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A Writer on Her Decision to Freeze Her Eggs

Winnie M. Li, a Taiwanese American writer and producer based in London and the author of Dark Chapter, an Edgar award-nominated novel, was raped when she was twenty-nine. Now thirty-seven, Li writes with great beauty and grace about going to the ob-gyn in the aftermath and for checkups years later—and how, for her, this is wrapped up in a decision to freeze her eggs.

SPECULUM

Her name is Valerie, and I always request her when I go to my doctor’s office. She has deep brown skin and a soft-spoken but efficient manner. Of all the doctors and nurses I have encountered in my life, she is also the handiest with a speculum.

There is a remarkable efficiency to the way she works. The warmth with which she reminds me to remove the “bottom bits” of my clothing, put my feet in the stirrups, spread my knees—even though she has been administering these tests on me for years, and to her, I am just another patient. She is in and out of there quickly, the dial of the speculum, the discomfort of that hard probe lodged momentarily in the softest part of my body. In less than thirty seconds, she has gotten her sample and is out: “There we go, that’s all done now.” She smiles, and I am relieved.

“Of all the doctors and nurses I have encountered in my life, she is also the handiest with a speculum.”

And I am grateful that with her skill, a test that used to be traumatic for me, which I used to dread for days with a helpless nausea, is now just a few seconds of discomfort. No tears shed, no ball of anxiety building at the bottom of my stomach. I tell her thank you.

What I don’t tell her is that in the past twenty-one months, there have been only three things inside that part of me. Two have been her two speculums, one for my cervical smear last year and one for this test. But no tampons (because I can’t bring myself to use tampons). And no sex toys (because I feel too stupid and unsure of myself to use them). And no man (because I am waiting to meet the right person).

I don’t tell her that even though I am waiting for the right person, I don’t know if I’ll ever meet him. Or at thirty-seven, I doubt I’ll ever meet him in time to have my own children.

I don’t tell her that the only other thing to have been inside me recently was the ultrasound device at the fertility clinic. Because they needed to administer another kind of test to measure the likelihood of my body producing enough eggs at the right time, should I decide to freeze my eggs. And I don’t tell her I have decided to do this at the end of next month, and I’ve already spent a few hundred pounds on egg freezing and will be spending another £4,000 to try to preserve my biological chances of having my own children. And that this procedure will involve pumping my body full of hormones to trick it into producing more eggs, and injecting myself every day, and going in for vaginal scans every other day—more medical instruments inserted regularly into that part of me to collect samples, data, statistical likelihoods. But nothing administering love.

“And I don’t tell her I have decided to do this at the end of next month, and I’ve already spent a few hundred pounds on egg freezing and will be spending another £4,000 to try to preserve my biological chances of having my own children.”

And I don’t tell her the results of that first test were not encouraging, that my fertility levels are really low, and the doctors are not optimistic about the chances of my body producing many eggs for the collection process. But I will still probably go ahead and spend the £4,000 anyway, because I am that desperate to tell myself that my chances of having my own children are not entirely lost. Despite not having met the right person by the age of thirty-seven.

And I don’t tell her that the swab she is taking now is in preparation for the egg-freezing process. And that I am being tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea, but the chances of my having those diseases are minimal, since I haven’t been with anyone in almost two years.

I don’t tell her any of that.

And I don’t tell her that the men who have been inside that part of me were usually too overeager, thrusting and groaning to get what they wanted, rarely taking it slow the way I like. And when they did spend time to explore down there and really connect with that place inside of me, they tried and tried, and maybe they lost patience when they still couldn’t get me to come. And eventually I told them they didn’t have to get too worked up about it—they could stop trying. Because I’ve never come yet in my lifetime. Even though I still hope that maybe, one day, I will.

And I don’t tell her that being on this examining table, with her speculum inside me, reminds me of all those tests I had to undergo eight years ago, in the aftermath of my rape. When someone inserted himself, unwanted, inside of me, and the forensic doctor had to carefully collect samples from this part of me. That speculum had been forced inside of me mere hours after he had been there, to scrape up what he’d left behind, if he’d left anything. And two days later another speculum had been inside me, to test for diseases (of which I had none, thankfully). And a few weeks later, another speculum, to test for those same diseases again. And I don’t tell her that the person who had inserted himself inside of me, unwanted, was a fifteen-year-old boy who followed me in a park. And that for years after that, seeing teenage boys with pale blue eyes would cause my stomach to twist uncomfortably. And so did parks, with trees and patches of grass, and even though I loved the outdoors, I could hardly bring myself to walk into a park on my own.

And I don’t tell her that in time, I was able to overcome those fears.

But now, time is not on my side. Because I am thirty-seven, and as people like to remind me, I am running out of time. If I’d like to have kids.

I don’t tell her that twenty years ago, when I went to have my first cervical smear, I cried so much that the doctors wouldn’t administer the test. Because they thought, due to my emotional reaction, I’d been sexually abused as a child, and they referred me to a psychologist. But I hadn’t been sexually abused; I was just sensitive. And scared of the speculum.

“Because I’ve never come yet in my lifetime. Even though I still hope that maybe, one day, I will.”

So I don’t tell Valerie how much this means to me, that I am no longer scared of the speculum when I know she is holding it. I just slowly pull my clothes back on, while she labels the samples at her desk, on the other side of the curtain.

“You have really good technique,” I tell her. It strikes me how funny that sounds, as if I were complimenting a lover I’d just been in bed with. But I’ve never said that to a guy, because I’ve rarely met one with really good technique. I am saying it to Valerie, the nurse.

She is humble about it, and brushes it off. I must sound so brazen and typically American, offering praise like this. But her gentleness makes all the difference. And all of this sits on the tip of my tongue, unspoken, as I watch her walk out of the office.

Winnie M. Li is a writer, producer, and activist. She’s also the author of the novel Dark Chapter, which was nominated for an Edgar award and winner of the Guardian‘s Not the Booker prize. Li graduated from Harvard and later earned an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a Ph.D. researcher at the London School of Economics, studying the impact of social media on the public discourse about rape and sexual assault. And she’s the founder of the Clear Lines Festival, dedicated to addressing sexual assault and consent through the arts and discussion.

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