To freeze or not to freeze

To freeze or not to freeze.

That is the question. At least, it’s what an increasing number of childless women in their thirties are asking themselves.

Whether they’re career focussed, continuing tertiary studies, traveling/skiing (yes, that's me age 37, ignoring my body clock and enjoying the snow instead), saving money or unlucky in love, there are lots of reasons why women are delaying their plans for having children. I was ‘all of the above’ when I hit 36. 

I was returning home to Australia from 3.5 years of working in the US and had just experienced a disastrous ending to a serious relationship. Dazed, confused and heartbroken after the discovery of multiple infidelities, I was forced into the position of starting life all over again. When I landed back in Sydney and the reality of my situation truly hit home, the consideration of freezing my eggs flashed briefly through my mind. 

But since my mother had birthed my very healthy younger sister when she was 40, surely my fertility would also prevail. This gave me at least 4 years to make it all happen - the husband, the home and the baby, preferably in that order. It seemed like a grand vista of time, but as we all know too well, nothing in life ever quite goes to plan.

Instead of this idealistic sequence unfolding, I instead experienced the frustratingly slow paced trudge of finding my feet, reconnecting with friends and community and coming to the realisation that I had an increasingly small pool of decent, eligible men to choose from. I dated, lowered my standards, dated more, lowered my standards again. As I reached 37, then 38, I realised that the vast majority of my friends were now married and already had created their families. But my fertile years were now gone. 

Basically, I had hit my expiry date. I’d missed the critical window for prolonging my fertility by freezing my eggs

Now looking down the barrel of 39, no IVF clinic bothered encouraging the egg freezing option. Their no-nonsense suggestion was to get on with it: secure some donor sperm and start trying for a baby, ASAP. I even received some recriminations from medical staff for leaving it so late. These served as potent reminders for what a fool I’d been.

At what age should I have optimally frozen my eggs? The general assumption is, ‘the younger the better’ but the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) now states that the optimal age for the process is between 30-34 years, unless health or fertility issues call for considering the option at a younger age. If you’ve hit your early 30’s but your future feels uncertain, then it’s time to seriously consider putting your eggs on ice, ladies. You’ve more chance to use eggs you freeze in your thirties, they’re still likely to be healthy and viable and you won’t have paid for years of freezing fees if you had done it earlier.

It’s important to understand that egg freezing does not guarantee certainty or success, but continually improving technology does make egg freezing a viable back up strategy. Personally, I view egg freezing as a positive, albeit bold, step in empowering women to continue to reach for greater levels of whatever they want; career progression, inner happiness and peace, finding the right partner, creating financial stability or simply cultivating a feeling of overall readiness to start a family.

It’s well documented that women are delaying having children in many first world, Western counties. They’re aspiring to be good mothers while juggling full-time careers, relationships and finances. The opportunity for women to create fulfilling, adventurous and satisfying lives is more abundant than ever but the truth is, it does eat into baby-making time.

Setting solid foundations for building a family, while also fulfilling personal dreams before settling down, is taking longer now than ever. In reflection of this, Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals there are now more women aged 40 and over who are having children than there are girls 19 and under. Similar statistics are seen in the US and the UK.

A number of progressive companies in the US, Facebook and Apple being examples, have implemented egg-freezing programs as part of their employee packages.  This has been viewed as a controversial move, criticized as ‘bribery’ by some and ‘enforced postponement’ by others.

Since we can’t completely overhaul workforce structures and life trajectories, an IVF round to gather and freeze your eggs may serve as an ‘insurance policy’ of sorts, at the right age and time of life. Of course, freezing your eggs won’t fully guarantee a successful outcome, but it does remove some of the pressure of trying to ‘do it all at once’ while minimising the likelihood of having to source donor eggs at a later stage.

Have you frozen your eggs or do you know anyone who has? Are you considering undergoing the process? Or conversely, do you regret having not frozen your eggs? Leave your comments below: let’s start the conversation.

Natalie Lovett is the author of the recently published book 'Lexie's Village - A New Kind of Family' and is actively championing ART and embryo donation rights and awareness. She has appeared in numerous TV shows (The Project, Australian Story, Today Tonight and The Morning Show), to tell her own deeply moving story of one woman’s extraordinary journey to motherhood and her idea that expands everything we believe about families.

The book is now available for sale and Lexie's Village is offering a 15% discount and FREE SHIPPING to all Blog readers and Newsletter subscribers for your paperback copy using the code link below: 

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