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Should young women consider putting motherhood on ice?

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Data on the success rates of women who have had their eggs frozen and used them to produce a baby is scarce.

Data on the success rates of women who have had their eggs frozen and used them to produce a baby is scarce.

Data on the success rates of women who have had their eggs frozen and used them to produce a baby is scarce.

For women who want to hold off on having a baby to focus on their careers or wait for Mr Right there is another option. But at a cost of over €5,000 for the procedure plus additional storage costs is it a viable one?

Apple and Facebook recently announced an egg freezing benefit package for female employees offering them $20,000 (€15,802) to get their eggs frozen and $480 (€379) a year to store them. Since the announcement, there has been mixed reactions from the media and fertility experts. Some are accusing the Silicon Valley giants of trying to dissuade women from having families at all and encourage them to focus their energies on their careers. Others applaud the companies for being proactive and taking a forward look at their employees’ future needs.

Taking a closer look at Facebook’s other benefits adds weight to the latter argument. The company offers four months maternity leave, subsidises daycare and even covers the cost of freezing sperm to men. But arguments along this line are really missing the point. The real question should be: Is egg freezing a realistic option for young women who are not ready to become mothers?

Declan Keane, who founded ReproMed Ireland in 2009, argues that anything that gives young women more options is a good thing. That said he is quick to point out that egg freezing does not offer women a guarantee for a baby.

“It’s important to recognise that egg freezing preserves a woman’s fertility potential. It doesn’t guarantee a baby in the future because even using a young woman’s fresh eggs I can’t say if her fertility potential is good or not. No one will know that until she starts trying to get pregnant.”

 

Chances of success

Data on the success rates of women who have had their eggs frozen and used them to produce a baby is scarce. While the procedure has been available for more than a decade, it has mostly been used to preserve the eggs of young cancer patients who would become infertile through chemotherapy or radiation.

Research published in the international journal Fertility and Sterility in 2013 showed the chance of a woman having a baby after having eggs frozen at age 25 was 31.5 per cent. That fell to 19.3 per cent when the woman was aged 35 at the time her eggs were frozen.

Declan says the poor results are down to the fact that the technology for freezing eggs has been advancing rapidly over the last decade. “Eggs that were frozen in the 1990s would not be as good today as when they were frozen because damage would more than likely be caused during the storage process due to the methods embryologists were using in the past. Conversely, eggs frozen today using contemporary technologies have a 95 per cent chance of surviving the freezing and thawing process.”

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The question, says Keane, is whether the eggs stored today will be viable in the next 10 or 20 years.

“We’ll have to wait and see because the technology is advancing so rapidly nobody knows where it is going to be in the future.”

The process used today involves stimulating the ovaries to mature a number of eggs simultaneously. The eggs are

then removed from the woman’s womb and frozen using a process called Vitrification. This ensures they are frozen so fast that they don’t produce any ice that would damage the egg. They are then stored in large tanks until the woman wants to use them.

So with no promise that the procedure will work, does Declan think egg freezing is a good option for young career driven women or those who haven’t found Mr Right?

“I think it’s a very empowering situation for young women to have the chance of having a family without the biological clock ticking in the background.

“At the same time I would suggest women freeze their eggs as early as possible to get the best chance they canof having a baby. I council 50 per cent of the people who come to see me about egg freezing out of going through with the procedure because they are too old. The quality of the eggs that we are going to get from a woman in her late 30s is not going to be of high enough quality to rest her hopes on. By the time she reaches that stage she is often thinking ‘why didn’t I do it when I was 28? Now I’m in the fertility decline stage and I have few options’.”


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