Putting the family on ice

by Sammi Taylor | @sammiiitaylor

Egg freezing is a process in which a woman’s eggs are prepared, extracted, frozen and stored for future use. It’s a medical miracle, which was once reserved solely for women with cancer or an illness.

Egg freezing is quickly becoming an ‘insurance policy’ for career-minded women in their 20s and 30s. It allows women to put their family aspirations on ice while they climb the ladder of the working world.

EggBanxx, a US fertility company, estimates 76,000 US women will have frozen their eggs by 2018 – a 71,000 person increase over five years.

CEO of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority Louise Johnson, says Australia is following in the footsteps of the US.

“There is increased interest in egg freezing,” Johnson says.

“The success of freezing and thawing eggs has changed markedly over the last five years. It’s far more successful than it used to be.”

While a majority of procedures are undertaken for health reasons, more women are opting to put their careers first during the years when their fertility is at its peak. For women, fertility starts to decline at 30. By the time a woman turns  37, her  chances of conceiving are much lower.

“Though we might wish it to be otherwise, our eggs age with us. While we might be healthy, our eggs might not be,” Johnson says.

In 2014, corporate giants Apple and Facebook added egg freezing to their health care plans, pledging to cover a majority of the costs of the procedure for their employees. Australian company, Virtus Health, followed suit.

“Virtus helps its own employees if they require fertility treatment and we would extend this to egg freezing if it is an appropriate option for them personally,” says Dr Lyndon Hale, Director of Virtus Health.

In Australia, freezing your eggs will cost you between $10,000 and $15,000 upfront, plus a further $700 for each year you want to keep them in the fridge. There’s no Medicare rebate for those who cite social pressures or career as the reason for freezing their eggs. It’s a lot of money for a little peace of mind.

While the financial cost of the treatment is a major factor in the decision making process for most women, the cost to their health must also be considered. Nausea, fatigue, dizziness and weight gain are all common symptoms, both in the lead up to the egg retrieval procedure (when women must use daily hormone injections and medication), and in the weeks and months after the eggs have been extracted and frozen.

Syl Freedman, 23, has experienced all these symptoms since choosing to freeze her eggs, but she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I did this to help out future Syl in case she needs it,” Freedman says.

“I found egg freezing to be an unbelievably intense experience [but] I was being proactive in taking care of my health, my future and my fertility.”

Freedman has endometriosis, a disease which makes some internal uterine tissue grow on the outside of the uterus. Endometriosis  can lead to infertility, which is why she froze her eggs.

“I understand the logic behind egg freezing for women who want to continue kicking goals in their career and aren’t ready to be a mum yet. But putting your eggs on ice, in my opinion, is a last resort.”

Juliette Saly was 34 when she froze her eggs. A successful finance journalist in Hong Kong, Saly wasn’t ready to start a family, but wanted an insurance policy to assist her chances in the future.
“I have put a lot of time and effort into my career but equally so my life,” she says. “I hope that this gives me choice in the future.”

If a woman chooses to use her eggs, they’re thawed and fertilised to create an embryo. The egg then becomes another IVF statistic, where success rates stand at less than 30%. It’s not a foolproof insurance policy, but it provides many women with peace of mind. “I hope I never have to get my insurance policy out of the freezer,” Saly says.

Critics of egg freezing for career purposes ask whether it would be necessary at all if employers were more accommodating to new parents. Are Facebook and Apple merely getting the best years out of their workers and jeopardising their chances to have a family?

“Is it responsible to promote egg freezing as a sure fire way to progress in your career and encourage women to delay having a family? Absolutely not,” Freedman says.

Hayley Gleeson, former managing editor of women’s magazine The Hoopla, says employers can do more for new parents.

“Australia needs to embrace a paid parental leave model for mothers and fathers,” Gleeson says.
“Employers need to support parents in taking time off and working flexibly, which allows the load, and joy, to be shared.”

Egg freezing isn’t an easy thing to do, but it gave Syl Freedman a sense of control.

“I found the whole experience extremely challenging but so empowering. I felt in control, I felt strong, I felt proud,” she says.

Egg freezing is open to criticism, but giving women more autonomy over their body and choices is something we should all be supportive of.

Photo by Pockafwye/Flickr

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