Freezing Your Eggs: A Wise Career Decision?
Prudence Myers, a 28 year old lady from Utah, works for one of prominent tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prudence loves children, and she has plans to have her own kids someday.
At the moment, however, all her focus is on her career. She loves her job and wants to quickly rise up the corporate ladder.
When she heard that it was possible for her to freeze her eggs, she quickly went for it, because she felt that it would allow for her to eat her cake and still have it.
Freezing her eggs meant that she could focus fully on her career growth, without giving up on her dream of raising her own kids someday.
They are scaling the heights of academia, climbing to the top echelons of the corporate ladder, and becoming renowned entrepreneurs.
Still, there is one thing that is keeping women from achieving all they could in their careers – having and raising children.
Giving birth requires women to take some time off work, and raising the children also requires a lot of attention, especially during the first few years of the child’s life.
This diverts their attention from their careers, and in some cases, some women have even been passed up for promotions because of their status as mothers.
This has led to the notion that it is almost impossible for women to reach the highest pinnacles of their career, while at the same time raising a family.
In order for women to both have a thriving career and at the same time take care of their families, the most logical approach has been to stagger the two.
This means putting all their focus on their careers early on, and then having babies later in life after they have attained significant levels of success in their careers.
This is part of the reason why an increasing number of women are waiting longer before having children.
There is one problem with this approach.
As women put their focus on their careers and delay childbirth, their biological clocks are not waiting for them.
For most women, fertility starts dropping off from the age of about 35 years.
This means that the longer you wait to have children while focusing on your career, the harder it becomes for you to have children.
This creates some sort of catch 22 situation – to scale the heights of your career while giving up on the possibility of having your own kids, or to focus on having kids while giving up on the possibility of scaling the heights of your career.
Fortunately, egg freezing promises to save women from this situation by increasing their chances of having children much later in life.
Or does it?
First, let’s take a minute to understand what exactly egg freezing means and how it works.
WHAT IS EGG FREEZING?
Egg freezing, which is scientifically known as oocyte preservation, is a process through which a woman’s oocytes (eggs) are harvested from her body, frozen, and then preserved for future use.
Once the woman is ready to have kids, the oocytes will then be thawed and fertilized with sperm.
The embryos are then implanted into the woman’s womb through a process known as in vitro fertilization (IVF). The woman then carries the pregnancy to term and gives birth normally.
Although a lot of people have only become aware of egg preservation in the last 5 – 10 years, it is not a new technology. The first birth from an egg that had been frozen happened in 1986.
Initially, egg freezing was developed as a procedure to help women suffering from medical conditions, such as cancer, which could cause early menopause.
Such women could freeze their eggs and have them fertilized and implanted later on in life, after they had dealt with the medical condition.
Back then, the success rates were so low that egg freezing was not considered as a viable method of delaying childbirth for those without any medical conditions.
In recent years, however, new methods of freezing the eggs have come up, which has greatly increased the success rates of egg freezing and made elective egg freezing a thing.
If you want your eggs frozen, you will first be given medications that you will have to inject yourself with for a period of about 8 to 14 days.
These medications help to stimulate your ovaries, and at the same time keep you from ovulating prematurely.
During this period, you will need to visit the doctor for blood tests and an ultra sound every couple of days to check whether your eggs are ready for harvesting.
Once you are ready, you will go to the doctor’s office for the extraction process.
The most common approach for extracting the eggs is a process known as transvaginal ultrasound aspiration.
During this process, an ultrasound probe is first guided into the vagina to identify the ovarian follicles.
Using guidance from the ultrasound probe, a needle is then inserted through the walls of the vagina and into the ovarian follicles, with care being taken to ensure that none of the organs located between the walls of the vagina and the ovary get injured.
A suction device is attached to the other end of the needle.
Once the needle has entered the follicle, some gentle suction is applied to aspirate the follicular fluid. The hope is that some cellular material, including the eggs, will be part of this follicular fluid.
The procedure is repeated for the other follicles within one ovary, and once all the follicles in one ovary have been aspirated, the needle is withdrawn and guided to the other ovary, where the procedure is repeated again.
Once aspiration is done on both ovaries, the follicular fluid goes to the lab where the oocytes are identified and quantified. As many as 20 oocytes can be extracted during a single procedure.
The entire procedure takes anywhere between 20 to 60 minutes.
The process of having your eggs extracted is not a fun affair.
