Sterile and cold. The retrieval room is both. It’s a compact space filled with medical equipment: a gynecological bed, an ultrasound machine, various monitors, and a metal IV stand.
As uninviting as the gyn bed looks, I fidget in my hospital gurney waiting for the nurse’s permission to switch accommodations. I’m perfectly able to walk, but it’s the clinic’s policy to have me ferried between rooms this way.
Gosh, I hope this will be over soon. I’ve been second-guessing my decision to be here since the hormone shots began two weeks ago, and can’t wait to be done. They said the procedure would take no more than twenty minutes, but I feel like I’ve been stuck in this room for hours, and we haven’t even started yet.
The nurse must realize I’m fretting because she asks, “Are we waiting for someone to join you today?”
By someone, she means a partner. And the question is well-intentioned, I’m sure. Unfortunately, she’s twisting the knife into the wound of my singlehood.
“No,” I say. “I’m alone.”
The automatic doors behind me swoosh open, sparing me the need to elaborate further on my lack of a love life, and two female doctors walk in. One is wearing white scrubs while the other is clad in salmon.
The salmon doctor speaks first. “Good morning. I’m Doctor Philips, and I’ll be the one retrieving your eggs today. And this”—she points at her colleague—“is Doctor Mathison, your anesthesiologist.”
The nurse hands the doctor my medical file.
Dr. Philips does a quick check of my record, and asks, “How are you, Miss Knowles?”
“A bit nervous,” I say.
The doctor smiles. “No reason to be, Summer. Can I call you Summer?”
“The procedure is quick, and you won’t feel a thing.” She gestures at the gyn bed. “Ready to jump?”
I nod again and, with the nurse’s help, move onto the bed. The hospital gown I’m wearing flaps open as I stand up, but today’s not the time for modesty. I adjust in a half-reclining position with my back leaning backward at about forty-five degrees while Dr. Philips instructs me to please place my legs in the stirrups. And so here I am, half-naked, legs wide open, and completely exposed.
“Has the procedure already been explained to you?” Dr. Philips asks.
“Yes,” I confirm. “But could we go over it another time, please?”
“Sure.” The doctor smiles again. “First, I’ll perform local anesthesia while Dr. Mathison will use an IV catheter to administer an intravenous sedative. Then, I’ll use an ultrasound probe attached to a thin needle that we’ll use to make a tiny puncture through your vaginal wall and enter the ovary, where we’ll suck out the fluid that encloses the eggs through the needle. And we’ll be done in no time. Ready?”
For a needle to puncture my vagina? I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
The doctor smiles another time and pulls on a surgical mask.
“Try to relax now,” she says. “I’ll start with the local anesthesia by administering four small injections. You’ll feel four little pinches similar to what you’d experience at the dentist.”
Ah, I disagree in my head, but the dentist operates on my gums. You, doctor, are jostling around much more sensitive parts.
The first pinch comes, and, okay, it’s not bad. Honestly, the dentist analogy is strikingly correct. Anyway, I’m distracted from the second needle’s prick by Dr. Mathison talking to my right.
She gently grabs my right arm where an IV line has already been inserted and hooks it to a drip, saying, “This is the pain medication. You might feel lightheaded, don’t worry, it’s normal.”
I can only think, Hell yeah, please get me high before the big needle comes. Long live the drugs!
As promised, in a matter of seconds, my eyes cross and I feel insta-happy, not a worry to my name. I barely hear Dr. Philips say she’s going in and, before I know it, I’m back on the gurney ready to be transported to my room.
Once there, the nurse helps me transfer to the hospital bed and instructs me to rest. She needn’t have done so. With the sedative still running high in my bloodstream, the moment my head touches the pillow, I pass out.
Best. Nap. Ever.
I haven’t slept so well in months and wake up only when the nurse comes back to get me out of bed. She asks me if I’m okay, and when I nod, she invites me to get dressed and wait for Dr. Philips, who will arrive shortly with my results.
I use the adjoining bathroom to get changed and, when I come out, Dr. Philips is already waiting for me. Her usual friendly smile stamped on her lips.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Good,” I say, sitting on the bed—my legs are still a little like Jell-O. “The needle sounded scary at first, but I honestly didn’t feel a thing.”
