Is Egg Freezing All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Egg freezing promises to allow women to defer fertility until they are ready to have children.  A recent Daily Skimm story profiled Vix, a woman who froze her eggs so she could focus on her career, and explained that egg freezing “is a good option when you want to keep your options open,” even if it is an expensive one.

 In recognition of the increasing importance of allowing women to preserve their fertility, the number of large employers who cover egg freezing went from 6% in 2015 to 17% in 2018. And venture capital is moving to fund egg freezing companies and invest in the technology.  

But how much fertility can- and does — egg freezing really preserve? Here are a few points to think about.

1.    It’s no longer experimental, right? 

In 2012, the Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the experimental label from egg freezing after it thoroughly reviewed the relevant scientific literature. 

But that doesn’t mean that egg preservation will lead to pregnancy. As another ASRM Committee noted about egg freezing in 2018, “uncertainties exist regarding its efficacy and long-term effects. Patients considering this treatment must be apprised of these unknowns.” So, even though it’s no longer “experimental,” there are still plenty of uncertainties about it. There is lots of fine print on these websites that advertise egg freezing, but you have to search for it.

2.    But we know the eggs of a 28 year-old are better than those of a 40 year-old. 

That’s certainly true. Fertility does decrease as women age, and the chances that a woman in her late 20s will get pregnant is 1 out of every 4 menstrual cycles, while it is 1 out of 10 for a 40 year-old. 

 But, of course, that doesn’t mean that all 28 year-olds have a 25% chance of getting pregnant each cycle, much less a statistically uncertain 100% chance after 4 cycles (or that a 40 year-old will get pregnant after 10 cycles). These are statistical probabilities, not certainties, and plenty of 40 year-olds get pregnant when they first start trying – or don’t get pregnant after trying for several years. 

3.   By the time I need to unfreeze my eggs, the technology will be better. 

It’s true that assisted reproductive technology is continuously improving and providing ever more opportunities and possibilities to manage fertility, notes Dr. Arthur Castelbaum, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Philadelphia. 

 He tells his patients that egg freezing has been successful for many people– but also counsels them that some patients may not conceive when they return to use their eggs.

 So, yes, that’s still not a guarantee  that any particular woman who freezes her eggs will get pregnant when she wants to do so.

4.    And egg freezing does lead to babies. 

It’s absolutely true that frozen eggs are potential babies. But they have to survive the thawing process, the fertilization process, and the implantation process before resulting in a successful pregnancy. A frozen egg has somewhere between a 4.5% and a 12% chance that it might result in a baby. When embryos are tested genetically prior to use, they are abnormal in 25% of women under age 30 but that rises to 70% by age 40.

5.   All of these statistics are promising, so it’s worth it. 

Indeed they are. And as the age of marriage and having a first child increase, fertility considerations become ever more important. But that still doesn’t mean that freezing eggs is a guarantee of a future pregnancy.  Plus, egg freezing is expensive. Various companies offer financing options, and some women even take out loans

Ultimately, a woman’s decision to freeze her eggs is personal and affected by many factors, ranging from the financial to the psychological. But that decision needs to be informed by all of the uncertainties that surround egg freezing technology. Yes, the technology is successful and freezing can increase the likelihood of a later pregnancy — but no exiting technology can make pregnancy inevitable.  

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I Froze My Eggs to Focus on My Career | theSkimm
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I am the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. My beat is gender equity in the workplace, with a particular emphasis on economic ...