Someone once told me that the two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you figure out your purpose. What no one ever told me, however, is that I would discover that passion out of my infertility misfortunes or that I would find a platform that would help me navigate through my worries and fears. Of course, no one told me I would discover so much joy in helping others to do the same, either.

Although I officially launched Nest Egg Fertility in 2014, the inspiration and passion behind my endeavor started nearly a decade before with my personal infertility experience. Having “been there” as a patient, I started the company to create the experience I wish I had.

My story is more common than it is unusual, but mine began unfolding when no one wanted to talk about it. As a woman in my mid-thirties, with a thriving career in the biotechnology field, I found myself in a place that so many women often do with my biological clock ticking louder and louder and no snooze button in sight. The idea of a family had always been something I strongly valued, and the idea of not having a family was never even a passing thought for me. However, after a seven-year failed relationship and broken promises of happily-ever-afters, I was nowhere near finding my life partner or the father of my future children. That isn’t an easy pill to swallow for anyone who places a high value on family life, and it certainly wasn’t easy for me. So, after many tears and tissues, I set out to do the only thing I knew how to do: pick myself back up and find a solution that did not include online dating and matchmakers.

At a time when cryopreservation was reserved only for women with medical conditions such as cancer and the frozen egg survival rate hovered around 33%, I decided to consider the idea of freezing my eggs. In the end, I went for it! What did I have to lose? It gave me hope. I could take advantage of the available technology at the time, and although the statistics were not fantastic, some hope was better than none. I had the idea that I could go in and freeze a dozen eggs and take some pressure off while I was still navigating through the murky dating waters in Los Angeles. Little did I know that my approach was very naïve, and my process was only beginning.

I did my homework and ensured I went to a clinic with only the best outcomes. My first appointment was with a Los Angeles-based clinic that boasted some of the best IVF statistics in the country. I had a consultation with a leading physician, and he explained the women’s fertility timeline to me and the grim statistics that go with it for women seeking pregnancy over age 35. I had the typical human reaction that I would never fall into an unfavorable statistic. After all, I looked much younger than my chronological age, ate healthily, and cared for myself. I confidently chatted with the nurse as she took my blood and said she would call me with the results soon.

“Your FSH is out of the normal range,” said the cold-hearted voice over the phone. It was the nurse delivering the not-so-good news. I asked her what, exactly, that meant? She bluntly stated I was infertile and would not be able to have a biological child. She further informed me that I could still carry a child because my uterine lining was perfect, but I would need an egg donor to make a pregnancy. Stunned and without immediate words, the only thing I could offer was that I thought she had the wrong patient. I told her I was only 36 and went in to freeze my eggs. Surely, there was a mistake. She quickly replied that freezing my eggs was not an option, and we hung up. As I sat on my couch, trying to wrap my head around what I had just heard, I cried the most guttural cry I think I have ever cried. Then I cried some more. It felt like a death, and I was mourning the loss of having my own biological child. I grieved for one precious year before finally finding the courage to seek another opinion.

Now less confident, I carefully treaded the emotional waters of infertility. The second doctor shared the same grim statistics with me, but he offered some hope this time. He explained that the FSH blood test I had previously taken was only one diagnostic test and was less reliable because it was a variable rate. “What did he just say?” I thought to myself. No one had ever told me that was a variable rate! That cold-hearted nurse was definitive in letting me know all hope had vanished. The new doctor continued and asked me if I had been under much stress at the time of the previous test. The answer was yes. It was a BIG fat, yes! I had been in a very high-pressure position in my career and took the test during one of the most stressful phases of my professional life. He told me that stress is a fertility killer and could have easily affected my results. He was also quick to say that time was definitely of the essence but that he could do other diagnostic tests to see if there was still hope. A glimmer of light shone down on me that day, and I also learned some precious lessons: Not every clinic is created equal and second opinions are a must!