The daily injections meant to stimulate your ovary in readiness for egg extraction are painful and uncomfortable.
Even though you will be under anesthesia during the procedure, you might still experience some cramping.
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and rapid weight gain may also be experienced following the procedure.
There is also the risk that organs close to your ovaries might get damaged during the procedure.
Still, with new methods of freezing having increased the success rates of egg freezing, more and more women are braving the risks and side-effects and choosing to undergo the procedure for non-medical reasons.
In 2009, only 475 women in the United States underwent the procedure.
By 2016, that number had grown to almost 7300.
IS FREEZING YOUR EGGS A WISE CAREER MOVE?
Egg freezing is increasingly being marketed as a fertility insurance policy to young, career focused women.
The idea here is that women who want to move ahead in their careers must put all their attention in their work and cannot afford to take some time off to have children.
In that case, why not simply have their eggs frozen so that they can fully focus on their careers during their 20s and 30s without worrying about their fertility?
Once they hit their career objectives, they can then shift their focus to having babies, even if they have hit an age where it would have been impossible to give birth under normal circumstances.
A lot of people bought into the hype of egg freezing for career advancement. Some prominent tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple even started offering egg freezing as an employee perk in an attempt to attract more female employees.
Facebook reportedly offered its female employees up to $20,000 to cover the procedure. Unfortunately, their benevolence was met with condemnation rather than praise.
People felt that, by offering to pay for egg freezing for their female employees, these companies were effectively discouraging their female employees from starting families so that they could devote their entire lives working for these companies without any families to distract them.
Despite the controversy that Google, Facebook and Apple raised by offering oocyte preservation as an employee perk, a lot of people might still see egg freezing as the perfect way to put childbearing on hold while focusing on career growth.
But is freezing your eggs so that you can focus on your career a wise move? In order to answer this question, let us take a look at some basic factors about egg freezing.
The Cost of Egg Freezing
On the face of it, putting childbearing on hold until you have advanced in your career and gained better financial stability might look like a good idea.
This is because raising children is an expensive affair, and you probably will not achieve financial stability during your first few years in the workforce.
So it makes more sense to work for a couple more years, climb higher up the corporate ladder and start making money before you start having kids, right?
Well, problem is, freezing your eggs does not come cheap either.
On average, one cycle of preparation and egg extraction will cost you about $10,000 (anywhere between $2500 – $3500 for medication and about $7000 for the retrieval procedure).
Keep in mind that you might have to undergo two or three cycles to increase the chances of having viable eggs that will still be viable when you need to use them in future.
Once your eggs are frozen, you will have to pay anywhere from $500 – $800 per year for storage.
Once you are ready to use the eggs, you will have to pay another $10,000 – $20,000 on average for one cycle of thawing, fertilization and implantation.
Sometimes, you might have to undergo two or three cycles in order to achieve successful pregnancy, especially if you are older.
Basically, simply having your eggs extracted and frozen might cost you as much as it would cost you to raise a baby for the first two years.
What’s more, you will have to shell this money upfront.
Unless you are in a very well-paying job, not many find these costs to be affordable.
Therefore, if your objective for delaying childbirth is to improve your financial position before having a baby, freezing your eggs might not be the best way of going about it.
Even if your aim for freezing your eggs is purely to allow you to focus on advancing up the career ladder, your financial position might not allow you to undergo the procedure.
If you can afford the procedure, however, having your eggs frozen is still a viable option.
It’s also good to note that majority of women who preserve their eggs do not end up using them.
Somewhere along the way, you might meet a suitable partner and decide to get pregnant the old fashioned way in the privacy of your bedroom, in which case all the costs you paid for egg extraction, freezing and storage will have simply gone down the drain.
Freezing Your Eggs is Not a Guarantee of Birth Later in Life
Most women who choose to freeze their eggs so that they can pursue their careers (or any other reason for that matter) make the mistake of assuming that the fact that their eggs have been frozen means that they will automatically get pregnant and give birth once they are ready to use the eggs.
In truth, things are not that straightforward. Freezing your eggs does not guarantee you that you will be able to have kids whenever you feel like it.
Most women who opt for this procedure assume that by freezing their eggs, they have effectively found a way around their biological clocks.
What they forget is that, while the eggs remain frozen, their own bodies continue aging. Physiologically, the optimal time for a woman to give birth is in her 20s and early 30s.
The longer you wait before making the decision to have children, the harder it becomes for you to successfully carry a pregnancy to term.
