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Testing My Fertility at the End of My World

The pandemic robbed Millennial women of peak years of fertility. The least we deserve is a space to process the grief—and reimagine what can come next. RISE25 honoree Rachel Hislop explores what that might look like.

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*In 2022, Rachel Hislop investigated how grind culture failed women in what became Pocket’s most-saved collection of the year. With this collection, Rachel—one of Mozilla’s RISE25 honorees—kicks off a six-part series exploring what it sounds like to say the quiet part out loud. Her first-person essays delve into the nuanced experience of women’s lives in the 2020s—naming, demystifying, and navigating the often tabooed situations silenced by the noise of mainstream. *

Sitting mannequin still, I watch the deep red blood travel through the needle in my left arm, up through the plastic tube, and into the vacutainer. The nurse fills the red-capped tubes, one by one, before dropping them onto the medical tray where they land with a slight rattle. As she slides the needle out and swiftly puts the too pale bandaid on my arm, I do what I always do when I am slightly rattled–I tell a joke.

I’ve put this appointment off for a straightforward reason: I thought I had time. Who doesn’t? We always think we have more of this finite resource. But after being robbed of years by the pandemic, an all-consuming career, and dead-end relationships, time has become more of a novelty. The realization struck me last May, on the Mother’s Day just after my 34th birthday. Physically, I was on vacation—sitting in bed at a beachfront hotel, wrapped in a robe and staring at the ceiling fan. But behind my gaze, I was spiraling about the concept of motherhood. How did this time come so fast? I wasn’t ready to think about wanting kids. I thought more frequently about external factors: our warming earth, rising sea levels, simultaneous global pandemics, war, racial inequality, stripped reproductive rights, and the general feelings of unease about the state of the world. How could I be ready to commit another life to this?

I brought these fears to my therapy appointment the following day. “Put it on the shelf,” my therapist said, “and plan to revisit this with some action in six months. Mark it in your calendar and give yourself time to live without worrying.” And so I did, setting an alert in iCal for November. I dismissed the reminder when it rang six months later.

Fast forward to Valentine’s Day. My almond-shaped nails are bright red. I bought myself tightly budded red roses from the bodega; I love to watch them bloom throughout the week. But now I’m watching the blood pool in tubes, hints of my future lurking within. This appointment has been scheduled and rescheduled for months since that alert went off. But here I finally am, at the OBGYN, sitting on a paper-covered examination chair during an unseasonably warm winter as part of what I told myself would be a day of self-love; I am getting my egg reserve tested.

I left the appointment feeling at ease with whatever the results would be. After a train ride home, I settled the roses into their new home in a vase on my coffee table and answered a FaceTime from my friend; she was oddly formal. As I told her about my appointment, she told me the man I recently spent four years in a relationship with was expecting twins—my second ex to follow our relationship with not one but two babies. I laughed at the irony and then felt a sharp pang of sadness at the reality. Here I was, 34, counting eggs as the news tells of a warming globe, AI takeovers, an unstable economy. But my mind stayed trained on a single question. What about the life I once held so tightly in my fist? The one with babies and marriage and success I thought I would get?

If years of therapy have taught me anything, it’s that usually, the first reaction isn’t the emotion but an expression of the emotion we have buried. And so, I let the waves crash, felt the feelings of the news, and became inquisitive. I didn’t care about my ex having babies; I didn’t wish it was me having them with him, so what was I actually mourning?

I thought about the going-nowhere relationships and the targeted fertility ads. About my friends—those trying and failing to get pregnant, the ones whose eggs were already frozen, the ones who have made their peace, the ones who still have hope and the expectation that looms with that. What I was feeling was anger for all of the hurdles women have to consider, the clocks that tick for us, the time stolen from those clocks that we pay for with pain, loss, or money (the average cost of egg freezing in America is $20k). I was angry, but under that anger was disappointment; not for the loss of love, or for the longing for motherhood, but about the inequity of time.

In a recent New York Magazine feature, they asked New Yorkers about their ideal lives. Despite the constant reminders that we are living in a Lemony Snickett-level state of unfortunate events, most people fantasize about the simple things: life with a partner and kids—preferably in a Brooklyn brownstone. The article pointed a big red arrow at what they called a craving for “high-end domesticity.” In a word, stability. Safety.

The spiral with my therapist on vacation wasn’t really about fertility—it was about the loss of time, the deferment of dreams. Since 2020, so many of us have watched our plans slowly leak through tightly grasped fists. We’ve had to spill out the ideas we once held about relationships, family, and career, but worse yet, we’ve had to do it without a real space to acknowledge the loss. Why aren’t we discussing what happens when we lose years of living and fertility to pandemics, careers, and dead-end relationships? And why are we still, while living on a rapidly dying planet, asked to be so hyper-fixated on following an old script of love, marriage, and a baby in a baby carriage?

There is no clear way to have this conversation. No elegant script for talking about the unsavory feelings that come up when you have to accept that your life is going to look different than you thought it would. When you realize that the timeline you had for yourself might need reworking. When you know that you may have to accept the responsibility of building a new reality to exist within. But buried within that uncertainty, there is beauty. There are buds, poised to bloom. There is the possibility to change our minds about what we thought we wanted, to accept the grief about the loss of time, and to build new dream castles.

Since my appointment, I’ve spent time thinking about new ways to fall back in love with the reality of now. I’ve sought out stories of people walking new paths—podcasts, books, articles, and folders of saved Instagram posts that serve as reminders of new realities. I’ve gathered them here for you in a first step toward these difficult, often repressed conversations. I hope these pieces ignite you to reclaim how you spend and share your time and what stability can look like.

