What Happened to All Those Frozen Eggs? – The New York Times

The potential for egg freezing to allow women to pause their biological clocks is one of the most astonishing developments of recent fertility science. The promise was thrilling: Women could enjoy more time to find the right partners, break up with the wrong ones and become emotionally and financially ready to become mothers.

Enthusiasts even fantasized the technology would promote gender equality by giving women control over their fertility so that they wouldnt have to scale back their career ambitions during their 20s and 30s. Freeze Your Eggs. Free Your Career blared a 2014 cover of Bloomberg Businessweek.

When Facebook and Apple announced that same year that they would pay for egg freezing for employees in a game-changing perk, Apple said in a statement, We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.

Egg freezing was an act of self-care and professional advancement for the modern woman.

All the talk in the beginning was about how egg freezing would be as big as the birth control pill and liberate women, said Janet Takefman, a reproductive health psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, who has counseled more than 200 women considering egg freezing.

And women responded to this promise. In 2009, the first year the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology started collecting egg freezing data, 475 women went through the procedure, in which an average of 10 eggs are surgically removed and preserved in liquid nitrogen after 10 days of hormonal stimulation. In 2017, more than 9,000 women froze their eggs.

Now we have a chance to look back and ask: Did egg freezing live up to its hype?

The most obvious question is whether egg freezing worked by allowing women to have children later. Although SART collects data on pregnancy rates using frozen eggs, it doesnt break out whether women had frozen them as part of in vitro fertilization treatment or fertility preservation during illness, or to delay childbearing. So I contacted four fertility clinics that have been in the field the longest to find out. (I froze my eggs at two of them and havent yet thawed.)

One surprising theme emerged: Fewer women than expected about 10 to 15 percent at the clinics I spoke to had returned to thaw their eggs to make babies from them, despite investing significant time and money, from $6,500 to $10,200 per procedure, not including drugs and storage.

I talked to James Grifo, director of New York Universitys Langone Prelude Fertility Center, who broke out the numbers on the first wave of freezers. Of 231 patients who had frozen their eggs from 2005 to 2009, only 88 had returned to use them, and 29 women took home babies, including three sets of twins.

Given that the average age of freezers at N.Y.U. then was 38, those women would be between 48 and 53 today. Most of them likely have returned, if they were going to, Dr. Grifo said. Maybe the others decided they werent going to use them. I know that some had babies naturally. Its hard to keep track because patients dont tell us.

As for the more recent freezers, only time will tell. We dont know how many are waiting to come back in two or 10 years when they are ready to become mothers. Clinical data doesnt reveal whos planning a wedding or juggling three first dates on Bumble or recovering from breast cancer or grieving a parent or mulling over the idea of becoming a single parent. It doesnt tell us whether women wanted a few extra years to go back to school, start a business, train to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or go to therapy after a divorce to figure out how to pick a better partner next time.

So perhaps we should be asking a different question that focuses on the freezing instead of the thawing: Were women happy they froze?

Here we have better data on the psychological benefits: In one 2016 N.Y.U. survey of 224 egg-freezing patients, 60 percent reported feeling less time pressure while dating. One-quarter said they felt more relaxed, focused, less desperate and with more time to find the right partner. A whopping 96 percent would recommend egg freezing to others.

Similarly, a 2018 University of California, San Francisco, survey of 200 women found that 89 percent were satisfied with their decision to freeze, even if they never used their eggs.

Yet theres another part of the story that needs to be acknowledged: egg freezings power to disappoint. In the University of California survey, 16 percent experienced moderate to severe regret if they hadnt frozen a lot of eggs or received adequate counseling.

Or when their thawed eggs dont make a baby and their natural fertility is gone. The woman who appeared on Bloomberg Businessweeks egg-freezing cover in 2014 is a case study: At age 39, Brigitte Adams, a marketing consultant in Los Angeles, froze 11 eggs. Yet those eggs failed to produce a pregnancy six years later.

Ms. Adams says she feels a responsibility to warn women to be realistic that the technology might not work. Im still positive about egg freezing, but Im not positive about how its being marketed, Ms. Adams told me. Shes now 47 and mother to an 18-month-old daughter conceived through donor eggs and sperm. She urges doctors to counsel women to bank several cycles of eggs to give themselves a better chance of success.

Theres hope for a new generation of freezers who doctors say are younger and more savvy, despite being bombarded with ads for egg-freezing parties and discounted cycles. Theyre also prouder. The biggest change Im seeing is that egg freezing is no longer done in secrecy, said Alan Copperman, medical director of Reproductive Medical Associates of New York, which has offered egg freezing since 2005. Theres less stigma. Now patients come in with friends and post pictures on social media. On Instagram, #eggfreezing has 21,000 posts.

This new guard is also more open to single motherhood. Of the women who have thawed, the doctors told me its split between single and partnered. They say: I want those eggs for myself. When I decide to have a child, Ill have a child. They dont necessarily want it linked to a relationship, said Georgia Witkin, Reproductive Medical Associates director of psychological services.

So what are the lessons from egg freezing? It hasnt transformed the workplace, as many had hoped. It didnt really change societys expectations about when women are supposed to have babies or can put their careers on hold, Dr. Takefman said.

But egg freezing has changed womens personal lives in profound ways. It has given many a sense of hope about the future. For women grieving the end of their fertile years, egg freezing stopped the sadness that they were losing the ability to be mothers. Or as one woman told me, After I froze, I just felt normal again.

We probably wont know for years whether egg freezing will truly allow a significant number of women to have biological children later in life or whether some of those women will find other ways to be mothers. But we do know it gave many women a feeling of control over their lives and a chance to recalibrate their baby-making timelines. When youve got eggs waiting for you in the freezer, the years in between are sweeter and brighter.

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What Happened to All Those Frozen Eggs? - The New York Times

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