the ones left are likely to be poor quality, with an 80% chance of being chromosomally abnormal.
I've never been desperate to have children. I was, rather, ambivalent about them, choosing a life of adventure, making films around the world, living abroad, rather than settling down and starting a family. But in the course of exploring whether egg freezing was for me or not I realized that, while I knew I could continue to have a happy life without children, the prospect of a childless future wasn't one I was ready to accept. Egg freezing was the only viable option for me as a single woman who didn't want to use donor sperm or bring up a child alone.
More and more women these days are, like me, leaving it late in the day to have or even think about having children. I went to Cambridge to meet academic Irenee Daly who had researched why this is. She found that the pressure to have a good career plays a part, as do economic constraints and a misunderstanding of fertility, fed by media stories of older celebrities having babies. Ambivalence about having children is common largely, Irene thought, because 'Life is too busy to have time to feel broody'. Many women assumed they would be mothers but wanted to have packed in lots before then - a great career, travel, finding the right man, marrying and living with him a few years before conceiving.
Women's social and career clocks, it seems, are clashing with their biological ones. The result is that today, three times as many women are having children in their forties in Britain, as in my mother's generation. 1 out of 5 women in Britain and US are childless in comparison to 1 in 10 back then.
I wondered if I should give up gracefully and accept that I was never to be mother. But I was encouraged not to by tests which showed that my ovaries were in good shape. "Like a woman 10 years younger" exclaimed my doctor. This, plus the fact that good and relatively cheap treatment was available in Cyprus, a 90 minute flight from my home in Istanbul were two of the main factors prompting me to decide to freeze.
Contrary to warnings, I didn't find the medical process too difficult. The hormones I needed to take to prepare me for collection didn't affect me too badly, beyond one tearful morning and a clumsy afternoon, which left me with a few less glasses and a cracked laptop screen. After collection I was a bit sore in my right side but otherwise fine physically.
There was, however, one thing that was difficult to handle. The doctors had expected over 10 mature eggs to be collected, but only 5 were. 10 is the minimum that I had been advised were needed in order to make a future IVF cycle worthwhile. I had to accept that a second collection was necessary. And that my ovaries, however well they had shown up in previous tests, really were 43.
I'd embarked upon freezing with my eyes wide open, knowing that it wasn't the insurance policy it is so often sold as, particularly for a woman of my age. Even so, getting only five eggs was disappointing. There could be several reasons for this - a younger woman might get less eggs on a particular month - but I couldn't help feeling that it must have had something to do with my age. I suddenly felt old. We are all living longer but fertility is still as short as it ever was and I am coming to the end of mine.
My frozen eggs, however, may prove to be my way of prolonging it. I have just started taking hormones to prepare me for the second collection. Once that is over, however many eggs are collected, then I will at least feel satisfied that I've done all I can in my current circumstances.
Motherhood on Ice aired on Al Jazeera English this Thursday 4 December 2000GMTSuggest a correction