Is Freezing Your Eggs All It's Cracked Up to Be?


Despite the preponderance of think-pieces on the subject, few children are actually materializing through the egg freezing route. Is what’s being billed as the modern woman’s insurance policy actually a crock of bullshit?

Since the American Society for Reproductive Therapy declared freezing your eggs safe in 2012, nearly double the number women have coughed up the 10-20k for the procedure. Though few women gone back to thaw those eggs and, of those who do, the live birth rate has remained consistently low. This suggests that the procedure may not be the slam dunk women think it is.

Over at NPR, Eliza Barclay takes a look at the uptick in egg freezing in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, where marketing campaigns and clinics are particularly focused on affluent, career-driven women with the means and desire to try it out. Called “social” egg freezing, it’s the fallback women with no medical issues can newly rely on if they’re afraid their fertility is tanking, or they haven’t partnered up yet. However, bioethics and law professor John Robertson tells NPR:

“The problem is it may be marketed to women who are in the older age group who may have very little chance of obtaining viable eggs,” Robertson says. “So it’s extremely important that there be full disclosure at every step of the process.”

This means the very women who would ostensibly most benefit from the procedure are less likely to A) be thinking about this stuff yet, and B) have the money to do it. Seems like a pretty big flaw.

In another article at the Daily Beast, Emily Shire attends a mixer ($50, open bar) in Manhattan held by EggBanxx, a network of fertility specialists who use the two hours to reiterate to the female attendees that whoever you are, and however old you are, the time for freezing your eggs is n-o-w. According to Shire, Eggbanxx positions freezing as the option for “smart” women—pamphlet slogans include “Smart Women Freeze,” and “Break Free From Your Biological Clock”—but this is largely a procedure that’s costly and demanding, and banks on hope, not guarantees.

Shire mentions a 27-year-old in the audience at the mixer who is told she is not at all too young to be pressing her doctor on fertility testing. She writes:

In some ways, the question of whether to freeze one’s eggs is in some ways more difficult to answer when you’re younger—not only because you have less of a sense of one’s future careers and relationships, but because there’s a trickier balancing act between cost and time.

Then there’s the more puzzling fact that for those who do the procedure, few are actually going back to retrieve those eggs. Back at NPR:

SART [Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, who compiles egg freezing data in the U.S.] found that of the 353 egg-thaw cycles in 2012, only 83 resulted in live births. In 2013, there were 414 thaw cycles and 99 live births. “Live birth” is not babies born — it means delivery of one or more infants, so it can include twins.
Overall, the success rate of live births from frozen eggs has remained consistently pretty low, at about 20 to 24 percent since 2009. And, Doody adds, “Even if the success rates were significantly higher, there’s never going to be a guarantee for an individual patient that the eggs she would bank would ultimately result in a baby for her.”

In the UK, only 20 pregnancies have resulted from egg freezing, according to the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority, reporting through 2012, and concern is rippling. In a piece about whether the procedure will catch on in Eastern Europe, Jasmina Lazic writes that we need to slow down the frenzy of pushing a procedure that isn’t the boon it’s made out to be for a lot of women.

Lazic writes:

“The medical director of one of the biggest fertility clinics in Europe said egg-freezing represented a second wave of women’s emancipation after the contraceptive pill and could be an ideal 30th birthday present.
But critics have accused clinics of exploiting women’s fears of missing out on motherhood to get them to spend a lot of money on a procedure whose success rate is far from clear.

Critics are saying that this costly procedure essentially amounts to giving women false hope, especially older women. A piece at the Guardian cites the questionable success rates claimed by egg freezing clinics, cautioning that there is still not enough data to give women a more accurate picture of their chances with this now common procedure. As Adam Balen at the British Fertility Society says, “Essentially, the younger a woman is when she has her eggs frozen the more likely they are to survive, fertilise and achieve a pregnancy, but even then there is no guarantee.”

Women in the UK aren’t retrieving their eggs either. The Guardian post continues:

Official figures show that between 2008 and mid-2013 there were only 41 births from frozen eggs, or eight a year. Less than 2% of patients’ eggs thawed between 2008 and mid-2013 resulted in live births, according to analysis of HFEA figures. Of embryos transferred from frozen eggs that have been collected and fertilised, less than 13% led to a successful pregnancy.

There are, of course, a number of reasons women aren’t going back for those eggs, which Jezebel has explored in previous posts. More specific egg freezing data won’t be released for years, and given the rates of use so far, no one seems to be complaining. But maybe they should be. After all, who would pay so much for an insurance policy this shitty?

Gif via YouTube.

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