WWhen Valerie Landis underwent her first egg freezing cycle in 2015, she was younger than many other patients. Landis, a healthcare sales professional, was 33 at the time. Between the pressures of work, which often required international travel for business, and a breakup a few years earlier, she was drawn to the idea of taking more time to decide if she wanted to become a parent.
Back then, “the lowest age I heard was 37,”
Cryopreservation of oocytes – the technical term for egg freezing – was developed in the 1980s and historically reserved for those with serious medical conditions who wished the option of having a baby later in life. In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the “experimental” label from the procedure, paving the way for “social” or “elective” egg freezing to grow in popularity. And in recent years, the procedure has undergone something of a revamp, thanks to a crop of fertility startups that market it as essential to the daily, liberated woman. Companies like Kindbody, Prelude Fertility, Ova, the now defunct Trellis and others have transformed egg freezing from a strictly medical procedure that takes place in a clinical setting into a boutique experience that not only offers convenience and comfort, but empowerment as well.
Their marketing is wide ranging, from winks to Instagram ads to chic office and happy hour information sessions. It all conveys the feeling that egg freezing doesn’t have to be scary, or even a big deal, bringing it under the all-inclusive banner of self-care and wellness. A recent ad campaign by New York City’s Extend Fertility Fertility Clinic compared the savings for the procedure with the budget for manicures or bowls of acai, while Kindbody called on women to “own the future” by freezing their eggs.
This phrase echoes comments from the company’s marketing manager, who called egg freezing a “new wave of feminism” or “a mantra” for independent women.
“Egg freezing is absolutely a form of self-care,” Gina Bartasi, CEO of Kindbody, told the Guardian. “Many other areas of health care are proactive – we eat well, watch our cholesterol, exercise – but when it comes to fertility, the standard of care is to wait until there is a problem.”
But today, doctors and patients alike have dismissed efforts to appeal to younger women, criticizing companies like Kindbody and Extend Fertility for playing on women’s fears, glossing over the reality of the procedure and providing a false sense of optimism and hope. .
“I call it ‘the Grab,'” said Paul Lin, an obstetrician / gynecologist and head of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (Sart). “She says, ‘Hey, you’re an independent woman. Grab your fertility potential and let’s do it.’ This brings patients to the door.”
Egg freezing basically boils down to a numbers game: the more eggs a patient is able to freeze, the greater the chance that one of those eggs could have a baby. The number of eggs that can be extracted varies from cycle to cycle and not all frozen eggs are viable. Egg quality decreases over time, as older eggs are more likely to contain genetic abnormalities.
“Number one [success factor] for anyone trying to get pregnant it’s age, “said Dr. Josh Klein, co-founder of Extend Fertility.” It was clear to me that if women put away healthier eggs when they are younger, that could be an invaluable resource. in the course of life “.
Over the years, the popularity of egg freezing has increased: in 2017, 10,936 women frozen their eggs, or 23 times more in 2009, according to data collected by Sart. Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google now offer egg freezing as an employee benefit. Part of its appeal has always been the promise of more time: time to find a partner, advance professionally and make more money, or generally find yourself in a better personal, financial, or medical situation to consider motherhood. Yale’s research found that the main reason women freeze their eggs is the absence of a partner.
“Social pressure and peer pressure are not the way to go,” said Dr. Pasquale Patrizio, head of the Yale Fertility Center and the Fertility Preservation Program.
In response to these criticisms, Kindbody’s Bartasi said there is nothing wrong with encouraging women to think about fertility as soon as possible. “We simply want to disseminate information and encourage women to be proactive in understanding their fertility, when they still have most of the options available,” Bartasi said. “Once they are armed with the information, the choice is up to them.”
Several studies have found that many women don’t realize how soon their fertility starts to decline. A University of Florida study found that only 30.5% of women are aware that their fertility begins to decline by the age of 35. Another study from the University of California, San Francisco surveyed women who conceived with IVF after age 40 and found that “44% report being ‘shocked’ and ‘alarmed’ to find that their understanding the speed of age-related reproductive decline was inaccurate ‘”.
Success rates of egg freezing vary significantly depending on the woman’s age, how many eggs she frozen, and how old she was when she frozen them. A 2016 study of 1,171 IVF cycles using frozen oocytes found that for a woman who frozen five eggs at the age of 35 or younger, the chance of a live birth was 15%. The chance increased to 61% for women who froze 10 eggs and to 85% for women who froze 15 or more eggs.
On average, egg freezing costs $ 15,000- $ 20,000 per cycle, including medication, treatment, and storage, and the average patient goes through two cycles. “When you consider the economics of this, what a terrible investment, spending $ 15,000 to get a 15% chance,” said Gwen Schroeder, a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn.
Schroeder froze her eggs five years ago, at the age of 35, and says she could only afford it after her father died and she received the money from her pension. Six months after freezing her eggs, she met someone and they had a daughter together in 2016.
“I still have frozen eggs [in storage] and that investment I made is helping me feel some security, “Schroeder said.” I want to hold them back. Who knows what life is like? “
The vast majority of patients who undergo the procedure do not end up using their own frozen eggs. The utilization rate for frozen eggs ranges from about 3% to 9%.
For this reason, women who contemplate egg freezing can find themselves in trouble. The younger they are when they freeze, the more likely they are to have a successful pregnancy, but the less likely those eggs are to be used. The older they are, the more likely those eggs are to be used, but the lower the chances of a successful pregnancy.
With this in mind, Dr.Patrizio advises that the best time to freeze eggs, for women with no medical conditions that affect fertility, is actually quite tight: between 33 and 35 years old.
Kimberly Goodley was 29 when she first thought about freezing her eggs after her doctor found a cyst inside her left ovary. Goodley, who has endometriosis, needed surgery that would have removed an entire ovary and both fallopian tubes. Freezing the eggs would have allowed her to try to have a baby across the board, but the procedure was prohibitively expensive.
“It made me feel a little down because I knew freezing the eggs was going to cost a lot of money that I didn’t have,” said Goodley, who worked at a daycare in the Bronx. “I thought, ‘How do I do this?'”
Goodley’s boyfriend came up with the idea of creating a GoFundMe campaign, and the couple raised over $ 1,600. With additional financial help from the family Goodley was born for, she managed to freeze two eggs in May 2019. It’s a small number, but it gives her hope.
“I’ve always dreamed of having twins and I always think they will be my twins,” said Goodley, who is also a twin. “I would like to get married before me, but I will definitely use those eggs.”