My new diagnostic blood tests were in the normal range, including my FSH, but I also had a declining follicle count, which naturally occurs with age. I asked if that meant I could still freeze my eggs and the short answer was yes. I learned that cryopreservation was still considered an experimental option, and the survival rate of a frozen egg was low. Combined with my advanced biological age (I was 37), I would need to go through multiple cycles to give myself the best opportunity for a future family. The physical, emotional, and financial considerations seemed insurmountable, but I was finally in a place of hope, so I embraced every step of the process!

As eager and hopeful as I was to get started, navigating through the cryopreservation process at this time, my path was hardly an illuminated one. There was nothing on the Internet to support the basic process, let alone help someone navigate the emotional aspect of things. Most women weren’t discussing it, and I knew many who shunned my decision. I was often told that I should “leave it to God or the universe” and that if it was meant to be, it would just somehow magically happen. They felt I was participating in some voodoo science and messing with the natural cycle of life. The idea that other women, including close friends of mine, could place that level of judgment on me was both surprising and disappointing. They had no idea how many tears I had shed and the heartbreak I felt over the possibility of not being able to create my own biological family. As much as that disappointed me, I finally had hope, and I was not about to give that hope away to anyone, even those with the best intentions.

So I began the dizzying process and tried to decipher exactly how much I would be responsible financially. The way most clinics positioned the pricing was very confusing. The clinic had its price, but no one ever told me I would also be billed for anesthesia, surgical center fees, costly medications, and storage fees. It was an overwhelming process to begin with, but coupled with unclear financial obligations, it made it difficult to know if I would be paying $10,000 or $20,000 per cycle. Unfortunately, it was the latter for me.

The more cycles I completed, the more I learned the information available to women was scattered and still evolving. The science was so new and constantly changing that midway through my second cycle, I learned about a more recent and highly successful freeze method called vitrification. I took advantage of this fast freeze method for my third cycle, which means that half of my frozen eggs now have a nearly 90% survival rate as opposed to the first half, which has a 33% survival rate. I also took advantage of a newer protocol for “poor responders” and women of advanced age. As I continued to navigate my way and share my struggles and triumphs in my social circles, I suddenly found that I was now a resource not only for myself but for friends of mine. Many were slowly coming out of the infertility closet to share their stories, so it was great to help them navigate their way.

The truth is, no one ever imagines they will spend thousands of dollars for a “maybe baby.” No one ever thinks that their long-term relationship will end in their lives’ prime and most fertile years. No one thinks that they will give themselves massive amounts of hormones through daily shots that will make them bloat and gain weight. There is something about putting your dreams of becoming a mother into the hands of science that makes motherhood feel more like a science project than the usual romantic and natural way you had previously envisioned. Most alarmingly, it is a reality check, but I would do it all over again because of the chance and hope it has given me.

In the end, I went through four cryopreservation cycles and spent about $60,000 to preserve what fertility I had left. There were more heartbreaks and setbacks along the way. Still, I am grateful for all the lessons I have learned and that I have safely tucked away enough eggs to give myself a good chance at having my own biological family.

Now, as an agency owner, I have the opportunity to meet amazing women and couples who have their own unique stories of disappointments and hope. Each of their stories fuels me to advocate for changes that provide better affordability, accessibility to care, and a level of transparency and compassion, which helps facilitate a more supported process. Throughout my experience, it became my desire to combine my passion for science with my love of family and compassion for people. Nest Egg Fertility is the result of that dream.

My personal family story is still unfolding, and my eggs are still on ice. I do have plans shortly to complete the process I started years ago. I understand that there are no guarantees, and I am at peace with that, too. I know in my heart that I have done everything in my power to give myself the best opportunity for a biological family, which is a gift. The rest is not up to me. And so I am left with the resolve of a precious lesson: There is peace in acceptance and understanding that there are multiple paths to parenthood. A biological child is only one of those paths. Ultimately, love is what makes a family. Love. Love wins. Always. 

Shalene, XO