Egg freezing is back in the spotlight, its success rate under scrutiny. And this month Timeless, an event examining its future, opens. Here, writer Moya Sarner, 29, shares her personal experience of what was once heralded as a fertility revolution
Last year, I found myself in a consultation room at the London Women’s Clinic, knickers off, legs akimbo, while a doctor internally scanned my ovaries. At 29, I was perfectly healthy, with no medical or fertility problems and no immediate plans to start a family. So what was I doing there?
I wanted to freeze my eggs, so I could delay having a baby until my forties. I, like many other young women, had watched in wonder at the unfolding of the apparent fertility revolution – vaunted as being as game-changing as the Pill.
Indeed, statistics released by the London School of Economics last week revealed that 60% of women aged 18-24 believe women should be encouraged to use egg freezing for social, ie, lifestyle, reasons. 85% of the same women (an ICM poll
of 2,013) agreed that improving career options was a good reason to freeze eggs.
This latest survey coincides with a new pop-up project, Timeless, opening in London later this month. It will explore issues around egg freezing out of concern that women are choosing the technique without fully understanding it. Timeless is a clever idea, if a bit gimmicky – it will compare egg freezing to the latest ‘miracle’ beauty treatments. And there is growing evidence that egg freezing could be offering false hope to women.
Speaking to Grazia, fertility pioneer Professor Robert Winston said that women hoping to have a baby from their own frozen eggs face a success rate of less than 2.5%. ‘When it comes to preserving a woman’s own fertility, there is really
no evidence that it’s a successful, viable method,’ he said. ‘The clinics appear to be massively exaggerating their success rates. You have a very fraught, dangerous situation: groups of women are increasingly desperate about their fertility, and many who are professional, experienced and have enough money to spend are beginning to recognise that they may be facing a “fertility time bomb”. The combination of the desperation of these people as they get older, and the avarice of clinics, is an extraordinarily dangerous precedent for doing medicine, which is not actually good practice.’
The first pregnancy from a frozen egg occurred in April 1986, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine deemed that the procedure was no longer experimental, thanks to a flash-freezing technique called vitrification. Now Facebook and Apple offer it to employees as part of their benefits package. At present, egg freezing is only available privately in the UK. Statistics show that, here, only 36 babies have been born from the 1,818 eggs thawed between 2008 and 2012 for patients who had frozen them for their own use (as opposed to donated eggs).
I felt overwhelmed and confused after that first consultation. I was quoted £4,300 for the procedure and £250 a year thereafter for storage. Aside from that, the realisation hit me that egg freezing involved serious, invasive treatment with potentially dangerous side effects for minimal return. In the months since, my partner and I have changed our minds: unless I need to for medical reasons, I don’t think I will freeze my eggs. We’re now considering trying for a baby when I turn 33. Having a child feels too important not to give ourselves the best chance possible, and I’ve come to the conclusion that relying on frozen eggs won’t give us that.