Younger and younger women are freezing their eggs nowadays, according to a recent story in the New York Times. There are various reasons for this: the cost of the procedure has come down dramatically; many women want “insurance” against possible obstacles such as career and/or not finding the right partner in time; and the egg-freezing people are targeting a younger demographic. It used to be rare to see a “twenty-something” woman freeze her eggs. Not anymore. When it comes to hedging fertility bets, twenty is the new thirty.
Promoting this possibility to young people sometimes takes the form of a kind of Tupperware party for fertility planning, the so-called “Let’s Chill” party, where guests are given facts, figures and information along with champagne and canapés. One can only imagine the conversation: “See this caviar? Your eggs are way smaller. Let us freeze a bunch…”
Not long ago the cost was prohibitive for most people, running as high as US$19,000.00 for a single cycle. (The procedure typically requires taking birth control pills for a couple of weeks to turn off the natural hormones, followed by ten days of hormone injections to stimulate egg production. Once the eggs have matured, they are retrieved and frozen.)
Now, the cost has dropped by about 75%. In the US, for example, a first freezing cycle may come in at approximately US $5,500.00. Financing is also available so you can make affordable monthly payments. (Storage is extra: depending on how long you want the eggs stored, and how many you’re storing, the monthly charges at this particular clinic range from US $190.00 to US$450.00.) In Canada the figures are roughly the same, but with the exchange rate, the cost is less expensive than proceeding in the US. Depending on the clinic, a single cycle may be priced at approximately CAN $5,300.00, plus medication, with storage charges at CAN $450.00 per year, less if you pre-pay for five years.
The new ‘buzz’ expression is that freezing eggs allows you to “stop time”. Stopping time — or at least slowing it — is the name of the game for a 26-year-old woman described in the Times article. Even though she has no known reproductive issues or pressing health concerns, in her mind the clock is ticking. “Fertility declines at 22,” she says, explaining that her goal is “to know that later in life I’m going to have the best shot at having viable frozen eggs for when I need them.” What is most disturbing about this is the source of her information that female fertility declines at the tender age of 22. Where did she get this from? Education is clearly lacking here!
Interestingly, it seems most women don’t want more time to to establish their careers — they want more time to find the right life partner. According to a recent Yale University study led by medical anthropologist Marcia Inhorn, career ambition is not the major factor that drives women to delay childbearing. “A lack of a stable partner is the primary motivation,” she says, adding that most of the mid-to-late 30’s women who freeze their eggs are already established in their careers by the time they get to the clinic.
This raises some interesting sociological questions: how might this affect a person’s criteria for choosing a life partner? And, at what point do you proceed to abandon the idea of partnering, and parent on your own?
In any event, there is no doubt that egg freezing, often called “fertility preservation,” is being marketed to younger women. “We are now targeting women in their 20s and early 30s,” Susan Herzberg, the president of Prelude Fertility, told the Times. “The process has never been better, faster or cheaper, or more likely to yield a better store of high-quality eggs.”
Valerie Landis, author if the blog “Eggsperience,” told the Times that her followers used to be in their late-thirties, but “now I’m hearing from parents who have teenagers and college-age daughters who are looking at this as a future gift. I have 25-year-olds call me because their parents are willing to foot the bill.”
How good is the “insurance” of egg freezing? Far from perfect, actually. While it isn’t clear exactly what the success rate is, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), there is a 2 to 12 percent chance that a single frozen egg will result in a birth. The ASRM goes on to say that frozen eggs “are not a guarantee of a future baby,” and therefore “a woman should start trying to conceive as soon as she feels ‘ready and able’. One concern is that a woman might have a sense of ‘false security’ if she freezes her eggs. She might delay her attempts to conceive until she is much older (whereas she might have started trying at an earlier age, with greater success, if she hadn’t frozen eggs in the first place).
Nevertheless, more and more younger women are doing it. Because they can.
For advice on family and fertility law issues, contact Shirley Levitan