paige talerico

All Your Eggs in One Freezer

“You know, freezing your eggs is a really good option. Especially if you’re not sure about where you’ll be or who you’ll be with when you’re ready,” my cousin told me, leaning against my aunt’s marble counter early last summer. She had frozen her eggs a few years ago, when she was 30 and single. She was now about to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) with her new husband.

Coincidently, I had just read an article titled “Why I Froze My Eggs (And You Should, Too)” that argued a woman’s ability to freeze her eggs was one of the greatest gender equalizers in history. The author urges women to freeze their eggs to gain agency over their reproductive process, removing the burden of their ticking biological clock and the pressure to settle down with a partner while they’re still young enough to have a healthy pregnancy. I had never thought about egg freezing before, and my newfound curiosity led me down the wormhole of articles detailing the triumph of women taking control of their fertility.

I was unsure if I even wanted kids and had always assumed that was a problem for later. But after reading all those articles and hearing my cousin’s advice, it seemed that decisions concerning my fertility future were looming. Apparently a woman’s fertility peaks at 22, so I needed to start considering my options. Or, at least, I needed to gain a better understanding of what all these options were, to make an informed decision later.

Between people I know undergoing IVF, friends thinking about selling their eggs to pay for college, and celebrities more and more frequently having kids via surrogacy (Kim Kardashian just announced she and Kanye are having their fourth child via surrogacy, after the success of their third), there appears to be a surplus of childbearing options. It seems easier than ever to have kids, but what do these options entail and who are they really for?

Anyone with egg-producing ovaries can undergo this process, whether they identity as female or not. Since my examples from testimonials and studies are from cis-women, I will often use “she/her/hers” pronouns in this piece; however this process is not exclusive to femme-identifying people.

Egg freezing is the first procedure in the IVF process. According to The New York Times, more than 75,000 women plan on freezing their eggs this year, either with an IVF procedure in the immediate or undetermined future. The name gives away the process: eggs are taken from a woman’s ovaries (via a process disturbingly called “harvesting”) and frozen, unfertilized, in a clinic.

There’s a lot that goes into the process to prepare for egg freezing. First, you have to inject yourself with synthetic hormones to stimulate egg production multiple times a day for a couple of weeks. You also have to take additional trips to the doctor to monitor egg development and various medications that accelerate egg maturity. Then, there’s the actual surgery, where your eggs are literally vacuumed out with a needle in about 20 minutes. The number of eggs retrieved depends on your age: if you’re around 30, typically 15 or so eggs are retrieved, and that number decreases to less than 10 in the late 30s.

When Bloomberg published a popular (so-called “groundbreaking”) article titled “Freeze your eggs, Free your career” five years ago, the cover girl advocating for the liberating effects of egg freezing paid a whopping $19,000 for the whole procedure. Today, the whole process, including the procedure and medication, costs upwards of $10,000 with around $1,200 in annual fees to store frozen eggs (fees vary by number of eggs). That’s still an incredibly large sum and unaffordable for many, especially those in their 20s and early 30s who haven’t had the time to build income. However, more and more companies, like Facebook and Apple, are helping cover the cost for employees. Many insurance companies are also starting to include it in their plans. It’s still a significant investment, but it’s beginning to be more manageable.

Whereas males produce sperm at an approximate rate of 1,500 per second, women are born with a finite number of eggs that age and decrease as the woman releases them during menstruation, until the age of 40. At that point, there’s only around a 5 percent chance of becoming pregnant. This imbalance contributes to a history of biological essentialism, of gender discrimination rooted in biological difference, and is why so many women are turning to freezing their eggs if they can afford it. It’s an attempt to level the fertility field. Men have never had to worry about a biological time constraint to have children, giving them an advantage of being able to focus on their careers for a good chunk of their 20s and 30s, so many women find the opportunity of egg freezing to be potentially equalizing.  

