E eleven years ago a gynecologist told me that my fallopian tubes were "obliterated ". He had just performed adoes adhesiolysis, the surgical removal of scar tissue. In my case, the scars were from a ruptured appendix in my youth and, as was later discovered, from endometriosis. Since I would not be able to conceive naturally, the doctor asked me if I wanted to do free freezing of eggs or embryos with the NHS. Having always known that I would like a baby someday, the answer was yes.
The doctor told me that the chances of a future pregnancy would be higher if I freeze the fertilized embryos, rather than my eggs alone. I'm gay, I don't have a lot of semen and have always preferred the idea of using a donor to conceive rather than doing it with a male friend. So I selected a donor from an American sperm bank and had it shipped before the start of my freezing cycle. After a fortnight of cocktail of hormonal drugs , my eggs have was "harvested." The viable ones were fertilized and produced good embryos. They have been in a hospital freezer for 10 years - a heartwarming thought, but also so abstract that I can barely understand the implications.
Under current UK law my embryos can be left on ice for 55 years because the treatment was the result of a medical problem. They had been frozen instead for 'social' reasons - because I hadn't yet met someone I wanted to have children with or didn't think I could afford a baby - I would have had a maximum of 10 years to use them. It's punitive to think that if things were different they could have been destroyed this year just because I didn't feel ready to havea child.
Fertility experts have long been pushing against the 10-year limit for freezing eggs, embryos and sperm. The rule, stated by The Human Fertilization and Embryology Law of 1990 is arbitrary; eggs and embryos can be frozen safely indefinitely . The UK government finally seems to be listening and announced this week that the the 10-year rule would be removed . In the future, anyone will be able to freeze genetic material up to the age of 55, regardless of the reason for doing so.
There was arapid growth in egg freezing over the past 10 years, just under 230 cycles in 2009 to 2,400 cycles in 2019 . The process involves 10 to 12 days of self-administered injections containing hormonal drugs that stimulate egg production in the ovarian follicles, with regular visits to the clinic for scans and blood tests to monitor progress. Following this, under sedation or general anesthesia, a process called transvaginal oocyte retrieval occurs, when a doctor inserts a needle through the vaginal wall and into the follicles to retrieve the eggs. Let me tell you: you can feel that this has happened.
Freezing the eggs isWas formerly reserved for medical reasons, such as reserving fertility which might be affected by chemotherapy. It has since been rebranded as a way for women to have some control over their fertility clocks; to own our future. The egg freezing industry is is worth millions in the United States , where private equity firms target women in their twenties with the idea that freezing eggs at 25 is a smart career move.
Here in the UK, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) inspects fertility clinics against a code of practice, which states that they do not must not show high success rateswhich only apply to small, selected groups of patients. But every year, thousands of women continue to absorb the idea that we can save time by paying a small fortune to hope.
The average cost of egg freezing is around £ 3,350 , not counting the necessary hormonal drugs, which can cost thousands of dollars. There's a postcode lottery to find out what NHS fertility clinics can offer people - some will offer elective egg freezing and storage, if you pay for it - and many are looking to the private sector. The cost of storing eggs can reach £ 350 per year. Prices like these should come with guarantees, but that is impossible.
The reality is that not all eggs produces an embryo; not all embryos end in pregnancy; and not all pregnancies result in the birth of a baby. HFEA data shows that frozen eggs represent only 1-2% of all IVF treatment cycles . Age is a crucial factor: eggs are of much better quality at age 20 and , if frozen before the age of 35, the chances of success will be higher than the natural conception rate as a woman gets older. This makes removing the 10-year storage limit even more necessary - if women need to freeze their eggs earlier to have a better chance of getting pregnant, they need more time to access them later.
While the new 55-year storage limit encourages more people to freeze theireggs, clinics are responsible for conveying the reality of the process. To think of fertility treatment as something you can just go to a clinic for is misleading: making and then surgically retrieving eggs from your body can be a challenge. The hormonal medication can make you feel bloated, nauseous and anxious, while the egg collection can cause a lot of pain, with possible complications. ( I had a bad time , but not everyone.)
Being able to use technologies such as freezing eggs and not feel so pressed by our fertility clocks is an advantage of living in the modern world. But the modern world is also driving this booming market, especially for young people - those most likely to prpreserve their fertility, if they wish. Life is more expensive than it has ever been. That the process is unaffordable for so many adds another layer of injustice.
The prospect of having more room to make important decisions about the Having children is great, but we have to be realistic about what egg and embryo freezing really involves, its accessibility and the inherent lack of certainty. After all, many people of childbearing age feel that the choice to start a family has been taken away from them, not by the inaccessibility of fertility treatment, but by a complete lack of economic security in life. (Great Britain the birth rate is in free fall ; in the United States the birth rate is lowest for 35 years .)
Better wages, access to stable housing, affordable child care: fundamental social changes like these are needed to alleviate the burden. overwhelming uncertainty that many of us feel about having babies. Having the ability to keep eggs longer is good, but it is not the cure-all. 'we are often led to believe.
- Eleanor Morgan is the author of Hormonal: A Conversation About Women ' s Bodies, Mental Health and why we must be heard