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Good Eggs

At 37, I have about 25,000 eggs left. I am too young to start panicking about one bump in the reproductive road, and too old to relax into the process of getting pregnant.

May 18, 2020

Elizabeth Cauvel

developing female fetus has around 6 million eggs in her ovaries. The raw material for the combined population of Los Angeles and Chicago is crammed inside the cramped studio that is a mother’s womb.

At birth, a baby girl’s egg count will have dropped to a still-robust 1 to 2 million. By the time she starts her period, she’ll be down to about 300,000, and each subsequent month, she’ll lose roughly 11,000 eggs, her fertility in a constant state of decline.

Welcome to womanhood. It’s all downhill from here. And for womxn born without ovaries, their paths to motherhood, if they choose to walk them, will be steep and winding.

The idea that a newborn baby is flush with one million eggs–stored in her tiny ovaries until puberty like strings of Christmas lights balled up in the attic–is perhaps one of nature’s cruelest evolutionary fuck yous. By the time a woman has finished her education, found steady employment, paid off her student loans, reached a semblance of financial stability, found someone she can tolerate long enough to have regular sex with, perhaps gotten married or purchased a home–let’s call it age 30–she is down to one-tenth of the eggs she was born with.

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Last summer, I went to a backyard barbecue in Brooklyn where my husband and I were the only couple in attendance who didn’t already have or weren’t currently expecting a child. I witnessed a woman chug a glass of rosé while breastfeeding her toddler at the table just to get him to shut up long enough for her to eat a hotdog.

Like her two-year-old, the barbecue sucked. I called an Uber and fled to a friend’s (25th!) birthday party at a bar where I was the only attendee in my thirties–a wrinkled medicine woman emerging from her hut to gain strength from the tribe’s youth. A bunch of 24-year-olds—reverent at this visitation from An Actual Adult—were dancing on the tables, blackout drunk at 4 p.m. I stood at the bar, miserably sober and utterly ignored, as the bartenders poured shots and pitchers for girls 15 years younger than me and much, much hotter than I’d ever been.

Women are too young for everything until we are suddenly and inexplicably too old for everything, except for about ten years in between where we’re both too young and too old for everything. I didn’t think of that; I saw it in a tweet written by someone younger and more successful than me.

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At 29, if you live in New York or LA, you’re too young to start having kids, and in the rest of America, you’re too old to find a husband. At 34, you’re too young to be single, but too old to use Tinder. At 37, you’re too young for the really big promotion, but you’re too old to go out for drinks with the cool people you work with—because they work for you.

When you’re 41, you’re too old to have a second baby, but too young to buy a second home; too old to show up makeup-free to the office, but too young to get a facelift; too old to date men in their twenties, but too young to be a rich divorceé.

Welcome to womanhood, where it’s all uphill until you’re over the hill at which point it’s immediately, very rapidly, downhill.

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I told my colleague that I was trying to get pregnant, and she sent me a booklet her acupuncturist gave her—a guide to the ideal “fertility diet,” based on ancient Chinese medicine. I read it on the subway; according to the PDF, women trying to conceive should avoid foods that make the uterus “cold,” and should instead choose warming foods like stews, soups, and spices like cumin and cinnamon.

Getting enough protein is paramount; eggs are very good for those trying to conceive. Yoga, for me, is a temporary reprieve from the high-strung nag who berates me all day: did you take your prenatal vitamins today? Don’t have a second cup of tea, that’s too much caffeine! No wine during the week don’t drink smoothies because they make your uterus cold. This is all your fault because you wanted a career first if you’d started trying right after your wedding you’d have a kindergartner right now you’re so stupid you’re so stupid you’re so stupid you’re so stupid you dumb bitch you’re so stupid.

Vinyasa doesn’t entirely shut her up, but when I’m moving mindfully in time with my breathing, she’s much quieter. Yoga might be the only reason I am able to get out of bed one month after my first pregnancy was cut short by my first miscarriage.

I found out I was pregnant just after the new year, and went from shocked to elated to paralyzed with anxiety back to elated within the span of a few hours. No one told me that I’d be so happy to find out I was pregnant; it was the very thing I’d spent more than two decades trying to avoid, and I thought I’d feel something like mourning for the parts of my life that wouldn’t ever be the same.