Advancing their careers, however, is not the top reason women are freezing their eggs. Last summer, The New York Times reported a yet-to-be-published study that found that the primary reason women were freezing their eggs was that they hadn’t found a suitable partner with whom to build a family. Based on 150 interviews with American and Israeli women who had already or were currently freezing their eggs, the study found that most participants were single and either driven by the uncertainty they’d find the right partner or had recently broken up with their partner. For many, egg freezing has evolved from a passing fad to a conventional step many adult women take, independent from any partner.

A number of testimonials on Eggsperience, a popular blog Valerie Landis created three years ago to chronicle her own egg freezing experience, explores the egg freezing phenomenon among millennials. Women in various stages of the fertility process from around the world relate their triumphs of egg freezing and personal benefits of the process. Barbara, a 39-year-old from Long Island, froze her eggs after she broke off her engagement. She writes, “Egg freezing helped me feel empowered about my life again.” Ase, from Singapore, went through two cycles of egg freezing last summer and is now “working to help other women in Asia to have the same opportunity and change the conversation.” Molly, a 37-year-old from Los Angeles, even talks about creating a podcast called “Spermcast” after she froze her eggs, “to explore options and find some sperm.” Apparently freezing one’s eggs helps in the dating world? Only two women said that, the jury’s still out on that one.  

The openness about fertility options among women appears generational; a few weeks after my cousin discussed her situation with me, my mom called me and asked, “What’s this whole IMF thing?” She said that she felt weird asking my aunt more about it, that it would have been invading my cousin’s privacy. It’s still a taboo subject for many people who didn’t grow up with the prevalence and growth of fertility options; however, their hesitation around discussing women’s fertility (or lack thereof) only increases women’s feelings of failure or of not fulfilling their expected role; either because they couldn’t conceive “naturally” or when egg freezing or IVF fails.

The woman on the cover of the aforementioned Bloomberg article tried to have a child last year at 45 and all 11 of her frozen eggs failed to fertilize. In an interview with The Washington Post, she said, “I was sad. I was angry. I was ashamed. I questioned, ‘Why me? What did I do wrong?’” She did nothing wrong: although freezing eggs does increase a woman’s chances of conceiving later in life than if she did nothing, the chance of success still varies wildly. Basically, the younger you freeze your eggs, the better your chances are—but even those odds still range. The emotional toll is as varied as the success rate; many women put in a lot of money and energy into the process to still be childless after years of trying.

In an interview with The Guardian, one woman reports the feelings of empowerment from freezing her eggs diminishing when the thawing killed most of her eggs and then she miscarried the last one: “It had never occurred to me that it wouldn’t work. That was it: my last possibility of having a biological child.”

In addition to Eggsperience, there are many other blogs where women find solidarity through sharing their stories of frustration and failure. A lot of women write about the importance of staying positive, while others share the bleakness of losing hope. One woman writes, “With every subsequent failure, you come to expect it more. It gets harder to hope. You get more numb. For the first few IVF cycles, I put on a positive front for my support crew and my husband; no doubt he did the same for me. But now, we’re more honest with each other.”

Egg freezing and subsequent IVF treatments can have a significant impact on women’s mental health, and with no counseling sessions or therapeutic attention included in the price of treatment, it often is up to the patients to learn how to cope. The most significant thing women who undergo failed treatments say they experience is feelings of defeat: failure to perform, historically, the “most fundamental” aspect of being a woman. It is the fault of a society that emphasizes childbearing as a woman’s greatest quality for creating this internalized expectation. Yet, even if I recognize it’s a construct, and even if I’m not sure I want kids, I still feel a sense of entitlement that I should be able to have kids if I want to, when I want to, and that it would be unfair if I can’t.

“A Private Life,” a Netflix original movie released last year, tracks an artsy, witty couple in New York City as they journey through rounds of failed egg freezes, IVF, and eventually, surrogacy. Although the film is fiction, it is based off of the director’s real-life experience. The film focuses on the pain of the process and the stress it puts on the couple’s relationship—one argument on the streets is particularly memorable, with the woman screaming “Do you blame me?” at her husband while punching him, then dissolving into tears as they hug and cry together. In an interview with Bustle, the director Tamara Jenkins said that she wanted to illustrate the emotional pain women experience during the process and explore “the biological tyranny of being a woman.”

