PERSPECTIVE: In 2017, Gwendolyn Regina froze her eggs in Bangkok, Thailand.
Back then, it was illegal to freeze one’s eggs in Singapore without a medical reason (such as undergoing chemotherapy or other treatment that would potentially affect one’s ability to have a child).
Now 37, Regina reflects on why she opted for elective egg freezing six years ago, what the procedure was like, and how she felt at its different stages. She also shares her thoughts on the legalisation of social egg freezing in Singapore, which takes effect from 2023.
As told to Lean Jinghui
I’ve known about elective egg freezing since my early 20s.
It crossed my mind to go for the procedure one day, because I’ve always wanted babies.
However, back then, I did not think about it seriously – it was one of those things that I knew existed, and I knew that at some point of reaching a certain stage in life, that I’d want to consider more deeply.
As I aged over my 20s, it was a combination of factors that eventually motivated me to freeze my eggs.
Always wanted kids
For one, I’ve always been someone who has wanted kids, since I was young.
I’ve just always been a baby person.
However, across my 20s, I didn’t have a serious partner, so it wasn’t something I could do immediately, because I was not married.
During my early 20s, I was also focused on running my own businesses.
It was not a case of choosing to build my career over having kids – I want to be clear – but it was just that I was super busy, and I was more invested in growing my companies and all that, which I loved.
As I was hitting 30, and I still had not met the right partner, the thought of freezing my eggs got more concrete.
As much as I’m keen on adopting too, I really want to be able to have my own biological kids one day, so it was me coming in from an insurance perspective.
And obviously, the earlier you freeze your eggs, the better your chances, right?
Weighing the options for egg freezing
What prompted me then was also the knowledge that freezing one’s eggs in Singapore was illegal, so I would have to find other options elsewhere, which would take time.
While the U.S. and UK offer elective egg freezing procedures, it costs 15,000USD or 15,000 pounds, and does not include the costs of flying over and accommodation.
I knew that in Southeast Asia, we have good medical hospitals and medical care, if you know the right places. So, I tried to find somewhere within our region for the procedure, as locating accessible and affordable options for egg freezing was important too.
A Vietnamese friend of mine, who had done In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) before, later recommended her doctor, who was from Singapore.
The serendipitous connection was that this Singapore doctor had actually helped a Vietnamese hospital I enquired at for elective egg freezing in Ho Chi Minh back in 2014.
The doctor from Singapore, Dr Yeong Cheng Toh at Tow Yung Clinic, was very patient throughout, and explained to me the entire procedure.
He also recommended the doctor and clinic in Bangkok, Thailand to me, for the retrieval and freezing of my eggs.
First two weeks – Daily hormonal injections
The first two weeks were the same as the first step of IVF, and I was able to do everything in Singapore.
It consisted of daily self-injections of various amounts of hormones to stimulate egg follicle production.
I was generally very sanguine during the process, as someone who’s not squeamish about blood.
It didn’t feel scary, as I already knew that it was something I wanted to do, and that it is a procedure that has been safely carried out many, many times.
I think the only time I felt nervous was when I did my first self-injection.
I told myself that I needed to remember and follow instructions – which consisted of having to inject yourself at this smiley-shaped area around your navel – to a T.
I was living alone then, and I just remember being like “Oh my god, this is very serious, I need to make sure I follow all the steps correctly.”
So I spent 20 minutes on it, trying to be so careful, only to end up with a bent needle. And I had to use a new one.
After a few injections, however, I could basically do the thrice-daily hormonal injections in less than 10 seconds each, every day. It became “normal” already.
While I didn’t feel any different during the two weeks, my girlfriends told me that I did become more emotional as I was doing the hormonal injections.
It’s interesting because the heightened emotion kind of mirrors what can happen in pregnancy, which I didn’t realise until it came up in casual conversation.
Fears and little joys during the process
Aside from the injections, I went back to Dr Yeong every two to three days for blood tests and ultrasounds.
The ultrasound is meant to check on the growth of the egg follicles and ensure your eggs are growing well. You want as many eggs as possible, so the doctor will check in on their size and number during each visit, and adjust the daily dosage and type of hormones given as you go along.
For three weeks, “normal life” essentially stopped for me, as I could not be physically active during the process.
One of the main risks of the process is hyperstimulated ovaries, which is when the ovaries get too large, resulting in risks of nausea and cysts. So I quit exercising for a few weeks, in case my ovaries twisted.
I was very careful, as I was aware that I was “growing” many eggs, and in a way, that there were “future babies” inside of me.
Looking at the ultrasounds and witnessing the growth of the eggs day by day was fascinating – I remember thinking to myself then: “I’m getting an early test trial of what it might mean to be pregnant.”
And I’m not sure happy is the right word, but there was definitely relief that I was getting the egg freezing procedure done.
Towards the end of the two weeks, you could actually see a little bump on my tummy, though it was not too discernible.
