In our work with clients, we have found that as much as elective egg freezing can be an empowering step toward family building, there is also an emotional side to this journey that is not as widely discussed. We have found it equally important to address this side of egg freezing before moving forward with the procedure, so that you do not feel caught off guard if complex emotions arise.
It can be easy to write off egg freezing as “not really” a fertility treatment – say, compared to an IVF treatment that will also include a planned transfer. However, people undergoing egg freezing are more often than not doing it without a partner, and without that built-in support system, they may find it even more stressful. There can also be reasons for egg freezing related to not having a partner that may bring up a variety of feelings.
We asked licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Shara Brofman a few questions based on what often comes up for us in conversations centered around elective egg freezing.
1. What are the emotional challenges that may come up with elective egg freezing?
While some people may associate elective egg freezing with feelings of agency, autonomy, relief, or even empowerment, and while those stories may dominate media narratives about elective egg freezing, there is actually a range of feelings associated. People also may have a variety of experiences related to their age at the time of freezing, or related to other factors.
Feelings of grief and loss may be present in starting this process, including regarding a lack of a partner, things not going as planned, and/or having had a lack of information about age-related changes to fertility. Elective egg freezing opens a potential for future family building with or without a partner, but future family building may also still involve unexpected curve balls.
If you are considering or have decided to freeze your eggs, you likely already understand the phases that eggs (if they are retrieved and mature) go through to be frozen and unfrozen, and to potentially become fertilized, healthy embryos, that sustain to be transferred, implant, develop into a healthy pregnancy, and continue to a healthy, live birth. (Find a moment to take a breath!) While well-known narratives may frame elective egg freezing as creating certainty, there is in fact no certainty associated with egg freezing.
Some people building families via assisted reproductive technology (ART) have described the process as burdensome, and as involving questions and decisions that other people just don’t have to think about. There is actually uncertainty in any family building process – but for some people, ART can truly highlight this reality. If you are struggling with these feelings, they make sense, and there is support out there.
2. What are some coping mechanisms to implement while I am going through this?
First of all, having support helps. And, it is so important to recognize the range of your thoughts and feelings about this process. Many people approaching elective egg freezing may not have expected to be involved in the process (or may not even have known about it). In the interest of avoiding toxic positivity (a soapbox of mine), it is absolutely important to make space for the difficult feelings that may come up, including if you are experiencing grief, anger, sadness, anxiety, or other difficult feelings.
It is also likely that, in beginning this process, you are thinking a lot about what is important to you, and that you hope to become a parent in the future. This is an occasion where both things can be true. You may feel hopeful and optimistic in some ways, and you may feel upset and pessimistic in other ways. Some feelings may be more or less prominent, or you may not feel mixed or conflicted, or it may vary day to day. Acknowledging the whole picture can help.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy offers ideas about clarifying one’s values, and then taking steps in alignment with those values, as a way to navigate life’s challenges. In elective egg freezing, for example, you might think of the idea of being willing to manage emotional and physical discomfort and uncertainty because they make sense in the context of your values and hopes about parenting.
3. What do I say to my family and friends? How do I share this information with a future partner?
Having support through this process is certainly important. That support might be from family, friends, support groups and networks, or professionals. If you are feeling pressured about what to say, remember that you are entitled to privacy around this experience. Some people find it helpful to talk more openly about the experience, and some people prefer more privacy. Neither approach is wrong, but it is helpful to have some sort of support around either approach.
There is a lot of lack of control in hoping to become a parent. But importantly, you do have control over what you talk about, and with whom. You can always give less information and wait for people’s responses. It’s true that some people will have reactions (positive and/or negative) that may make you uncomfortable, and, if you share information, they also may ask questions. They also could react uncomfortably if you give some information, but not all the information – but how much information you give is still up to you.
There are times when you may feel comfortable sharing more, and there are times when you might wish to share less. You can think about which people to talk to, and how to explain this. And, if needed, you can set a boundary, explaining that you want to share that you’re going through egg freezing and that you appreciate the person’s concern and support. And – that there are some aspects of the process that feel harder to talk about at certain times, and that you hope they understand that this can shift for you with time. (Many people who support you will likely understand! If they do not seem to understand what you are going through, there is support out there.) You can always express appreciation for people’s concern, which often helps to validate where they are coming from in their curiosity. But their concern does not mean that you need to share more information than feels comfortable.
If egg freezing is important to you, it seems reasonable to bring up with a potential future partner. Perhaps the hope to become a parent is very important to you, and you wish for that value to inform your discussions. There is more and more conversation about fertility preservation these days, so a potential future partner might even have some existing knowledge. And perhaps their responses to a discussion might facilitate a conversation about what is important to them.
4. How will my life and routines be different throughout the egg freezing process? How do I adjust to these changes?
An egg freezing cycle involves the first portion of IVF, which is preparation for an egg retrieval and the egg retrieval. People have a variety of emotional and physical responses to this process. On the emotional side, people may experience changes to mood, including irritability, anxiety, and/or tearfulness. Some people also have difficulty navigating medical procedures and exams. Importantly, people can also experience a sense of hope and of moving forward. Many feelings may coexist.
Many people find it helpful to develop some sort of routine or ritual of activities in which they can engage, including related to healthy sleep and eating, distraction, and social support, as well as engaging in pleasurable activities that are still doable. Engaging in reading, music, the arts, light exercise, socializing as feasible, time to oneself if preferred!, or other activities that engage the five senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound – can be helpful to focus on as a way to integrate what you can do. As another way to cope, you can also plan what you might look forward to doing after the retrieval process is complete.
5. I’ve heard you are told to limit exercise other than walking – what are some alternatives for those that rely on exercise to support their mental health?
I always define exercise broadly. Whatever kind of movement is within your medical team’s suggestions (certainly check in with them) might help – whether it is light exercise, e.g. walking or stretching, or other related movement. While it may feel upsetting and disappointing to not engage in the activities you normally would, some movement might still feel better than no movement (it’s all relative). An egg retrieval process is also temporary, so as a way to tolerate the process, that is also important to keep in mind. You can make plans and look forward to resuming a different exercise routine in the future, if that is helpful for your mental health.
DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this blog post is intended to serve as general information. This content is not intended as specific advice directed to any person’s unique circumstances. The information in this post does not constitute a clinical recommendation or relationship. Dr. Brofman and Wellhatched do not take clinical responsibility for this information. Importantly, the content in this blog post does not take the place of a confidential consultation with a licensed mental health professional.
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