The obvious answer is that women who freeze want to preserve their fertility. But looking more deeply, it comes with quite a few nuances, not all of them personal and not all of them immediately clear.
According to some shouty media outlets, the stereotypical “egg freezing woman” is a career-hungry, glass-ceiling smasher, liable to hiss if she encounters a baby en route from the boardroom to the wine bar.
Sure, there's nothing wrong with having a thriving career and enjoying a glass, or three, of wine every now and again, but this stereotype doesn't take into account the wider social context that has created an absolute need for more reproductive options, clinical or otherwise.
When we [ELANZA co-founders] froze our eggs, we couldn't help feel a bit embarrassed about it. Did people think we were incapable of finding the right partner? Did it mean that we were selfish and un-maternal? We felt completely confused and alone. Were we the only ones battling with these questions?
After interviewing dozens of other women for our book, Everything Egg Freezing...which you should totally review on Amazon ;) ... the answer is a definitive NO. There are all kinds of reasons women freeze their eggs but what might interest you is how often these seemingly personal reasons are often embedded in a giant snowball of societal changes.
According to official research and many conversations with women themselves and fertility doctors, here are our "13 Reasons Why" women egg freeze...
1. It’s not the “right time” to start a family
Contrary to how it can feel when you’re single and could not be more ready to mingle, the “right time” is not all about finding the right partner, for both men and women.(1) Research shows that even women in relationships choose to freeze their eggs because they are "just not ready for kids yet."(2) For many women, both in relationships or not, being “ready” for kids means that certain (self-defined) life conditions need to be in place before they would choose parenthood. Some of these conditions were found to include things like having a stable job, sound finances and/or having a home in a child-friendly area.(3) For many women and men, these life conditions aren't merely preferences, but prerequisites.
“My boyfriend and I are pretty sure we want to have kids together someday, but we are SO not in a place in our lives financially where we would even consider it. I know that egg freezing is expensive, but the cost of having a child is exponentially higher. I want to be a good parent and for me that can only happen once I have time and financial stability.” - Jennie, 35
2. Their partner isn’t ready for parenthood
For many women, having a partner to co-parent with is an important consideration when choosing whether or not to have a child, albeit not a necessity (the number of women who are single mothers by choice (or “SMC”) is growing.)(4) Even for those in relationships, co-parenting is not automatically on the cards. Women get a lot of bashing, but one study found that many women in relationships who froze their eggs did so because their partner would not commit to fatherhood.(2) This is perhaps in part due to men being even less informed about the impact of age on fertility than women are.
“I’ve been with my boyfriend for years now and he’s made it clear that he does want to start a family with me someday, but that seems to be on his own time, not mine. It’s not like I’m going to be able to have kids forever! He hasn’t even proposed and it’s not something I feel like I can bring up yet again...egg freezing seems like the only option.” - Hilary 36
3. They haven’t found the right partner
Despite the rise in “SMCs,” the majority preference of women is still to raise a child with a life partner. That could be for many different reasons, not the least of which is economics – many women we spoke to said that they felt raising a child in their city was something you could only do with two salaries. 85% of the women from a Yale University study on egg freezing were single and many of these women said they froze their eggs because they didn’t have a suitable partner with whom to raise a child. What's most interesting from the Yale research is that, in contrast to the old stereotype, only 1.5% of the women said they froze their eggs for directly career-related purposes.(2)
It’s not as if the single women in this study had no interest in relationships when they were younger - the majority of them said that throughout their college and career-building years they had been looking for the right person they could one day start a family with, but it just hadn’t happened.
“It’s not like I haven’t been trying to find a decent guy to date. I’m just not willing to settle. For me, having kids is more about starting a family with the right person. I’d rather do it right the first time rather than end up divorced with kids like my parents did.” - Bonnie, 38
DOCTOR INSIGHT: “Most women I see for a consultation for egg freezing are considering it because they are currently not in a relationship and have a strong desire to have children in the future. I also see many women who are in serious relationships but want to delay childbearing to pursue higher education, career aspirations, or have experienced a recent personal hardship.” - Dr. Meera Shah, Nova IVF, Mountain View
4. To avoid "panic partnering"
Single women in another study also said they froze their eggs because they knew they were running out of time to become mothers, but wanted to avoid so called "panic partnering:" a frantic decision to settle down (emphasis on the “settle”) in an unsuitable relationship in order to have a biological child before the biological clock stops ticking.(1) The women from this study said that egg freezing gave them more time to find the right partner and avoid later regrets that they had settled down with the wrong guy. The life phase of “waiting for the right partner” is now so widespread it's become a new life stage for some women in their thirties and forties; there's even a term for it: "otherhood."(6)
So why are women in their fertile years seemingly finding it harder to find an acceptable partner who is willing to start a family? One theory is that many women have expectations about their partner’s education and income that limit the pool of prospective partners.
