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The Pressure of Egg Freezing

A recent article on the New York Times blog finally released me to put into words something that has always gotten under my skin about egg freezing, and it’s this: if this option had been around when I was younger, and if I had been nearing the end of my twenties unmarried, I would have gone into debt for this because I would have known that if I hadn’t gone into debt for this and there had been a fertility problem down the road, I would have hated myself.  I would have paid for egg freezing rather than fall down the rabbit hole of “what if” regardless of the fact that egg freezing is an invasive, painful, not-always-successful procedure.

Which would have led to me entering my thirties heavily in debt on my teacher’s salary.  I wouldn’t have been able to save for a house, but I also wouldn’t have been able to save for fertility treatments if I actually needed to use my frozen eggs.  Because it’s not just freezing your eggs.  It’s using your eggs, and that cost is astronomical if it’s not covered by insurance.  And it rarely is.  But here’s the thing: if I married a man, that man would not have gone into debt to shelter his fertility.  He would be entering our marriage without a $15,000 debt to his reproductive chances.

egg_freezing

Image: Steve Johnson via Flickr

People argue that it’s just a choice: take it or leave it.  And certainly, there are many pressures women face on a daily basis that women shrug off without a second thought.

But that choice — the egg freezing choice — presses buttons.  It gets to our deepest insecurities: will I find someone to love me in time?  Will they want the same things I want?  Will we be able to create the family that exists in my brain?  Egg freezing is about our mortality.  It whispers you’re aging, you’re aging, you’re aging.

You’ll never be this young again.

Choices are wonderful things when making them actually frees or lessens you from problems in the future.  But egg freezing isn’t just a choice; it’s a pressure.  Because now, if you don’t take that option, the message girls are receiving is that they have no one to blame but themselves if they end up infertile in their thirties without any eggs tucked away.  And THAT is a dangerous choice to have because the consequences of that choice are enormous; especially if the choice doesn’t pay off but even if it does.  A $15,000 price tag is a huge weight around the neck of someone trying to start their adult life.

But moreover, what gives me pause with this choice is that idea of egg freezing parties, which sounds like a Tupperware party which always comes with such a huge pressure to buy.  Because what is a Tupperware party except a woman entering someone’s house to remind a bunch of people that they don’t have it together, they don’t have neat kitchens, they don’t have proper storage that will keep the food they feed their family safe, but if they buy buy buy the product, they too can let out a sigh of relief that life is once again orderly?

Replace Tupperware with makeup parties or sex toy parties or jewelry parties.  The point of all of those parties is to sell people a product, and the only way to sell the product is to convince the attendees that they need it.  That they can’t live without it.

I’ve always been someone who could live without Tupperware or makeup or sex toys or jewelry.  But my fertility?  Having the marriage I want, the family I want?  Those wants trace all the way back to when I would rock my dolls and play house.  Those are deep wants that predate knowledge of cooking or beauty tips or accessories.  I wouldn’t have been able to step back and look at the facts realistically.  If someone gave me a convincing pitch, I would have signed on the dotted line.

If egg freezing was a guarantee, it probably wouldn’t give me pause.  But it’s not.  It’s just a chance.  And something that has gone from being a wonderful invention out there for women who need a little hope during a health crisis has become a weight hanging around the necks of women.  Women are asked to go into debt, women are asked to shoulder the cost of protecting the possibility of the next generation, women are asked to do something invasive — all for a gamble since every pregnancy attempt is a gamble, even when you’re young and using fresh eggs.

Sometimes you get lucky.

Sometimes you don’t.

This isn’t to say that women who are drawn to egg freezing shouldn’t freeze their eggs, but more, that women shouldn’t be pressured to make this choice.  That the air of blame that surrounds it needs to dissipate.  That egg freezing needs to go back into the doctor’s offices, offered out as a possibility by a doctor who is invested in a particular woman’s health history rather than a hard-sale performed at parties by strangers.

Reading that piece made me finally able to pull those thoughts out of the back of my brain and put them on the screen.

12 comments

1 Charlotte { 03.25.15 at 9:12 am }

This is interesting. I don’t know many women in their 20’s that even worry about this. When you are young, you feel invincible. Like nothing will ever touch you. Like needing your young frozen eggs will ever be a real concern. So many women don’t even realize there could be a problem if they wait. Those of us in this community know, but I don’t think it really touches anyone outside our circle. And the thought that you can freeze your eggs but might not ever need them anyway, I can’t see it as a big selling point to getting young women to sign up for this.

2 jjiraffe { 03.25.15 at 9:45 am }

I know young women who are doing this. For most, it has been covered by insurance – seems to be a big thing insurance around here covers now. I’m all for providing women with choices, my concern is that I know the hard way that they are being provided with a chance, not a choice. To be fair, the women I know who have done this understand that. They see egg freezing as covering their bets, not as a sure thing.

3 Katherine A { 03.25.15 at 9:50 am }

This is similar to some of the thoughts that have been going around in my head regarding egg freezing, although mine have been more related to the offering by some companies of egg freezing as a covered benefit.

On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak. Seeing companies cover egg freezing – or really, any kind of treatment that allows someone to keep their fertility or treat potential infertility – is something I’m glad to see enter the conversation and see treated seriously.

On the other, I worry about the sort of *implicit* statement that comes with covering egg freezing. Like you say, if it’s truly a choice and women are truly free to take it or leave it I’m all for it. But I worry that by so publicly touting the benefit, the implied catch is that if you choose to start a family early, you’ll take a serious career hit just for getting pregnant and taking maternity leave. That’s potentially some major pressure to delay childbearing and do egg freezing – the true success rate of which isn’t as widely studied yet in women who don’t have a medical reason (undergoing cancer treatment, for example) for choosing to freeze their eggs.

