Will the mainstreaming of egg freezing offer women more choice about when to have children—kind of like the Pill in reverse—or delude them with a false sense of security? Penn physicians, researchers, and patients weigh in on this issue and some broader implications of advances in fertility techniques.
BY CAREN LISSNER | Illustration by Mark Allen Miller | PDF download
This past fall, just before Thanksgiving, a 37-year-old College alumna we’ll call “Jessica” went to a fertility clinic and froze her eggs. (She doesn’t want her real name or identifying details used, because of the sensitive nature of her decision and because she hasn’t told all of her friends about it.) She’d been thinking about egg freezing—technically, oocyte cryopreservation—since she was 35, she says. She has always wanted children, but she knew that a woman’s fertility declines steeply as she approaches 40, since the quantity and quality of the eggs in her ovaries diminish.
Not currently dating, unwilling to “pick someone just to get married,” and not certain she could raise a child on her own, she saw freezing her eggs now, in hopes of one day combining them with sperm in a laboratory through in vitro fertilization (IVF), as her best option. With a relatively new egg-freezing technique called vitrification, she may have a success rate of nearly 50 percent.
Jessica began preparing for the procedure in September, undergoing ultrasounds and blood tests, injecting herself with hormones for three weeks, and paying $10,000 out of pocket (her insurance only covered some of the tests). During the procedure, which takes less than an hour, patients undergo anesthesia. A doctor uses ultrasound to guide a needle through the vagina and into the ovaries. Doctors hope to extract 10 to 15 eggs, although they may harvest as many as 45 or as few as none depending on the woman’s age and response to medications. After a recovery of an hour or two, the woman can go home.
Jessica believes it was worth it.
“I highly recommend it to any single woman,” she says. “I don’t feel as stressed about dating, and I feel more relaxed. I don’t feel like the clock is ticking. When you do this, you’ve stopped the clock.”