After turning 32, the age her mother was when she was born, Sara remembers the idea of preserving her fertility went from a “back of the mind,” occasional thought, to a more urgent calling.  She was not in a serious relationship, was about to embark on a yearlong travel adventure, and was convinced she would be unlikely to find a life partner in the near future. Still, the cost and medical process seemed daunting and she was unsure whether she should rush to fit it in before leaving town. And besides, was it really necessary?  She assumed she had a few years before confronting the “reproductive cliff.”

Women are taking charge of their reproductive choices like never before, using technology to improve their future child bearing odds to more than just a game of chance.  Tales of egg freezing abound and celebrities, the news media and hip technology companies are all weighing in on the option to take reproductive decisions from the hands of mother nature, doctors and insurance companies, and into the hearts, minds and bodies of women themselves. And it’s not just women!  Men are no longer afterthoughts in the fertility-planning process and are showing up as equal partners or leaders in decision-making and childrearing. Single and gay men are pursuing fatherhood through adoption, surrogacy and co-parenting arrangements and are increasingly able to express openly their desire for a family without being looked at with suspicion.

What is not revealed as often is the emotional reckoning that can take place on the way to exploring one’s reproductive health or spearheading a fertility plan. It can be a productive time of hope and optimism, but it can also awaken fears and anxieties, cause conflicts between partners or trigger issues from the past. And even when the choices are drama-free emotionally, there can still be a bewildering number of factors to consider, between time, finances, career and family obligations, and finding a dream team of medical professionals.  To complicate matters, when it comes to reproduction, family and friends are more apt to give a wholly uninformed opinion on the best course of action rather than simply act as a neutral sounding board. 

In Sara’s case, it was speaking to a counselor who helped her explore the various competing voices in her head that provided the clarity she needed to make a pro-egg freezing decision. With help from the therapist, she was able to project ahead and picture the relief of traveling and working without the nagging concern that she might miss out on future parenting. And although she came to look at the egg stimulation cycle as “just a physically annoying task,” she still appreciated the support of her therapist as she confronted the hormones, monitoring and retrieval while nursing a cold. Knowing that frozen eggs do not guarantee a baby, Sara says she appreciates the potential it will offer one day.

It is never a bad idea to bring awareness to our internal lives, an effort that should be routine, but rarely is in our fast paced culture that values ideas and achievements over feelings.  In an article for Time Magazine from 2018, Hilary Jacobs Hendel, author of It’s Not Always Depression, points out that “What we learn in our society is not how to work with our emotions, but how to block and avoid them.”  She goes on to remind us, “Thwarting emotions is not good for mental or physical health.  It’s like pressing on the gas and brakes of your car at the same time, creating an internal pressure cooker.”  But there’s no reason to wait until desperation strikes to seek professional guidance.

When women tune into their reproductive health and family planning, the emotional stakes can run high.  We are contending with everything from the typical hormonal fluctuations that are central to our biology, to deeply held beliefs and dreams that form our identities. And although social media, websites and friendships can provide valuable information, there is no substitute for the guidance, wisdom and human connection that comes from the interaction with a trained professional. Reflecting on the egg freezing process a year later, Sara suspects she would have made the same decision without therapeutic input, but “I probably would have had a lot more anxiety and lingering doubts. I’m glad I talked about it because now I feel free to not think about it.”

Judith Kottick
Judith Kottick
Judith Kottick is a licensed therapist. She draws on her postgraduate training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, HeartMath biofeedback training, Complicated Grief and in behavioral medicine from the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School to provide a personalized approach to helping people cope with life's challenges. Although she has a specialty in grief, loss and infertility, she sees individuals, couples and young adults with a wide range of issues, from depression and loss to parenting difficulties, anger management and relationship stress. She guides patients through stress reduction, job and career transition, postpartum depression and other life changes.