Fertility on Ice: What to Consider When Thinking About Egg Freezing
Madison, Wisconsin – Recent news stories have reported that tech giants like Facebook and Apple offer, or soon will begin offering, female employees a unique health care benefit – the company will pay to allow women to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons.
Critics suggest companies are sending a message that motherhood and career are not compatible, while some supporters liken egg freezing to the development of birth control pills – in theory, it empowers women with options to delay child bearing until a time when they are ready.
"It's very challenging for women to pursue both motherhood and a career. If companies feel a need to offer this, then there needs to be a question of why," comments Julianne Zweifel, PhD, clinical psychologist with Generations Fertility Care. "In a way the companies are admitting you can't have it all. And it creates a subtle pressure that you can't be a parent and maintain a career. Instead, things like working hours and flexible schedules should be considered."
News reports from Silicon Valley and in other parts of the country indicate egg freezing to delay child bearing is gaining popularity. Women even are hosting "parties" to learn about the procedure, costs and future implications. While for many, the idea of freezing eggs may be appealing, the reality is it's not without consequences.
"Egg freezing is a relatively new technology," comments Dr. Christine Broadwell, Generations Fertility Care reproductive endocrinologist. "And there is insufficient data on the safety, efficacy and even emotional implications to recommend elective egg freezing."
In order to conceive using frozen eggs, a woman would need to undergo In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), an intensive procedure that can take months.
"There are processes that we have to go through in order to mature the egg and fertilize it," says Broadwell. "And it is not a procedure that is guaranteed to result in a live birth."
While it's a very individual choice, Zweifel worries whether the implications of such a decision are getting lost as the trend continues to gain momentum. One example she points to is that unless men are planning to freeze sperm, there is an increased risk of health problems for children born from the sperm of older fathers, such as a greater incidence of autism. And there are psychological considerations as well.
"Research has shown that as women postpone child bearing until they are financially well off, they tend to keep raising the bar for what they feel is 'well off enough,'" she comments. "By the time a woman feels secure enough to have children, she may be quite a bit older."
While there are pros and cons to starting a family at an older age, Zweifel points out the disadvantages can be substantial. Parents may be less robust and active, children may experience their parents' health decline and death at an earlier age, and the grandparenting generation is likely to be lost.
At Generations Fertility Care, the majority of women seeking egg freezing are doing so for other medical reasons.
"The majority of women who come to Generations are coming because they will be undergoing medical procedures that may compromise their future ability to conceive, such as undergoing cancer treatments," comments Broadwell.
One unique aspect of Generations is any patient wanting to undergo a procedure must first meet with Dr. Zweifel to learn what is involved in the process.
"My job is to talk with them about consequences and potential consequences. It's about helping patients be educated about important factors," says Zweifel. "It's critical women have all of the information so they can make the best decision for themselves."
Dr. Broadwell adds, "If a woman wants to undergo the procedure, she must do her research. Make an appointment at a clinic, speak to physicians and find out what options are right for you."
Date Published: 11/21/2014