Once upon a time a woman married in her early twenties, quit her job and had 2.5 children. Fast forward a generation and we are getting married later and later and postponing pregnancy even longer. In fact, roughly 20% of women in the U.S. wait until after they turn 35 to have their first child. However, our biological clocks are still set at our mother’s generation. Our eggs did not get the message that today’s woman is deferring her dreams of a baby for a later date.
Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is not exactly a new technology, in fact the first child conceived from a frozen egg was born in 1986. However, it was extremely hard to replicate this success as human eggs, the body’s largest cell, are comprised of a significant amount of water making freezing them a particularly complex task. It was not until, 2005 with the advent of egg vitrification (or fast freezing) that clinics started to have repeated success. Vitrification, or to make glass, quickly dehydrates eggs in a series of cryoprotectants prior to being plunged into liquid nitrogen.
After eight long years of research, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recently repealed egg freezing’s “experimental” label citing that the rates of pregnancies and healthy births from egg freezing are comparable to those of fresh eggs. However, the ASRM is moving cautiously, only recommending egg freezing for women undergoing cancer treatments or for couples who object to freezing embryos. Excuse me, but it seems like they left out the largest majority – women who are freezing eggs to have the option of having children in the future. What about us? On one hand the ASRM is saying yes we agree that egg freezing is a promising procedure and we now have the statistics that confirm this, while at the same time they are saying it’s not right for single women who want to take their fertility into their own hands.
Of course, we all know that the ASRM is proceeding with caution and that they do not want people to assume egg freezing is a fertility panacea. However, we knew that when they had the experimental label and we know that now. The reason most women freeze their eggs for social reasons is for the possibility of a future child. We, for whatever reason, are not ready to have children now, but we want to take advantage of freezing our eggs before they decline too far. We have seen too many friends, family and even celebrities struggling with the devastation of infertility. By freezing our eggs when they are in their reproductive prime, we are taking action now for the possibility of building a family in the future. We would rather take our chances with a 20-50% (based on the age of frozen eggs) than have no option at all. We would rather be proactive and do something about our fertility futures than later bemoan the fact that we just let our prime fertility years pass us by. While not a panacea, egg freezing is a decisive reproductive advancement for the modern woman.