In the US, college-educated women now significantly outnumber college-educated men: there are currently three million fewer of those men than women in their prime reproductive years, aged 22 to 39.(8) This means that college-educated women increasingly face a smaller pool of equally educated men with whom to start a family.
In one study, some women who froze their eggs said not being able to find a guy with their own level of education and earning power meant they had to “settle For them, finding a partner with a similar background - namely, college-educated, or professional, often with advanced degrees or high earnings - were just really hard to find.(2) What they are describing is essentially a kind of dating glass ceiling for men. Their preferences run contrary to demographic shifts in the US - and the mismatch has obvious consequences.
5. To gain back time after a breakup
Some of the single women who froze eggs had previously thought they had found a life partner, but found themselves in unforeseen relationship issues, divorce (17%) or breakups (12%). Unsurprisingly, the women described these breakups as “traumatic,” partly because they had spent most of their fertile years in that relationship, only to part ways with the men with whom they had previously planned to start a family. Amazingly, several of the women included the cost of egg freezing in their divorce settlements!(7)
DOCTOR INSIGHT: “A large proportion of my patients come to see me for egg freezing after a breakup or divorce.” - Dr. Diana Chavkin, HRC Fertility, Los Angeles
6. Men are also waiting longer to start families
Studies suggest the vast majority of men want and expect to become fathers. They aspire to have at least two children and are just as concerned as women about the timing and planning of them.(9, 10) Whether it’s finishing college, establishing a career or finding “the one,” both men and women say that it just has to be at the right time in life.(11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
The biggest discrepancy between men and women seems to be that the “right time” to have kids comes later for men than it does for women. For women, the “right time” is heavily regulated by the biological clock. While this runs in the background as a consistent reminder of the reproductive expiration date, the motivation to have kids really kicks in once certain life goals and milestones have been reached – things like financial stability or finding the right partner.(14)
While men also say they want to push back parenthood in order to achieve certain life goals, they differ from women in that they find it more important to have a few years of freedom before facing the sacrifices in time, flexibility, freedom, and career opportunities that fatherhood entails.(14) And perhaps the biggest difference is that men don’t feel as constrained by their biological clock, which is why they don’t often see their age as a limitation when it comes to fatherhood.(16, 17) Research indicates that the age-related constraints men do feel are informed by the desire to be an active father and to have their kids grow up in time for them to enjoy early retirement or so-called “second youth."(14)
“Of course I want to be a dad! Having a family has always been really important to me. I’m enjoying my life right now, dating and working hard. I just don’t see the need to rush into anything.” - Joe, 36
“My dad was the coach of my little league team and was always really involved in whatever sport I was playing. That’s something I want to do for my kids one day.” - Jeff, 32
Men’s concept of the “right time” does not take into account their own biological clock: what many men don’t realize is that sperm quality and quantity are thought to deteriorate around age 40.(18, 19) But, according to one of our Expert Panelists, Dr. Paul Turek, a noted male fertility specialist, the timeline of reduced male fertility potential “is more of an hourglass than a clock.” In other words, fertility in men decreases much more gradually and less dramatically than in women. The most pronounced change in semen quality with advancing paternal age is lower sperm motility. Fewer sperm can mean a longer time to pregnancy.(20)
And older men are more likely to have miscarriages or babies with neurological diseases like schizophrenia.(21,22) In fact, studies have shown that babies fathered by men over 55 years old have over four times the relative risk of having autism compared to fathers younger than 30. Scientists believe this stems from the fact that aging sperm is more likely to develop mutations.(23) In Dr. Turek’s view, “the quality control machinery is getting older and wears down.”