It may seem bleak, but the truth is that despite the vast achievements and growing opportunities for women’s fertility that open up careers and agency, it’s not always successful and definitely not without sacrifice. Biologically, it’s easiest for me to get pregnant right now. Will I do that? Fuck no. So will I freeze my eggs—if an employer helps cover the fee—in a few years to give me more time? Even if it still leaves uncertainty, it will probably still be the best option.

 Blue Issue | February 2019

Our Lady of Mercy

TJ Larsen’s ears had so much earwax in them. It was all caked up in there, yellow-orange. He was a new student in the first grade and I sat next to him and stared into the clogged tubes of his ears. Everyone knew it. Someone, please, just tell him to use a q-tip. I wanted to stick one right up his ear. It would pop! through his ear drum and burrow till the cotton tip nudged his coiled brains. When I suctioned it out I’d be able to see straight into TJ Larsen’s head. 

Apparently in high school TJ Larsen fucked a girl in a Macy’s changing stall. I’ve never had sex while standing up. I assume that’s how they did it. TJ hadn’t been earwaxy since sometime in fourth grade. 

Laura Baumhauer had a waspy presence. Nobody really liked her. When people sat down for lunch they would always sit on the side where she wasn’t. So she’d be sitting on the end with the empty bench beside her and everyone piled up on the other side. In sixth grade, Margaret Bruge whispered that Laura stuffed tissues or maybe even socks into her bra. Margaret knew because she saw something fall out while we were changing for gym class.

Laura had acne and large pores that made her face look like a strawberry. In line at our sixth-grade classroom door I heard her boasting, “my parents have never had sex.” I told her that they must have had sex at least twice, because she and her sister existed. 

Laura wore a East High T-shirt in her eighth-grade yearbook photo. She kept talking about high school. It would be a fresh start. Laura made friends at first and I think people liked her for a time before they realized she wasn’t cool. 

Jess Adamson was my best friend. We walked the three blocks to Lady of Mercy together every morning and back home every afternoon. 

Parents gushed over how small and polite Jess was. I felt too large. Jess had anxiety and bladder spasms. When a spasm came on, maybe on the walk to school or in the hall, Jess would crouch down on one knee. I’d crouch down next to her, and we’d pretend to tie our shoes. 

Jess and I talked in the Quiet Area about how neither of our families went to church and we didn’t think God existed. Maybe there were spirits, though. 

Jack—not Jack Strotman, the other Jack—Brezicki—he was pudgy and gluten-free. He threw up in front of the take-home folders in first grade. I thought he had just spilled some soup. He, Jess, and I were voted “sweetest personality” in the eighth grade yearbook. 

Katherine Strauss was one of my secondary best friends. She taught me long division in third grade, which was the year her parents got divorced. She had nearly a hundred Littlest Pet Shop animals and a half-dozen Webkinz, which all went to her dad’s house. Her mom fed us carrot slices and had us make crafts such as hair-tie rugs or mosaic bowling balls. Katherine invented several languages that included code names for our classmates so we could gossip while they were still in earshot.

Sometimes Natasha Sangsorn’s father would be sleeping on the couch when I came over for a play date. Natasha had a ginormous house with a trampoline in the backyard and a walk-in snack pantry. Stuffed animals crowded her canopy bed. Natasha’s mother was overweight. Natasha went vegetarian and ate nothing but Greek yogurt at lunch and said she was too fat, but she wasn’t fat at all. 

Natasha wanted us to be close friends but I didn’t like her. Once, she shunned me for a whole recess because I chose to sit next to Katherine instead of her at lunch. She had a sleepover for her golden birthday and ordered everyone not to be too loud. She created a system of strikes for our girly squeals. Natasha wanted to go trick-or-treating with Jess, Katherine, and I, but I didn’t want her to come. I made up excuses but later pretended it was all a misunderstanding when she called me on my flip phone and told me she was struggling with depression.

