Modern science has given women the opportunity to expand their fertility window, but is the procedure worth the investment of mind, body, and spirit? Statistics show promising results while women tread the murky waters of prolonging procreation.
A large part of my practice is made up of women approaching their childbearing years. While a woman’s biological clock may be set to a later time than it was several decades ago, she is still at risk for missing her best fertility window if the timing isn’t right for having children when she reaches this point of her life. The topic of egg freezing is becoming quite commonplace with conversations happening openly in a variety of settings. In a recent NPR report, the issue of egg freezing was explored as part of a series on the changing lives of women. In the piece, the reporter stated that “there are more and more women who find themselves in a situation where they may potentially benefit from having their eggs frozen.”
In July of 2015 Time magazine did a story entitled “What You Really Need to Know About Egg Freezing”, and Apple, Facebook, and Intel have all announced that they would cover egg freezing in their employee health plans. According to the data obtained from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), 5000 women froze their eggs in 2013 and the fertility marketer EggBanxx estimates that 76,000 women will freeze their eggs in 2018. So far 5,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs.
The most common reason women report for freezing their eggs is the insurance that comes with doing it. Knowing that having a baby will be a somewhat viable option regardless of finding a mate offers a sense of relief and takes the pressure off of the women whose window of opportunity is closing. The women that I have spoken to feel a sense of relief and empowerment around taking control over their own ability to have children, but they also express grief around the reality of it. These are not the circumstances they imagined, and their ideas and fantasies of motherhood are being re-evaluated as part of this process. One woman I interviewed said,
“I’ve had to consider that I will be an older mother than I’d hoped, and my general fantasy (that was taught to me as a child) that I would grow up, go to college, fall in love, get married and buy a house and have a baby has been totally interrupted. When I chose to freeze my eggs, I had to acknowledge that my life was not at all like the fantasy I’d been taught. There’s been grief around that.” – T.H.
It’s important to acknowledge that freezing one’s eggs is expensive with one round costing $12,000 making it financially impossible for most women. This can lead to feelings of resentment around having a time limited child-bearing window, and frustration about the financial barrier that makes it impossible for them to fulfill their dreams of having a child. One woman I interviewed shared this:
“I am bummed that freezing eggs isn’t really addressed when we are younger. My general doctor (female) and I joked about opening a small loan business for female professionals who have put career and academics in the forefront but whom still want to have children when the time is right and not just because biology works against us.” – C.J.
Egg freezing offers peace of mind and a sense of relief for women who are deeply concerned that they would not have the opportunity to have children. It also gives them the space and time to choose a partner for reasons other than wanting a child, as opposed to weighing every partner against a time clock. Women who are anxious about their fertility may come across as desperate or in a hurry so knowing that their eggs are safely preserved can help them to relate to a potential partner more authentically. The ability to freeze her eggs gives a woman a sense of power and level of control over the path of her life she may not have without this option.
The egg freezing process is expensive and physically demanding. With 2 weeks of hormone shots, side effects, and invasive surgical procedures being part of the journey, egg freezing can be far from romantic. It can also require multiple attempts, and there are never any guarantees for results. There can also be some difficult feelings that come up around doing the procedure that are both natural and a byproduct of hormone treatments. Shame, guilt, and low self-esteem can surface around the idea of having to go to these lengths to have children; particularly if she has to explain this choice to someone she is dating.
Egg Freezing is a fit.
As long as women do their research and approach the process with realistic expectations, egg freezing is a very viable option. There are also many women who are ambivalent around having children. For these women, the option to freeze eggs opens up a whole new opportunity for extending their decision. However, it’s important to note that this process is not for everyone, and researchers caution older a woman to be less optimistic as fertility declines. It’s also an arduous process that can invoke many unexpected emotions, particularly if it doesn’t work, so seeking support and counseling throughout the experience is highly recommended.