By: Eruke Ojuederie
In developing nations, fertility among women has been perceived as one of the greatest gifts a husband can have. It has served as the basis for a healthy marriage on the one hand and broken marriages on the other. Whatever be the case, psychology experts have stated that once a woman starts aging she focuses more on family and loved ones which include children. Dr. Jordan B Peterson a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto in one of his speeches pointed that when a woman clocks 30 she begins to feel the urgent need to have a child. Psychology, societal, and cultural beliefs all tilt towards the significance of fertility in women, however, in recent times, there has been a turn around with the inception of new medical discoveries.
How it all began
Freezing of eggs was introduced with the first cryopreservation of sperm in 1953 and of embryos thirty years later. Dr. Christopher Chen of Singapore reported the world’s first pregnancy in 1986 using previously frozen oocytes. This report stood alone for several years followed by studies reporting success rates using frozen eggs to be much lower than those of traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques using fresh oocytes. This discovery led to another by Dr. Lilia Kuleshova who was the first scientist to achieve vitrification of human oocytes that resulted in a live birth in 1999.
Elective oocyte cryopreservation, also known as social egg freezing, is the term used to describe non-essential egg freezing for the purpose of preserving fertility for delayed child-bearing when natural conception becomes more problematic. The frequency of this procedure has steadily increased since October 2012 when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), one of the World’s leading fertility organizations, lifted the ‘experimental’ label from the process. This sparked in 2014 when global corporations Apple and Facebook revealed they were introducing egg freezing as a benefit for their female employees. This announcement was controversial as some women found it empowering and practical, while others viewed the message these companies were sending to women trying to have a successful long-term career and a family as harmful and alienating. In 2016, then US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Department of Defense will cover the cost of freezing sperm or eggs through a pilot program for active duty service members, with the intention of preserving their ability to start a family even if they suffer certain combat injuries.
How does it work?
According to the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, is a process in which a woman’s eggs (oocytes) are extracted, frozen and stored as a method to preserve reproductive potential in women of reproductive age. In this case, a patient who wishes to retrieve eggs for freezing will undergo the same hormone-injection process as in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The only difference is that following egg retrieval, they are frozen for a period of time before they are thawed, fertilized and transferred to the uterus as embryos.
Why do women freeze their eggs?
Recently more than ever before, a large number of women are not only willing to try our new health plans but are also open to a whole new world of possibilities with a fast-paced digitalized society.
Several newspapers sought to learn why exactly women freeze their eggs and most have deduced that the number one reason why women freeze their eggs is age. Some other have tried to explain how hard it is for an educated and sophisticated woman to get a man to marry her at a good enough age hence the need to freeze eggs. Others have observed that women are now liberal enough to decide what they would like to do with their lives at specific points in time. In Brain Wang’s article titled “College educated women unwilling to settle are freezing their eggs”, it was revealed that UK researchers interviewed 150 women who had frozen eggs, of whom 90% said they could not find a suitable partner. Author Prof Marcia Inhorn said the research challenged perceptions that women put off having a baby so they could prioritize their job. Given all these assertions, a more popular opinion will be that since human beings are dynamic, every woman has her unique reason for freezing her eggs.
There is no doubting the fact that age can reduce the chance of a woman getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. A woman’s age is the single most important factor affecting her fertility.
EggBanxx in outlining some of the reasons why women freeze their eggs came up with this interesting list:
- Women who freeze their eggs are looking to maximize their chance of having a healthy baby when they are ready.
- For other women, social reasons like focusing on school or a career might be a factor as she does not have the time to meet or find the right life partner.
- Some forms of early menopause, such as premature ovarian failure, has the potential for a woman to have significantly fewer healthy eggs than other women of the same age group. Certain severities of endometriosis require surgery to remove all or part of a woman’s reproductive organs, possibly reducing the likelihood of conceiving naturally or traditionally.
- Cancer and other radiation or high-drug treatments can also cause concern for a woman’s reproductive health. Freezing eggs before these procedures can ensure the possibility of having a biological child, even if you require a gestational surrogate.
It has been argued that if a woman chooses to focus on academics or career rather than have children at a particular time, it should not be equated to the ability to find a suitable mate. It should be seen as a choice and so should the decision to freeze eggs. However, it is interesting to realize that the quest to achieve gender equality the world over now seems to influence personal decisions and change already outlined goals. In the world we live today every individual has been given the power to change the cause of things and “break glass ceilings”.
The Anticipated Danger
Despite these seemingly open-ended choices, women who decide to engage in this practice have been warned about the dangers of what may be a costly decision. Prof Adam Balen, president of the British Fertility Society said: “the technology in egg freezing has improved a great deal but it is still no guarantee of a baby later in life.”
Experts have foreseen a society with new gender norms and family formations where single motherhood by choice is the order of the day. Although women have not admitted to this fact, egg freezing is clearly a useful outlet for women – a comfort point.
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) estimates that by 2018, 76,000 women will freeze their eggs – more than 15 times the rate in 2013.
Whether or not this new found interest in egg freezing spells a family revolution, there is a need to critically weigh the options and evaluate the impacts this process will have on our world in the coming years.