Emily Hagley locked herself in her room and wouldn’t come out. It was her birthday party and her mom pleaded at the door while we sat around the table staring at our uneaten slices of cake. Emily locked herself in there because she didn’t get to eat the first bite. I avoided eye contact with the other girls, my stomach tight. I was the one who had snuck the bite of cake.

When Emily came over to my house that one time she had us play Dog Show. She coaxed poor Luna up and down the stairs and pushed her through the hula-hoop. Emily sat next to me in U.S. History and kept stealing my colored highlighters. I wondered, is this bullying? 

In sixth grade, Nick Nell’s hair was a blonde Justin Bieber swoosh. Every few minutes he’d twitch his neck sideways to toss the hair from his eyes. Freshman year he dated a senior and gave her a concussion against the back windshield of his car while having sex. He constantly flirted with Ms. Roderick in Western Civ sophomore year. That summer, he got into cocaine and went to rehab and came back hollow-looking. 

Miranda Bellthorne annoyed me when we were paired up for badminton. She couldn’t hit the birdie. She was small, obsessed with Disney, and had her future planned out in detail. Jess liked her, though. They went to the mall together and talked about their crushes. Jess and I had never gone to the mall together because I didn’t like trying on clothes. Jess wasn’t supposed to like that stuff either. But a part of me wanted to go, too. Jess never asked me to come. I felt like she thought of me as a boy.

Oliver Raffburg was small but athletic and charismatic. He sang the song, “Build Me Up Buttercup” in front of our music class. He said that Miranda had the perfect face and body. Perfect proportions and symmetry. A long neck. 

Story Walters’ desk was in front of mine in the third grade. She was absent for a week. When she came back, I saw the gauze on the back of her skull replacing clumps of her tightly curled hair. Story had a brain tumor. She was in a wheelchair at the end of fourth grade. Her face and body looked all bloated from the chemo. She died in fifth grade. 

At recess once, I found a clay frog magnet in the woodchips and Story wanted to have it. She kept asking me for it, but since I had found it, I didn’t give it to her. I felt guilty about it and buried the magnet under the swings after she died. 

A counselor lady came to our classroom once Story had moved to hospice. She asked us if we had any questions. “Is Story going to die?” Oliver Raffburg asked, timidly. The lady paused, then clasped Oliver’s shoulder. “Everybody dies,” she answered.

Mr. Paulson, the principal of Our Lady of Mercy, got a brain tumor a few months later and died. Mr. Paulson had a bald head and was a Bears fan and started a “walk around the world” thing where he’d walk around the neighborhood with a herd of students at lunch. If you went, you got a little plastic foot that you could put on a keychain. The feet came in all the colors of the rainbow plus brown, grey, black, and white. Some were transparent and some opaque and a few were even sparkly. He died before I could collect them all. 

Caroline Lund was my other secondary best friend. She gave Jess a stuffed animal otter because “it’s a special day” (it wasn’t) and gave me an old wine bottle. I eyed the otter on the walk home. Freshman year, Caroline explained to us what masturbation was. She had discovered it for the first time with the showerhead. 

Caroline got really into baking. Her cookies were the best. People would always comment on how slender Caroline’s older sister Ellie was—she could be a model! In eighth-grade she lent me a book about a girl with bulimia. I got bored and never finished it, but when I gave the book back I told her it was a good story. Years later I learned she had been making herself throw up. 

During kindergarten playtime, Olivia Harris always took the role of Mother. I felt cute in my overalls until she told me in the stairwell that they made me look like a cowboy. Olivia’s older brother Tommy hung himself in his closet the night she starred in the eighth-grade play. 

The next week the teachers gave us pamphlets on the signs of depression. Olivia still came on our pre-graduation field trip to Navy Pier. “Pirates of the Caribbean” played on the little TV bus screens. Mrs. Myler shut it off when the scene of the pirates hanging from seaside gallows came on.

