Why I Went to the Mikveh Before Freezing My Eggs

The immersion, like the whole egg-freezing process, was a paradoxical expression of my faith both in Judaism and in science.

As a paradoxical expression of both my faith in science and my Jewish faith, I went to the mikveh for the first time the day before my egg retrieval procedure.

It is most common for women to visit the mikveh, a ritual bath, when observing the laws of niddah (menstrual purity), conversion, and marriage. However, there is no specific ritual or prayer for fertility, and there definitely isn’t a prayer for freezing one’s eggs (ancient Biblical women did struggle with infertility, though — although Sara’s case was miraculously cured by God at the crisp age of 90). But for me, immersing myself in the spiritual water rooted in centuries of Jewish tradition to prepare for my upcoming modern reproductive technology procedure connected me to both my body and my spirituality.

I attended Orthodox Jewish day school, a Conservative summer camp, and a Reform synagogue as a child, though I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a Jewish mutt. I’m equally comfortable and uncomfortable in every religious sect and gathering, which can often be challenging in the context of practice. Creating an authentic Jewish ritual of my own sanctified what had been a challenging journey towards fulfilling the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” — and this was only the beginning of my road to motherhood.

Egg freezing was the most practical decision I ever made. At 29, I found myself single, freshly out of a long-term relationship, and suddenly smashed with a wave of anxiety about family-planning. If this sounds familiar, it’s because millions of women in our generation are struggling, too.

When I learned that the company I was working for at the time, Amazon, offered a very enticing employee perk — cryopreservation coverage, otherwise known as egg freezing — I immediately knew what to do. I will admit I skimmed over this benefit when I was hired; I was much more interested in the cold brew on tap at the time. Actually, a majority of women working for companies that offer egg freezing coverage are unaware of the benefit because it is not widely advertised by Human Resource departments and because, unless you’re in a place where you feel pressure to ask, you simply don’t.

While some argue that tech companies are only offering these fertility benefits as a ploy to keep women in their workforce longer and delay motherhood, I do not believe there is a sinister conspiracy at play. The ability to have the financial support to freeze my eggs gave me the comfort of control, or at least the façade of it: the irony of priding myself in being a fiercely independent woman while failing my body of the partner it would biologically require.

An egg freezing cycle normally costs around $15,000 — and to my surprise and frustration, I ended up needing three cycles for the recommended amount of eggs. I don’t have any fertility disorder; this is just how the cookie crumbles. Reproductive endocrinology is a comedy of imprecise errors, not due to the fault of any practitioner, but simply because the science is faulty as it stands today. My friend, who also went through unpredicted cycles of IVF treatments that kept failing for no physiologically defined reason, compared it to following a recipe for a cake meticulously but finding it completely singed when you remove it from the oven.

In the end, the financial burden of egg freezing was equivalent to a new luxury car or a full year of graduate school, but the emotional and physical burden was arguably worse, as with each injection I felt the pang of my ticking biological clock, unmarried status, and the bloated, achey feeling that would follow me throughout the day.

Stepping into Shady Grove Fertility Clinic for my first ultrasound, I entered into an emotional and simultaneously empowering world. The clinic felt like a factory saturated with women struggling with fertility issues, yet I had never felt more alone amidst the covert glances we all shared in the waiting room as we pretended to be riveted by articles about this season’s hot new nail color in the magazines we were reading.

The months that followed were filled with needles and syringes — a fear that I had to quickly overcome — which I used to self-inject my body with follicle stimulating drugs. I imagine it’s at least a bit more comfortable when you have a spouse to help you perform these at-home mad science experiments.

I felt completely overwhelmed and panicked during the first week of my injections. I hired a nurse to come to my apartment and help because my confidence in faithfully following the YouTube tutorials was little to none.

As the weeks and months passed, self-injections quickly became routine and my kitchen counter transformed into a nursing station, stacked high with vials of prescription drugs, syringes, gauze, alcohol wipes, even a sharps container. Initially intimidating, the self-injections ended up providing me with a newfound sense of power and control over my body, even if it was painful and inconvenient. If you think about it, the ability to prepare a syringe and inject it is kind of a cool new millennial life skill — like being able to whisk meringues.

I schlepped back to the clinic twice a week before work hours so the doctors could monitor the number of egg follicles in my ovaries and change my doses accordingly. Each time I laid down for the ultrasound, I envisioned the typical movie scene of a pregnant couple filled with joy at seeing their baby’s heartbeat for the very first time. That was clearly not my reality. I was, instead, a blimp (the bloat is severe as your ovaries are purposefully overstimulated) getting stuck with a medical dildo (sorry for the ungraceful description) that moves around in the dark as the shadows on the screen ridicule and remind you: Your body is not in your control.

On the day of the procedure, I was overcome with emotion, perhaps as a result of the insane amount of hormones in my body, wondering how I ended up in a hospital gown about to undergo light general anesthesia.

There was a recovery process — both physically and emotionally, but looking back, I’m satisfied and proud of my decision to freeze my eggs. I can breathe a sigh of relief and know that I did everything I could at this time in my life to birth the children I hope to have someday.

I also recognize how fortunate I was to experience elective cryopreservation without the financial burden, which undoubtably increases the emotional toll for so many women during this process.

Just as my immersion in the mikveh was a paradoxical expression of my faith in Judaism and science, so too was the entire process of freezing my eggs: a paradox of empowerment but also grief and sadness. But venturing on this fertility journey has allowed me to surrender to life’s authentic unfolding and divine timing. The simple act of prioritizing love for myself and my future family, on my own timeline, is nothing short of radical amazement.

This article was made possible with the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York.

Shelley Greenspan

Shelley Greenspan (she/her) lives in Washington D.C. and works at the U.S. Department of State. She is focused on women's economic empowerment and building public-private partnerships that advance U.S. foreign policy goals.

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