And like you point out, it worries me that women are going to what essentially qualify as sales parties where they’re in a pressured environment being sold a very expensive, intensive procedure without the benefit of a doctor individually reviewing for egg quality/potential infertility issues/potential psychosocial issues. It was hard enough for me to make the jump to doing IVF with clear indications for the medical necessity of IVF in my case. I worry these salespeople are acting as though the procedure is easy (nope) and are slanting success rates. Personally, I’ve had 33 mature eggs (out of 48 total eggs over 2 fresh cycles) retrieved. Of those, 23 fertilized. Of those, 8 became embryos good enough to transfer or freeze. Of those, I had 1 blighted ovum, 1 first trimester miscarriage, 1 ectopic, 1 that didn’t thaw properly, 1 that didn’t implant, 1 that became an actual baby, and 2 that are still frozen. Granted, I have PCOS and known infertility, but still. That’s a lot of eggs, expense, heartache, stress, and definitely not a guarantee of success. I worry these women won’t be given a balanced view of the success/failure rates and what exactly IVF entails.

4 Cristy { 03.25.15 at 12:31 pm }

Kathrine A. beautifully stated all my concerns and thoughts. The truth is, most young women don’t focus on their fertility unless there’s pressure to do so. And pushing someone to undergo an invasive procedure under the promise that this preserves fertility isn’t ethical. And I think, like with IVF, we need to be honest about this.

5 Working mom of two { 03.25.15 at 1:25 pm }

In hindsight I would have done it. But without hindsight I was completely unworried to start TTC at 36. Yeah. Of course I know a colleague who got married at 35-36 and literally 9 mo later had a baby. So unless you are in or know someone in the throes of IF I think women are still blissfully unaware bc we all know stories like that and think they are the norm until we learn otherwise.

6 fifi { 03.25.15 at 1:37 pm }

“The message girls are receiving is that they have no one to blame but themselves if they end up infertile in their thirties without any eggs tucked away. ”

Thing is, they are already receiving these messages. There’s hardly ever a story about infertility in the mainstream media without someone harrumphing about “those selfish career women who waited too long”.

Would I have used this service if it had been available in my early 30s? I’d certainly have thought about it. Although ironically it wouldn’t have done me any good, since it wasn’t my eggs that were the problem in the end.

7 Mali { 03.25.15 at 9:03 pm }

So many good points in your post, and comments here. I hate anything that is going to put pressure on women – young or old – to behave in a particular way, or to value themselves only through their bodies (whether it is beauty or fertility). I don’t know what I would have done. In my 20s I wasn’t looking that far ahead (but perhaps simply because I didn’t see the risks or options waiting for me).

8 Jane { 03.25.15 at 9:15 pm }

My concern is similar to what Katherine A commented on, and to some extent what you discussed in the post. Egg freezing is an incredible option for those who become ill at an early age. But now it is something that companies will expect from young women early in their careers so they can focus on their work? It may be billed as a choice, but what about those people who want to have kids earlier in their careers? How about spending those resources and that energy on creating feasible work-life balance for young (and older!) families? For shifting the way we think about work, raising children, career-building and career trajectories, concepts of “productivity” and when in their lives people are most “productive” … It’s troubling to me when egg freezing (and not becoming parents) becomes expected of young women who want to “succeed” in professional careers.

9 Queenie { 03.26.15 at 12:23 am }

I don’t think I would ever have worried about egg freezing. . .it was just too far off my radar. But cord blood banking. . .this I agonized over, and I still wonder if we made the right decision (we didn’t do it).

10 Karen (River Run Dry) { 03.26.15 at 5:28 am }

I was one of those women who, in my 20s, figured I could make my life whatever I wanted it to be, and why would I spend allthismoney to freeze my eggs when I’m SURE they’ll be fine in my 30s?

No, seriously. Even when we started trying for kids, I didn’t think it would be an issue. I could have as many kids as I wanted.

Granted, I was 30 when we started trying for kids, and so we were still way under the advanced maternal age radar. But still. It’s highly unlikely I would have even wanted to freeze my eggs, because I thought infertility was Them, not Me.

(How ignorant I was back then.)

11 Mrs. Agony { 03.26.15 at 5:52 pm }

I see signs in my RE’s bathroom for “fertility preservation,” and I wish that this had been more of a thing when I was younger. I knew in my early 20s that I might have a problem, because of my family history (recurrent losses with my maternal grandmother, my mother’s early menopause). I didn’t meet my husband until I was half-way to 32, and sure enough, we had fertility issues on both sides. The likelihood of me having a biological child is slim to none, and I still struggle with this.

Of course, I’m convinced that I was born about 10-15 years too soon – that someday soonish scientists are going to figure out how to regrow an aged ovary and give you a whole new crop of eggs. There’s money in fertility, so of course they’ll figure this out at some point. Of course they will.

12 No Baby Ruth { 03.27.15 at 5:27 am }

Queenie mentioned something that I was going to say as well – this issue reminds me of my thoughts and feelings on cord blood banking. We ended up not doing it in the end (mostly because my husband didn’t think it was necessary – I probably would have) but I do think that if either child ever ends up with an illness where cord blood would help, I will hate myself for not banking it. The fact that it was an option kills me. I wish it hadn’t been (selfish, I know, because it can and does truly help people) because then I wouldn’t have that potential horrible regret. I also have a problem with the whole crowd mentality – if everyone is doing it then maybe I should to. And if insurance is offering it, then “why not?” It’s a fabulous technological advance, but should it become the norm?

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