Still, the changes in terms of infertility are still smaller than those in women.
It’s not only an individual man’s biological clock that we should start talking about: some scientists have also found evidence that suggests sperm counts have noticeably declined worldwide in the last century. One Danish study claims that the average sperm count has declined by more than 50% since 1973 and shows no sign of leveling off.(24) Despite the headlines splashed around on this topic, it’s worth noting that the evidence is not conclusive and more research is needed.
7. To gain a feeling of fertility freedom
For some women, egg freezing can be a decisive, empowering step that offers some security and insurance for the future and the feeling of taking the reins in their own lives.
“After I froze my eggs, I felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I know it’s not guaranteed to work but knowing I’ve done everything I can has been a huge relief.” - Gwen, 35
“I felt like a failure. Like I failed at my relationship, at being desirable as “mother material,” like I failed at giving my parents a grandchild and failed to keep up with my friends. When I started looking into egg freezing, it felt like a way of getting back a bit of control, of making decisions about my own future and of realizing the reason I even can do this is because I am independent and successful.” - Celia, 37
8. Because it’s hard to combine parenthood and building a career
Women are accepted in the workplace, and we’re finally moving our way up on the equality totem pole. But doesn’t it seem like just when you get to the point in your career where you can finally be cleared of your school debt, the alarm bells start ringing from your biological clock? This is just one of many personal and systemic issues that pose conflict between parenthood and a career. When you look at the facts, “having it all” seems like nothing short of a pipe dream.
First, a career provides the obvious benefit of making money. For women, the financial opportunity grows with every year without children. In fact, studies show that delaying motherhood leads to a substantial increase in earnings of nine percent per year of delay.(28)
And even if or when you decide to have kids, the workplace is simply not outfitted for the demands of motherhood. As of 2018, the US is one of only three countries around the world without a national policy guaranteeing paid maternity leave. The benefits of paid maternity leave are far from trivial: a study found that the infants of women who did not receive it experienced almost double the odds of being re-hospitalized and double the chance of being re-hospitalized themselves within a year or two postpartum.(29)
And even after a child gets to the age when a woman no longer needs to provide basic care for an infant, such as breastfeeding, the conflict between career and motherhood doesn’t seem to get much better. According to a Pew research study, 39% of women say that they have had to take “a significant amount of time off work” in order to take care of their children, versus only 24% of working fathers. As such, 42% of women said they’ve had to reduce their work hours to take care of the kids compared to only 28% of fathers.(30)
9. They're unsure if they really want kids
For women, single or in a relationship, who just aren’t sure if they want kids, egg freezing can mean less worry that they might change their minds or regret the decision in the future when it might be too late.
“I always thought I’d have kids, but when I saw my friends with theirs, it made me really quickly realize that's just not the path for me. My husband, career, hobbies and dog are the perfect balance in my life. But I want to make sure I don’t have any regrets when I’m in my forties.” - Karen, 25
“It’s been three years since I got divorced and I have a five year old son. I don’t know if it’s realistic to have more kids. I haven’t dated at all and I would be really worried about rocking the boat for my son. But my company pays for egg freezing, so I’m going to do it just in case I meet someone great in the future and he wants a family of his own. I know I’m really lucky to have the option.” - Berenice, 35
10. They want to prevent the regret of not freezing
If it turns out that a woman needs her eggs and she didn’t freeze them when she had the chance, she may blame herself. For some women it’s less a case of believing egg freezing to be an insurance policy in and of itself, and more the case of insuring against her own potential future regret.(31)
11. They want to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment or radiation therapy
Anywhere from 20-70% of people who undergo cancer treatment will be left infertile by chemotherapy or radiation treatment.(32) Such treatments are known as “gonadotoxic” treatments because of the damage they can cause to the immature and growing follicles within the ovaries. If you are facing this kind of treatment, egg freezing might be a possibility and an opportunity to preserve your eggs. If having babies feels like the furthest thing from your mind, given everything on your plate, it’s worth noting that for many women the desire to have children actually increased after surviving a cancer diagnosis.(33)
Despite a recent push for insurance companies to cover egg freezing for cancer patients, the current reality is that most of them do not.(34) This is no different to many healthy women considering egg freezing, except there are additional financial curveballs to anticipate: let’s say further cancer treatment requires a hysterectomy and you cannot carry your frozen eggs or embryos yourself. Can you also afford the cost of a surrogate? Another unfortunate truth is that egg freezing won’t be able to reverse all the potential damage caused to your reproductive system including the reproductive organs necessary for you to carry a pregnancy to term and the disruption of key reproductive hormones.(35)
Although egg freezing will not be the right path for all cancer patients, if you are of reproductive age and your future fertility could be compromised by medical treatment, make sure to have a discussion with your oncologist (or seek a referral to a fertility doctor) about your future fertility options.