Mrs. Firton liked having Garrett Teeler do the banana dance. He stood at the front of the class, gyrating his seventh-grade hips. At any one time, at least five girls had a crush on Garrett. When we all piled into the girls’ gym changing room for a tornado drill, Garrett pointed to the tampon dispenser and asked, “what are tampoons?”

Eva Peters was gone for a day in the sixth grade. Apparently her mom had a “girls’ day” with her because she’d gotten her period. I didn’t get my period until eighth grade. It was the night before picture day and I went to my mom’s bedroom and asked her what the brown stuff in my underwear was, even though I knew what it was. I wore a navy blue button-up shirt and khaki pants and a big pad in my underwear that felt like a diaper because tampons freaked me out and I didn’t understand exactly where my vagina was. While waiting in line for pictures, I felt the blood soak up the pad and through my khaki pants. I escaped to a bathroom stall and lined my underwear with toilet paper but I knew people had seen. I kept pulling my shirt down throughout the rest of the day. I wanted to tell Jess about it on the walk home and I knew she knew, but I never mentioned it and neither did she. Jess didn’t get her period until sophomore year. 

When we dissected worms in seventh grade science class TJ made some joke about sex that offended Mrs. Myler. She scolded TJ’s offensiveness in front of the class and told us that sex wasn’t that great, anyways. 

I remember when we got to that page in our science textbook with the diagram of the male and female reproductive systems. The book sat spread open on my desk and I didn’t want to seem like I wanted to look at it so I looked at the walls instead. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the little penises in the room pressing against their pants. 

Zoe Windoza said she was goth and that Story had been the only one who had understood her because she had been goth, too. Zoe was tall and pretty and wore black arm sleeves and dyed her hair and later got gages. 

There were problems with gossiping and girl bullying in seventh grade. Sherie Roane, the Youth Ministry Coordinator, took all the girls into the church and gathered us in a circle. She pressed an unlit candle into everyone’s hands and instructed us to share a special prayer as we transferred the flame from one candle to the next. Sherie lit her candle with a lighter first. “For Story,” she announced. Margaret started crying and then Natasha cried and then Laura cried and then more girls cried. The boys stayed in the classroom and held a paper airplane competition. 

My dad got leukemia the summer after fifth grade. Everyone prayed for us. He died at the end of sixth grade. I came back to school after a week and caught up on most of my homework.

Kevin Jr.’s last name was Maloney so I associated his face with bologna. He came up to me in the back of the church at my father’s memorial service. He was standing behind square-shaped Kevin Sr., who I knew was making Kevin Jr. say it. “I’m sorry for your loss, Paige,” he mumbled, looking at the carpet. His face looked especially like bologna then.

Junior year, Katherine got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. She named him Evan. A year later, she gave him up. She moved to Florida with some drug dealer. Now she’s with another guy. Katherine’s mom, Susan, took me out to lunch last summer. We drove to Pizza Brutta and sat on the stools facing out the window to the street. We chatted for a while before I asked about Katherine. Susan had joined a support group for the family members of drug addicts. She still got to visit Evan. She hadn’t heard from Katherine in over a month. She started crying but quickly dabbed away the tears.

Jess’s home phone number was the only one I had memorized. We would always count down from three at the end of a call so that we’d hang up at the same time. Sometimes neither of us would hang up and we’d have to count down over and over again. At some point near the end of middle school, Jess stopped the counting. I kept up with it for a while, counting down even after she’d hung up. Eventually I stopped, too.

American Anatomy

Article by Bridget O'Neill; art by Paige Talerico

I walked into my first day at the U.S. Senate apprehensively, but already I relished the click of my heels through the marble halls, the way I blended into the sea of well-dressed, preoccupied commuters on the metro. Even illusory power is intoxicating. Striding past the Supreme Court on my way to work and flashing a badge, I felt like a cog in a glamorous, powerful machine.