“Happy to hear.” The doctor nods, satisfied, and taps the medical folder in her hands. “I have your results here,” she says. “The procedure was a success. We were able to retrieve seventeen eggs, of which fifteen were viable and have been frozen.”
“Fifteen eggs? Is that good?”
“Fantastic. You’re under thirty-five, and with this many eggs, you stand a seventy percent chance of a live birth.”
“Okay.” I nod. Even if the pessimist in me can’t help but concentrate on that thirty percent chance I’ll never have a baby.
The doctor must be used to her patients not being a cheery bunch, because she doesn’t comment on my scarce enthusiasm but continues to give me my prognosis. “Now, the side effect of having produced a great number of eggs is that you’re at risk of OHSS: Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome.”
That doesn’t sound good.
“Luckily,” the doctor continues, “the condition incurs only if you were to get pregnant, which”—she checks my file—“I see is not the case with you. We’re not proceeding with fertilization, right?”
And I know she’s only doing her job, just like the nurse earlier, but, once more, it feels as if the doctor is purposely pointing out how single and desperate I am.
“No,” I say. “No sperm donors on the horizon for now.”
“That’s fine. Frozen eggs, if properly conserved, remain viable indefinitely. And our facility is top-notch. We also offer a wide selection of donors in case you decided to proceed with fertilization later in time.”
Again, she’s just giving me my options. But I can’t help feeling like a total failure, a woman whose sole chance to have a baby will be to pick a dad from a catalog because she couldn’t find a man in real life.
The doctor finishes her report by giving me a list of medications I have to take for the next two weeks and mandating that I use protection were I to have sex.
Aha. Fat chance!
I’ve been in a dry spell for months and before that, the last man I had sex with ruined my life. Well, not just him; I had a big part in my own self-destruction. But still, I’ve sworn off men. Hence the need to freeze my eggs if I ever hope to have a family.
On that cheerful note, I thank the doctor one last time and leave the clinic. A few minutes later, on the street, I hail a cab to JFK.
At the airport, I clear the security checks super early. Unsure how long the procedure would take, I’ve kept a nice cushion and booked the red-eye flight back to LA.
With a couple of hours to kill, I could stroll the shops, but I’m not in the mood for shopping. Plus, with the anesthesia fresh in my system, I’m still a little groggy. I don’t even have the energy to go look for a proper restaurant and settle for the first bar I find in my path.
I sit at one of the high stools at the deserted counter.
“Hey, you’re back,” the bartender—a friendly-looking guy with sandy hair and blue eyes—greets me as if we were old friends. He does a double-take and adds, “Not from the jungle this time, uh?”
What the hell is he talking about?
I stare, unsure how I should reply.
But the bartender just keeps going. “And how’s the doctor?”
The doctor? How could he know I’m coming from the clinic? Do I have “sad lady who froze her eggs because she can’t find a man” written all over my face?
“Did he find you?” the bartender asks.
I blink, confused.
“Winter?” the guy asks, calling me by my sister’s name. “Are you okay?”
And the mystery is solved: he thinks I’m my twin.
“Sorry,” I say, smiling. “Wrong sister. I’m Summer. We haven’t met.”
The dude’s eyes widen. “Oh my gosh, you look exactly the same.”
“I know, identical twins and all… So, you’ve met Winter? When?”
“A few months ago. She was coming back from Thailand all upset about a professor not loving her. She told me her story over breakfast, and after she left, what do you know, the dude showed up and chased her halfway down the airport—guess he was in love. But I never heard how it ended.”
“Well.” I sigh, contrasting emotions swirling in my head—mushy joy, a bit of jealousy, and a boatload of terror. “They’re getting married in three weeks…”
I hope I’ve kept the dread from my voice. I swear I couldn’t be happier for my sister. But her wedding is going to span over a week in order to accommodate most of the groom’s guests, who will fly in from all over the world. For Logan’s friends, it wouldn’t have made sense to travel to the States only for a weekend.