But when those two parallel pink lines came swimming into focus, something in my brain rescrambled. I felt like I was floating. I felt powerful. I am going to have a child. I am going to be a mother. I would walk by strangers on the street pushing strollers and feel a thread of connection to these women that I’d never met. I’m one of you now, I’d think. We’re the ones doing the most important work.

I felt a clarity of purpose, like sharpening a pencil.

I think I let it get away from me a little. Within a week, my husband and I were lying in bed, talking about who this child would be. He would concoct the most absurd names for the baby, just to watch me laugh. I spent hours Googling statistics about the likelihood of miscarriage in your mid-30s; I spent hours Googling everything. I was afraid, but I also have felt deeply my entire life that I’m lucky.

At 37, I’d conceived within a perfectly normal timeframe. It’ll be fine, I told myself. The day after I got the positive pregnancy test, my friend texted to say that she’d had a dream I was pregnant with a boy. See? I thought. You’ll be one of the lucky ones.

A month later, my husband and I took the subway to our 8-week ultrasound appointment. We took a selfie together on the train so we could one day show our child what we looked like on the day we first heard their heartbeat.

I knew the moment I watched my doctor’s face as she looked at the ultrasound screen that something was off. I looked, too: a white smudge inside a black orb, the same size it had been two weeks ago.

“I’m afraid I can’t give you good news today,” my doctor said, tenderly. No heartbeat. Nothing to see here, folks.

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The pregnancy, in the parlance of reproductive medicine, wasn’t viable. Like a defective Polaroid, it just didn’t develop. You shake and you shake and you blow on it a little but it just won’t show up.

I have been told that I’m “lucky” that it happened so early. It doesn’t feel a bit like luck. A month after the procedure that vacuumed–yes, literally sucked–the embryonic tissue from my womb (if you’ve ever had an abortion early in a pregnancy, you’ve undergone this very procedure), I take an Uber to my regular Thursday morning yoga class.

We hit a snarl of traffic and I am too late; the door is locked. I am embarrassed to feel tears welling up as I feel the buzz of the Uber charge come through: $9.46.

My driver’s name was Karma. Would you like to leave a tip? I think, This is happening to me because I deserve it. There is no other explanation. I think about all the times I talked shit about friends, or wasn’t there for my brother, or was horrible to my mom. All the times I was casually cruel to my husband or pretended I couldn’t see a homeless man begging for money. These things added up and karma cashed in.

Would you like to leave a tip?

At 37, I have about 25,000 eggs left. I am too young to start panicking about one bump in the reproductive road, and too old to relax into the process of getting pregnant. Too young to be googling the cost of IVF in the middle of the night, and too old to believe it will happen naturally.

Too young to feel this tired, and too old to hate myself this much.

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I have always loved eggs, and I have a lot of opinions about them. I won’t order omelettes at restaurants because they are chronically overcooked. I don’t trust diners to deliver perfectly-executed over-medium eggs, with set whites and runny yolks. And don’t get me started on those rubbery hotel “eggs” you find languishing in steam trays like limp towels in a sauna.

But the egg dish about which I am the most insufferable is scrambled eggs. Most people have never had–much less cooked–proper scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are, like most other American egg preparations, woefully overcooked and offensively under-seasoned. If you are diluting your precious scramble with milk, or–God forbid–water, if you are cooking your eggs in nonstick cooking spray instead of a generous knob of butter, or if you are adding globs of pre-shredded cheese to your scramble, you’re doing it wrong.

The recipe is the dish: scrambled eggs.

I make scrambled eggs every morning now. I preheat the pan as I chew my prenatal gummy vitamins and decide–just as I do every morning–that I am not going to cry today. I melt butter in my trusty egg pan, letting the foam subside as I whisk two good eggs (organic, cage-free, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free–a cool $6.99 a dozen) in a bowl.

I pour them into the hot butter and let them sit undisturbed for 10 seconds. Then I swirl them around the pan with a rubber spatula for ten more seconds, until they’re just set, but still glossy. I tip them onto a plate and shower them with flaky sea salt. I usually eat a half of an avocado, also generously salted, alongside, but not always.

When the eggs are good, you don’t need much else.

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