DOCTOR INSIGHT: “Many cancers, most notably breast cancer, affect reproductive age women. With an expedited referral to a fertility specialist, a woman can undergo an egg freezing cycle in two weeks, without impacting her cancer treatment. As cancer treatments advance, more women are surviving their disease and living longer. Freezing eggs gives these women hope and a will to fight their cancer. This has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.” - Dr. Meera Shah, Nova IVF, Mountain View
12. they're gay, bi or in a same sex partnership
About five percent of American women consider themselves LGBT and the figure is even higher for women under age 40.(36) If that includes you and you know you one day want to have a genetic child, there are options such as at-home artificial insemination with a disposable syringe (i.e. the “turkey baster” method) or having sex with a guy (which probably doesn’t sound like a super appealing option.)
At-home artificial insemination has around the same success rate as intercourse. But, if it’s not the right time yet, or, if you want to have a baby with a partner and think you’d like one of you to provide the eggs and the other to carry the baby in the future, egg freezing can help you to preserve your fertility potential until the time is right.
If you choose to use your eggs in the future, donor sperm would be used to fertilize the egg (in a petri dish) and the embryo would be implanted inside you or your chosen gestational mother in the hope of pregnancy.
The benefit is the same as it is for straight women: rather than going through an ovarian stimulation cycle at the point at which you are ready for a child (and retrieving older eggs), you could use your younger, better quality frozen eggs and skip straight to the embryo transfer stage. The main disadvantage in freezing early rather than doing “fresh” IVF is that there will be additional storage costs involved. On the other hand, you might need fewer cycles of IVF because younger eggs have a higher chance of success.
“I've spent the last couple of years figuring out my sexuality and coming out to my friends and family. I’ve always wanted a big family and I know I want biological kids. It makes sense to me to freeze my eggs now if I will end up going through this in the future when I’m older anyway. I sold my car, took on some extra work and I’m using a payment plan to cover the rest.” - Lex, 28
13. Because they're undergoing gender reassignment
People preparing for transition may sometimes want to take steps to preserve their fertility before beginning hormone replacement therapy. Egg freezing can be a particularly strange and difficult thing for a person assigned female at birth, but transitioning, to go through: before taking testosterone shots to encourage facial hair, increase muscles and lower their voice, they instead must take shots that increase female hormones right on the other end of the spectrum.
In the US, around 1.4 million adults identify as transgender,(37) but it’s estimated only up to five percent of those without children have banked eggs or sperm for the future.(38, 39) This could be partly as people are coming out as transgender or gender nonconforming at earlier ages and stages, when they are less likely to be able to afford fertility preservation treatment on top of other surgical costs, and younger trans people are less likely to have had biological children prior to transitioning.
Additionally, discriminatory definitions in insurance policies mean that trans people, as well as other LGBTQ people, may not meet medical requirements for coverage. Insurance companies often rely on a specific definition of infertility (a man and a woman unable to conceive after having unprotected sex for six to twelve months) to deny coverage to LGBTQ+ people.
DOCTOR INSIGHT: “In my experience, many people planning to undergo gender reassignment don’t want to store their eggs. It requires a pregnancy in them, or a surrogate.” - Professor Richard Anderson, University of Edinburgh MRC Centre for Reproductive Health
There are so many different reasons why women decide to freeze their eggs. And while the concept of fertility can be completely overwhelming and confusing at times, just know that there are all kinds of things you CAN do to maintain your options - of which egg freezing is just one of them. In fact, there are a vast number of things you can do to tweak your lifestyle in order to maintain your natural fertility, too. We've included them all in this comprehensive guide, Everything Egg Freezing.
And feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any other insights or stories you'd like to share! We want to hear from you.
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