Biohacking My Way to Freedom
For better or for worse, I was born with two X chromosomes.
I generally try to not think about my gender day-to-day. It’s relevant when I’m looking at cute dresses, or considering how to frame myself for a dating profile, but it’s not a detail that I want to think about on a normal basis. My gender — in an ideal world — would have no bearing on my professional ambitions, or the adventures that I seek to have, or the goals that I hope to achieve.
But the world is not ideal, the cards we are dealt are the cards that we are dealt, and gender – while a constraint that’s far more flexible than traditional social expectations have it framed — is a constraint none-the-less.
I think I want kids. Not while some ML1 things are looming, but some day. It’ll be responsibility and it’ll be work but it’s also its own adventure; it also has its own constraints.
I made the call to book my egg freezing consultation in January of 2022. Facebook, my employer, offered egg freezing as a medical benefit. Even years before I had planned on quitting, I knew it was something I wanted to do; the insurance cut the cost of egg freezing from about $15k down to less than $1k. Even if I was on the fence about how much I’d “need” egg freezing, under $1k was cheap enough to buy myself the optionality; it made economic sense. Plus, even if I could get a similar benefit from another firm, I was unlikely to want to limit my career prospects with “has egg freezing” as a constraint.
And thus, there I was January 2022, with the knowledge that I’d likely want to leave Facebook some point in 20232, calling my insurance to book an egg freezing consultation.
When I hung up, I felt a wave of relief. If someone had asked me how I thought I’d feel beforehand, I’d probably would’ve said “nothing” or — if I was feeling cheeky — “mild pride at completing logistics”. “Wave of relief” was not how I thought I’d feel — but there it was.
I was 28 then. Not quite old enough to have my biological clock screaming, but old enough to have heard stories of miscarriages and the woes of older friends with noncommittal partners. My professional life was decent, but I still had (and still have) quite a few things I’d happily trade a family life to accomplish. Meanwhile, dating has always been a bit of an odd beast for me: I never wanted to be someone who’d optimize just to find someone and relative inexperience, a healthy degree of introversion, and the general “figuring out what I want” meant I didn’t feel anywhere close to “finding my person”.
I recognized that freezing my eggs would buy myself a few years of extra time, but what I hadn’t realized was that it was also buying me freedom.
Freedom to explore without responsibility. Freedom to figure out myself and try more relationships for size. Freedom to choose when I wanted to make my goals happen.
And that freedom was the wave of relief.
It’s quite clever how egg freezing works.
All the drugs in egg freezing are based on a woman’s natural cycle - there’s one set of drugs to make the follicles grow, one set of drugs to keep the “winning” follicle from causing the rest to reabsorb themselves, and a last set of drugs to cause the follicles to make mature eggs. All of these are based off of hormones that a female’s body would make naturally, just perhaps at different times.
It’s twice-a-day (roughly) injections over the course of about two-and-a-half weeks, with perhaps a blood draw up to a month ahead of time to establish hormonal baselines and check-up blood draws/ultrasounds every other day or so. Total wall-clock time is a little under two months.
After the “trigger” injection to mature the eggs, a doctor surgically takes the eggs out and puts them on ice. It’s a quick procedure — it takes less than 15 minutes and the bulk of the doctor’s office time is waiting the hour or so for the anesthesia to wear off.
There’s no “set” number of eggs that one gets at the other end. It’s probabilistic depending on the woman’s body, though generally younger women will get both more and higher quality eggs. It’s also probabilistic how well the eggs thaw, how well those fertilize, and how well a resultant embryo will implant in the uterus, not to mention the viability of the pregnancy itself. Calculators float around for these, but those are just averages.
(As a sidenote - the process for egg freezing is pretty much the same as IVF or using fertility treatments, except for what happens at the end. In IVF, a doctor takes out the eggs, fertilize them, and put them back in the uterus; with fertility treatments, the eggs aren’t taken out and are fertilized in a more “normal” way.)
Storing the eggs costs anywhere from $500-$1000 per year, depending on the storage facility.
One’s ovaries also swell to about the size of grapefruits for the back week of the drug injections. Does it suck a little? Yup it does. But a week of bloating is not that bad in the scheme of things.
I ended up doing two rounds of egg freezing. I got 12 eggs the first time and 11 the second.
Two was the number of rounds I’d planned to do from the outset, but the number of harvested eggs was low for my age - I’d just barely hit the number of eggs frozen for the likelihood of a number of kids that I’d be comfortable with. (~70% likelihood for two.)
I don’t think I would have known to get an AMH test had I not gone through the egg freezing procedure. It’s technically possible to do an AMH test at a normal gynecologist’s office, but it does make me wonder — had I not done egg freezing, would I potentially have done things the “normal” way, only to find out at say, 33 or 35 or so that my body was genetically predispositioned to be worse at having kids, at a time when I’d have less of a chance to do something about it?
Even as someone who strongly prioritizes other aspects of life over offspring, the loss of optionality would have sucked.
…And Then? #
I see medical things as “engineering but on the body” and have been fairly open about bringing up going through egg freezing with folks.
On one hand it’s a bit of an odd topic, but — and maybe it’s because most of the folks I’m around are in tech — most folks respond positively. Most of the women I bring it up with either end up being curious about the procedure for themselves (hence this post), know someone who’s already gone through the procedure, or know someone who wishes they had. I’ve gotten at least one friend of mine to go through egg freezing starting from “not knowing much about it at all” and “freeze your eggs” has become part of my standard repertoire of (hopefully not unwelcome) life advice to my single late-twenties and early-thirties female friends.
The response has been positive, or at least neutral, while bringing my egg freezing up with male friends as well. Older ones may have run into their own family fertility issues; I’ve had at least a few conversations about stem cells, genetic engineering, or life extension springboarded by egg freezing as a topic as well.
(Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s definitely a little bit of genderedness about that division of topics - but I guess I can’t fault some of my guy friends for not thinking about fertility quite yet…4)
Biohacking isn’t really a mainstream thing. As ML and biotech get better though, we’ll only see increasing ways to get better life outcomes via medical science.
As for what’s here right now though, egg freezing is pretty awesome.
With thanks to LK and BC for proofreading + editing. Image via GPT4.
Yes, I’m scale-pilled :P ↩
Not cause of drama or hatred of Facebook or anything. But I’d been at the firm for 8 years at that point; FAIR (Facebook AI Research) also always felt like the only team remaining that I’d want to be on, I’d just switched there, and it felt like a reasonable point to explore different pastures. I am one that’s a bit scared of being stuck in a poor local maximum, after all. ↩
Doing a bit of quick Googling, it does look like having an IUD (which I have had since graduating college) is associated with lower AMH levels. IIRC, my AMH level was at 2.3 or something stupidly low like that though, which is way beyond the impact there. I actually did elect to get my IUD taken out while I was egg freezing, but not sure if that actually did anything, or if I should’ve say, taken it out 6 months before rather than just before. ↩
On that note, there is some chance that we’ll be able to get cell dedifferentiation — ie, be able to take random body cells -> stem cells -> gametes — at some point in the next decade or two, but that might not be useful depending on your timelines. Also, I’m not sure how much I’d bank on a particular technology having a breakthrough, but I’m also not following cutting-edge biotechnology that closely these days. ↩