Two weeks after the test, my results came in. A lower than average egg reserve, they said. I should consider taking action in the next year and a half, they said. But this time I didn’t set any alarms to ignore or mark any days on my calendar. I simply loosened my fist and opened my hand, palm exposed and ready to accept whatever the next phase of the unknown would bring.

There are so many ways to be, and I am committed to seeking them.

Image by We Are / Getty Images

Age 35 Isn’t a Fertility Cliff. Why Do We Think It Is?

W. Spencer McClelland

“The piece I wrote above resulted from dozens of conversations with my peers about fertility and family planning. While I didn’t notice it then, we all, myself included, seemed to have this marker of 35 as the age where we would begin to take some action around our fertility. But so much science proves against those numbers, and even more, reminds us that every single body is different.” -Rachel Hislop

The Art of Decision-Making

Joshua Rothman
The New Yorker

RH: “This article is an in-depth piece about decision making that speaks to leaving your old self behind to welcome a new self. But how does that transition happen? All at once? Or the moment you decide to be someone new?”

Wherever You Are Grieving

Alice Walker

RH: “Grief about lost time found me curled up in bed while vacationing in Barbados. It follows me, sometimes silently, on adventures around the world and, every once in a while, chooses a quiet morning to rear its head. This Alice Walker poem beautifully encapsulates the grief that slips into living.”

The $19,000 Reality of Freezing Your Eggs

Lauren Caruso
The Coveteur

RH: “Far too often, the response to talk about fertility is met with ‘just freeze your eggs’ without consideration for not only the financial burden (while we are still making 82 cents to the male dollar) but the physical and emotional turmoil of an egg freezing cycle. This article details the process, material, and often unspoken financial costs of choosing to freeze time.”

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now [DOWNLOAD]

Maya Angelou

RH: “I welcome examples of the cycles of life. Especially when they’re documented in a way that makes me feel seen. That’s part of why I love this excerpt from Maya Angelou’s 1992 book ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey.’ It’s about treating life as art and using our creativity to shape it while accepting changing tides—clearly something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If this excerpt makes you feel similarly seen, I recommend checking the book out at your local library.”

Can I Afford to Live Like This?

Rachel Sugar

RH: “This article, mentioned in my piece above, has been ringing in my head since the day I read it. It is the cover story for the June 4, 2023 print issue of New York Magazine, the main feature in a package about the lives we dream of and how much they cost to achieve. It is a sobering look at the moving goalpost for obtaining the ‘simple’ things in life, like a home, a family, and maybe (just maybe!) some disposable income for a hobby.”

69: Everything You Pray You Won’t Have to Know About Infertility Feat. Deja Riley’s Story [LISTEN]

Shan Boodram
Lovers and Friends

RH: “Shan Boodran’s vulnerability at the top of this podcast is the perfect opening to a very complicated conversation there is no right way to have. Deja Riley’s vulnerability and commitment to sharing the most honest parts of her fertility journey make this episode a difficult but necessary listen about the silence of miscarriage, the private healing of loss, and all of the quiet parts of life women navigate throughout their fertility journey.”

The Marriage Proposal That Wasn’t [LISTEN]

Anna Martin
The New York Times

RH: “This is a podcast interview with a son who wrote years prior about his father’s final love affair in his dying days. I was so impressed with Arlene, the subject of his father’s affection, and her ability to hold firm boundaries about what she wanted her life to look like in her last chapter. It’s a tale we don’t hear often. She was loving but protective of her time, caring but protective of how much care she would give and what that care would take from her final years. Worth a listen or a read of the transcript. We could all learn something from Arlene.”

Safety is Holistic

Yeldā Ali

RH: “I’ve read and re-read this piece from Yeldā Ali’s newsletter. Safety can mean different things at different times, but we often forget that it is rooted in the ability to trust our intuition, our memory, and our bodies. Can we be still enough to silence our brains and listen to our bodies?”

An L.G.B.T.Q. Pregnancy, From D.I.Y. to I.V.F.

Clara Moskowitz
The New York Times

RH: “While my story is from a heterosexual point of view, heterosexual and cis women are not the only ones navigating the complexities of fertility. This piece from the Times gives first-hand accounts of the friction queer people navigate in a medical system not tailored to their needs.”

What If You Could Do It All Over?

Joshua Rothman
The New Yorker

RH: “The title encapsulates it all. What if we had all of the time back? What if we did have the ability to correct past decisions? Would we like who we were then? This article explores the concept of ‘unlived lives’ and the human tendency to wonder about the alternate paths our lives could have taken.”



RH: “And, of course, a little comedic relief because few things make me more comfortable than a little jokey joke during serious times. I hope you are able to find the levity in your own process, however that shows up.”

Rachel Hislop

Rachel Hislop is a New York City native, writer, editor, strategist, and public speaker whose knowledge of digital culture has aided in the growth of some of the biggest brands and celebrities to date. In October 2023 she was named one of Mozilla’s RISE 25 honorees.

Most recently, she served as the VP of Content of OkayMedia and Editor-in-Chief of both Okayplayer.com and OkayAfrica. Prior, Hislop ushered in the unprecedented and now-historic growth of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s digital footprint as Digital Content Director for Parkwood Entertainment. As a speaker/moderator she has captivated audiences at Instagram, Google, Global Citizen, AdWeek, and Stanford University, to name a few.

Currently, Hislop is somewhere behind her MacBook consulting with mission-led businesses and brands helping them tell effective digital stories. You can find her on IG @Amazingrach.