If you ask a young women today, she might tell you that having a kid ranks pretty low on her priority list next to other life goals like getting an advanced degree, becoming a #bossbitch, cracking five figures for her Instagram following, or just having the luxury of Netflix and chilling in uninterrupted bliss.
Or it could be that the perfect match hasn’t shown up on Tinder, or she’s still stuck paying off student loan debt with an underwhelming salary.
But while more and more women are admitting they don’t want kids now, more and more are taking a soup-to-nuts approach so they could have them later by freezing their eggs. It’s received plenty of press in recent years thanks to companies like Apple and Facebook offering the procedure to its female employees. And it’s a trend that’s been sweeping Hollywood, too—Sofia Vergara froze embryos with her ex, and Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, and Janet Jackson all reportedly decided to undergo the procedure, too.
What It Is
Freezing your eggs is kind of like taking out an insurance plan for your fertility, Dr. Jan Rydfors, the co-creator of Pregnancy Companion, says. “It’s a relatively new technology that allows young women to harvest some of her eggs and use them later,” she adds. It involves a lengthy process of meetings and tests with your OB/GYN, hormone supplements, and frequent ovarian ultrasounds to see that the eggs are maturing properly.
When the eggs are ready to be harvested, you’re sedated in an outpatient procedure and a needle is used to suck out the eggs from your ovary (which we’re told is unpleasant, but fairly quick). In a typical harvest, Rydfors says, doctors can typically collect five to 20 eggs.
How effective is it?
Dr. Rydfors says that up until about five years ago, egg freezing didn’t actually result in that many successful pregnancies, but thanks to a new freezing process called vitrification, live births happen to around a third of women who freeze their eggs. Still, freezing a fertilized egg versus an unfertilized one still has a slightly higher success rate.
“There’s more data supporting that there are no risks involved with it,” Dr. Rydfors adds. So even when it comes to being proactive with your fertility, women who go into it with a partner (or at least some of his sperm) end up ahead. But Dr. Rydfors notes that if you’re not quite ready to head to a sperm bank or procreate with fling of the month, egg freezing is still your best bet in terms of having a baby later in life.
When You Should Get It Done
A 2010 study found that by the time a woman hits 30, almost 90 percent of her eggs are lost. Dr. Rydfors recommends women start early—in their late 20s or early 30s—to guarantee the most success.
But because the procedure is such a new one, little data exists to show how long it’s safe to wait before trying to have a kid with your frozen egg. “The oldest egg that resulted in a live birth was 10 years old,” Dr. Rydfors says. “But it’s possible that even older eggs are able to retain their ability—we just don’t know for sure yet.”
Why Women Do It
For most women, it’s a battle against the clock. “As a woman ages, her eggs will age as well, increasing the rate of chromosomal disorders, which often lead to miscarriages and other birth defects,” Rydfors says. Freezing eggs now is a proactive way to help your fertility later, especially if you don’t have the time to dedicate to starting a family because of a demanding job.
That was the case for Rachel Yang, a surgical resident at Stanford. She and her husband, who is training to be a facial surgeon, decided in 2012 to freeze their embryos—another option for women who know that they want children with that particular partner—because of timing issues.
“I was basically committing to seven more years of training where pregnancy and raising a child would be near impossible,” she said—and even if she could do it, the lifestyle would be miserable.
Yang went through tests, meetings, ultrasounds, and blood tests, not to mention several rounds of hormonal stimulation (which Yang says was “not too fun because it made my boobs ache”).
All said, the procedure cost about $15,000, plus an extra $700 every six months to store the frozen eggs or embryos, so for women who are still trying to climb the ladder, this might not be a financially sound idea.
Yang says she’s going to wait until she’s at least 33 to start a family, because that’s when she’ll be done with her surgical training. But if she wants to delay motherhood for a few more years, the science is behind her—she has little to lose.