I was not able to sleep on my side towards the end of the process as well, so it really did feel like a mini pregnancy.
It was a Wednesday when I went in for the final ultrasound in Singapore, and the doctor told me that I could book my flight for that Friday to Thailand, for the egg freezing procedure on Sunday.
I remember feeling a little nervous then, like ”Oh really, this is it?”
While I had travelled to Bangkok several times for work before, this trip felt special.
Second step – Retrieving and freezing my eggs in Bangkok
The night before I flew to Bangkok, my best friend came over to my place for moral support.
That was really sweet, and whilst I don’t think I ever felt alone during the entire process, having her over made a difference.
At the airport, my main concern was having to bring aboard this syringe on the flight – for the final injection you had to take to prepare your body for the egg freezing procedure.
It was a relief when I passed airport security without any problems, because I didn’t want to experience any last minute hiccups at that point in time.
Arriving in Bangkok, I mainly felt excitement.
I was probably a bit nervous as well, but it was more practical considerations than anything – like did I get to the right place on time, or does the doctor have my correct information on file?
After meeting the Bangkok doctor on Saturday morning, I was given explicit instructions to nua in the hotel room, and maintain a simple diet of water, 100PLUS, and egg whites.
I think I spent an entire day in the hotel room just watching Star Trek, which was amazing because I normally work a lot.
On the day of, what I clearly remember was that they wheeled me into the theatre, and when they started putting on the hospital gown, I was like, “Okay, my god, this is it.”
I only remember asking “Is that anaesthesia” and wondering if they had tailored the dose to my height and weight (disclaimer: they did), before I conked out.
Next thing I knew, I woke up in a bed, and panicked thinking that the procedure hadn’t started. But actually, they told me that I’d been sleeping for half an hour already, and that the procedure was long over.
Coincidentally, another good friend of mine was in Bangkok the same weekend that I froze my eggs. So she offered to pick me up after I’d completed the procedure, and took me out to lunch before sending me back to the hotel, which was really comforting as I was definitely woozy from the GA.
I rested the remainder of that Sunday.
Why I would do the egg freezing procedure again
I still pay about 1,000 USD (S$1,378) a year for the storage of my eggs in the Bangkok facility.
In fact, I’d told myself then that at some point in a few years, I would freeze my eggs again a second time, if I was still single.
This is because I’m doing all this for insurance. And putting all your eggs (literally) in one basket, in one hospital, is not insurance enough.
I didn’t subsequently, as I started seeing someone, and now I’m engaged.
As I’m not yet 40, I think we’ll try naturally at some point first, and if somehow we can’t conceive, I’ll opt to use my eggs.
Looking back, I’m very happy that I froze my eggs then, because of the assurance it now provides.
To me, it’s worth the price, for the potential of having my own biological kids later.
Legalisation of procedure in Singapore is good first step
I’m happy that at least there’s a start to allow social egg freezing for women in Singapore.
The ideal for me is that you allow social egg freezing for women, regardless of age, and to allow women to be able to use their eggs even if they’re not legally married.
I think it’s important that every woman is able to make their own choices, with regards to using their eggs whenever they want.
However, we should still celebrate that there is at least one step towards the ideal.
I’m optimistic in that way, and the fact that social egg freezing will be allowed in Singapore from 2023 is definitely a good step forward.
I also agree that prior to the procedure, there should be time taken to understand both the risks of egg-freezing and the potential risks and stats of using your eggs one day in hopes of conceiving.
“Pre-procedure counselling” is not the right phrase, but you basically need to understand that not all of your retrieved eggs will be mature enough to be frozen, and that not all of your mature, frozen eggs might eventually be enough to form a healthy baby.
For example, one generally requires about 15 mature frozen eggs to result in one healthy baby. I had 12 frozen, so technically I do not even have the correct “statistic” for a healthy baby.
Egg freezing is also a cost prohibitive expenditure.
I’ve been lucky to be able to afford it, but with a general “one-third failure rate”, cost again becomes an issue as it might not be accessible and affordable for some women to try that many times.
In the U.S., big tech companies like Meta and Google offer to pay for women who want to freeze their eggs.
And while I did not “choose career over babies”, I do think that it is a great option that allows women to be able to concentrate on their careers, while still having the possibility of motherhood in the future.
Beyond being just for those who put their career first
I think the most common misconception I’d like to address, is that it’s only career women who want to freeze their eggs.
I think that’s completely not true, and for me, it was really just for insurance, as I do want kids, but I just didn’t have the right partner then.
In fact, I would recommend that both men and women freeze their eggs and sperm. (And the procedure for men is way less cost prohibitive and simpler.)
If it’s affordable and accessible for you, and you’ve always wanted kids, it truly is great insurance for yourself, because it gives you much needed peace of mind.
It’s hard to put a number to the potential value it can afford you, and you can reap.
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Top images via Gwendolyn Regina
Source: Mothership SG