Therefore, even if you froze your eggs during your early 20s, when the eggs had the highest chance of producing a healthy embryo, the fact that the embryo will be transferred to an older body reduces the chances of a successful birth.
In addition, as you grow older, there is the risk that you might develop an illness or medical condition that would make future pregnancy dangerous or even impossible.
Aside from aging, there is also some level of risk in the eggs themselves.
Normally, the eggs are tested for viability at the time of fertilization, rather than at the time of extraction.
This means that it is possible to have preserved eggs that are not viable for fertilization.
Even if all your eggs were viable, there is still a chance that some of them will not survive the thawing process.
And even if all happen to survive the thawing process, not all will fertilize successfully.
Of those that do, not all will develop into healthy embryos that can be implanted.
Even then, not all embryos will be implanted successfully, and even for those that do, there is still the possibility that the pregnancy might not be carried to term.
The above scenarios show that freezing your eggs is not a fertility insurance policy. You cannot confidently count on being able to have a baby later in life just because you froze your eggs.
Actually, available data shows that the chances of a live birth resulting from a frozen egg range from 2 – 12%, depending on the eggs and the woman.
The older you are at the time of freezing your eggs or at the time of having the eggs fertilized and implanted, the lower your chances of actually having a baby from the frozen eggs.
In this case, it might not be a very wise decision to risk losing your possibility of having children just for a job.
No Data About Safety of this Technology for Children
Despite the low chances of having successfully giving birth from frozen eggs, let us remain optimistic and assume that you fall among the 12% of women who give birth from frozen eggs.
Up until 2012, egg freezing was seen as an experimental procedure, but in 2012, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the ‘experimental’ label from the procedure.
This means that the technology has been available as a viable criminal procedure for just a few years, therefore there isn’t enough data on the long term safety of children born through the procedure.
Therefore, by choosing to delay childbirth by freezing your eggs, there is a chance you might be risking the future health of your baby.
Most Women are not Freezing Their Eggs for Career-Related Reasons
Ever since ASRM and SART announced that they no longer consider oocyte preservation to be an experimental procedure, the procedure has been mostly marketed to career women who want to climb up the corporate ladder without being burdened by kids, but who still want the possibility of having kids later on in life.
With this in mind, one might be quick to assume that a high number of women freezing their eggs are doing it so for career-related reasons.
What is surprising, however, is that most of the women undergoing the procedure are in their mid to late thirties and have already attained significant levels of success in their careers (no wonder they can afford the procedure).
If they already have established careers, they can’t be doing it for career-related reasons.
So, why are they doing it?
According to a study conducted by Yale University professor Dr. Marcia Inhorn on 150 women in the United States and Israel who had undergone the procedure, career progression was the least likely reason for women to freeze their eggs.
Of the 150 women who were polled, only 2 stated that they were freezing their eggs so that they could focus on their careers.
85% of the women polled were single women who claimed that they choose to undergo the procedure as a way of buying time because they had not found a suitable partner to raise a family with.
By freezing their eggs, they were making it possible for themselves to have a baby even if it took some time to find Mr. Right.
For the remaining 15% who had partners at the time of undergoing the procedure, they also cited that the decision to freeze their eggs was driven by the fact that they either felt that they weren’t ready for children or that they didn’t have a suitable partner to raise children with.
For the latter, they felt that they were either in a new relationship or one that was too uncertain to commit to having children, were in a relationship with a man who was not ready to have children, or had a partner who also had multiple other partners.
Therefore, the growing popularity of egg freezing is a partnership problem, rather than a testament to the notion that women in today’s world are willing to give up on the prospect of raising a family in order to focus on their careers.
So, is it a wise move to freeze your eggs so that you can focus on your career?
I wouldn’t recommend it.
Not only is the procedure expensive, it is also uncomfortable and comes with a risk of side effects.
If you do it in your 20s (when you are just starting out in your career), there is a chance that you might get a baby the old fashioned way, which would mean all the money you spend would have gone down the drain.
In addition, the procedure is not a guarantee that you will actually be able to have babies in future, and therefore, it does not seem wise to risk losing your chance of having your own kids just for a job.
Finally, even if you undergo the procedure and successful deliver your baby later on in life, you cannot be confident that your baby won’t have some complications later on in life because of the mode through which they were conceived.
Physiologically, the optimal time for your body to have babies is during your 20s and early 30s, and therefore, it is best to have kids during this period if possible.
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