And, normally, a week-long destination wedding in Napa would sound like a dream. I’d be looking forward to a break made of nothing but relaxation, wine tasting, and family time. While the celebration of love would be the cherry on top of my romance-loving cake.
But this wedding, I won’t enjoy. All my ex-friends are invited. People that will stare, judge, and talk behind my back. The thought makes me want to crawl in a dark corner and never come out.
But I can’t. For my sister, I’ll put on a brave face, a fake smile, and trudge Monday through Sunday like a real soldier. Because Winter doesn’t deserve to have my poor choices ruin the most important day of her life.
“Whoa.” The bartender’s smile is wide and genuine as he reacts to the wedding announcement; he hasn’t picked up on my internal turmoil. Guess the past few months have taught me how to pretend well. “Engaged and getting married in less than a year. That was quick,” he says.
“Yeah, Logan is still working in Thailand most of the time, and a late-spring wedding was the only opening in both their schedules.”
“I’m Mark, by the way.” The bartender extends an arm forward. “Nice to meet you.”
“Summer,” I repeat, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“And sorry,” Mark apologizes. “I’ve been monopolizing the conversation. What can I get you?”
I stare at the juicer machine behind him. “You make fresh orange juice?”
“An OJ, then, and a sandwich if you have any.”
“We do,” Mark says. “Is cheese and ham fine?”
He prepares the food and puts the sandwich on the grill to heat. With the push of a few buttons, he sets the timer and moves on to the OJ, selecting two oranges from a metal basket above the machine and feeding them into the juicer.
Two minutes later, he puts a coaster on the counter and serves me my juice. “So,” he says. “What brought you to The Big Apple? Business or pleasure?”
I wince involuntarily. “Neither.”
Mark must notice my expression, because he says, “Sorry, I’m being nosy. It’s a bad habit of mine. Guess it comes with the territory.” He gestures at the bar surrounding us while he gets my sandwich out of the grill.
“No, don’t worry.” I take a sip of OJ. “It’s just that I came to New York for a medical procedure. Something personal.”
Mark frowns. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.” The frown deepens. “Are you okay?”
Gosh, I’m such a moron. I mentally swat myself on the forehead. Now he’s going to think I have cancer or something.
“Yes,” I say, taking a bite out of the sandwich. “Totally okay.” I swallow. “It was a voluntary procedure.”
Mark studies my face, probably trying to decide if I had plastic surgery, but obviously bites his tongue and doesn’t ask.
I blush and blurt out, “I had my eggs frozen, all right?”
Mark’s eyes widen. “Oh, what clinic?”
Uh? Not the response I expected. “Why do you want to know? Are you an expert on fertility clinics?”
Mark smirks. “Sort of. My sister is a nurse at FIVET HC.”
“That’s my clinic! I chose it because it was the most recommended on my insurance plan.”
“And I can certify it’s one of the best clinics in the country.”
“What’s your sister’s name?”
“Gwen, Gwen Cooper. Did you meet her?”
The name doesn’t ring a bell. “No, sorry, she wasn’t my nurse.” I twirl a lock of hair around my finger. “You think it’s pathetic?” I ask. “Freezing my eggs?”
“No, it’s smart. If you want a family but are…” He falters in his speech, most likely struggling to find a nicer way to say a spinster. “Not at a moment in your life when that’s… err… possible. Cryopreservation is a wise move to protect your fertility and chances to have a baby for when you’ll be ready.” He flashes me a goofy smile. “You can tell I’m a victim of my sister’s propaganda, uh?”
Despite myself, I smile. I’ve told this guy, this total stranger, my innermost secret, and he’s managed to put me at ease. Not just with him, but with my life’s choices as well.
“You’re right,” I say. “And I’m not at a time in my life where a relationship is something I want to pursue.”
“Busy with your career?”
“Yes, but it’s not that.” I chew off another bite before telling him the next part. “I’ve sort of sworn off men. I’m not ready to meet someone.”
“Oh, honey, but that’s the worst thing you can say if you don’t want a man.”
“Because the moment you stop looking, that’s when Prince Charming will come knocking on your door.”