In today’s world, where women are striving for higher levels of education and positions in the work force, egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) is quickly becoming the new must-have “insurance policy” for the modern-day professional woman.
In October 2014, both Apple and Facebook announced they would cover elective egg freezing, up to $20,000, for their healthy female employees. Some celebrated the tech giant’s bold move to empower career-minded woman by lessening the pressures of the biological clock while others dismissed the advance as merely a means of keeping female workers in the office for longer hours under the guise of a false sense of reproductive security. With such a major endorsement from these companies as well as the removal of the “experimental” label from egg freezing by The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the number of women undergoing this procedure has skyrocketed.
As we complete or near completion of our training as Mavens in Medicine, family planning and child-birth become a more regular topic of conversation and egg freezing is our new reality. So we decided to get an insider’s view of the process of egg freezing and recently sat down with a fellow Maven who wanted to share her personal story.
The Mavens: Why did you decide to freeze your eggs?
JLS: Right before I had turned 35, I ended yet another failed relationship. I always thought that at this age, with this career, I would have been married with at least one child and I just could not figure out what I was doing wrong. So I sat down with my mom and my sister who both asked me if I felt I was dating with the hidden pressure of wanting to have a child. Maybe my strong desire to be a mother created a nervous energy which was reflected in my interactions with men. They suggested removing the pressure of motherhood by taking that factor off of the table in my dating interactions. After much self-reflection and some basic research, I decided to freeze my eggs. I did not discuss it further with anyone else, I simply made the consultation appointment and had the procedure done by myself soon after.
The Mavens: What was the process like?
JLS: The process itself is long and expensive. The actual procedure was $10,000, not including the medications which can run you another $10,000 in some instances. The range in the costs of the medications depends on how your body responds to the hormones. You could require many doses to stimulate follicle production or you may only need a few doses. The procedural sedation was another $1200. Oh and to store the eggs is $1k/year.
I met with the REI doctor for an initial visit where we discussed my goals and expectations for the process. It’s also during this visit that I had my blood drawn and hormone levels checked. Later that day I received a call from the nurse to tell me what day to start the medications and at what dosages since this was all based off of my hormone levels and the phase of the follicles. That day I filled the minimum amount of hormone needed, considering I may not require the full amount and the costs were already racking up. It was also during this initial visit that I paid the $10k, in full.
Over the next few weeks, I injected myself in the lower abdomen daily with 1 to 2 different hormones (Menopur and Follistim) for about 1-2 weeks. I went to the doctor’s office every 3 or 4 days to check my hormone levels and to have a transvaginal ultrasound to evaluate the number of follicles. Once my hormone levels were adequate and the follicles were ready to harvest, the doctor’s office instructed me to inject myself with the “trigger medication”, Ovidrel, which would trigger my body to finally release the follicles. The next morning I went in for the actual procedure to extract the eggs. The procedure only took about 30-45 minutes and I did receive sedation. Once I woke up, the doctor informed me of the number of viable, healthy eggs that were harvested and the pathologist one site took a look at the follicles to see which were the best ones to freeze.
The Mavens: After going through all of this, do you still think it was worth it?
JLS: Yes. It is like having an insurance policy. I’m all about utilizing any and every way to make my desire to have a child a reality. I have now gone through this process twice and would even consider doing a third time. My only regret is not doing it earlier, like as soon as I turned 30.
The Mavens: When you initially discussed this with your family, they suggested that egg freezing would take the pressure of motherhood away from your dating interactions. Do you feel like that is still true?
JLS: To an extent it is but I still feel like there is an internal pressure for me to have children. Especially when I look at my work colleagues, some of whom are younger than me and already have 2 or 3 children. While the eggs are frozen and available to me when I am ready, they are still not yet children that I can hold and love. However, I will say that knowing I have frozen eggs in a cryo-storage facility does take away the pressure to settle for just anyone to make a baby with. I feel like it gives me time to select a partner that best suits me and then hopefully create the family I have always wanted.
The Mavens: As you may already know, large companies like Facebook and Apple are now paying for their female employees to have their eggs frozen. Would you like to see this practice become the standard for most large businesses? Or even for insurance companies to cover?
JLS: Yes, especially in careers which require long extended training programs like the medical fields. If you are asking a woman to dedicate years to training for these top positions, during her prime child-bearing years, I believe she should be compensated. Women should not have to sacrifice their choice of having children in order to be a physician, lawyer, managing director, CEO of a company, etc. Also, because of the high costs associated with this process, some women use online overseas pharmacies to purchase the hormones. While this is significantly cheaper, there is no regulation or quality control, so you can not be certain what you are injecting into your body. This is yet another reason why insurances should cover this procedure. It really can become a public health and safety issue if women are potentially injecting harmful drugs in order to save on the exorbitant costs of egg freezing.
The Mavens: Do you feel you were knowledgable about this process prior to deciding to do it…i.e. does the reproductive industry do a good enough job of educating women of their available options?
JLS: No. At the time I did it, I was not well-informed. I’d heard about it anecdotally, but despite being a physician, it was not through my medical training. I did not know anyone personally who had done it. I think that OB/GYN’s should do a better job of educating their patients over 30 about this as an option in their reproductive health, similar what they do with birth control pills. This is currently a cash only business, so for now, most of us do have to pay out-of-pocket. So not only should women have the time to learn about this option, but also to save for it. Really, it benefits both parties, the consumer and the business.
The Mavens: What else do you want other Mavens to know about this process?
JLS: I think that at this level in our careers, when some of us are using our disposable income to buy immediate gratification items like shoes or designer bags, our future reproductive health should definitely be on the priority list of considerations.
JLS is a 37-year-old Emergency Medicine Physician in New York City.
Do you have experience with egg freezing? Leave us a comment and tell us your story.