Mon. Jan 24th, 2022


The big pandemic baby boom may be a failure, but there is one group that is showing significantly more interest in having children. With normality still persisting, the number of women choosing to undergo fertility preservation treatments is increasing. According to the New York Fertility Clinic Kindbody, egg freezing procedures have doubled this year.

Oosiet cryopreservation, or egg freezing, is one of the fastest growing treatments in fertility services. An entire novice sector has evolved to encourage women to see it as a relatively low-interest way to take control of their fertility. Friendly body is known for its pop-up clinics in distinctive yellow and white bowls that offer free fertility examinations. Egg freezing, it says, is a way to “own your future”. Extend Fertility’s ads compared the cost of buying a frozen berry acai bowl every day, making it look more like a cozy lifestyle option than a surgical procedure.

What the shiny ads are not likely to mention is how likely the procedure will work. One cycle can cost £ 8,000 in the UK and $ 15,000 in the US. Yet birth rates are less than one in five.

Perhaps because Silicon Valley companies were the first to offer egg freezing as a corporate benefit, there is a technological glimmer to treatments that connects them successfully. Facebook started the trend in 2014, with Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, a key advocate. Apple and Google followed shortly thereafter. Many companies work with third parties to provide employee fertility services. Uber offers benefits via Progyny, which was announced at the end of 2019 and has an equity value of $ 4.5 billion.

The UK is slowly moving in the same direction, encouraged by its own technology sector. At the end of 2020, Eileen Burbidge, the UK Treasury’s special envoy for fintech, stated that more UK companies should follow Silicon Valley’s lead. “I would like us to get to a point where it is possible for all 20/30 something to freeze their eggs, ”She tweeted. In recent years, NatWest and Clifford Chance have both expanded their benefits to include treatment.

Arguments against egg freezing as an employee fringe benefit see a dystopian corporate culture obsessed with pushing more of workers at all costs. Women who freeze their eggs are accepted by many that they are too busy entering their path on the career ladder to have a family.

Research indicates otherwise. Women are constantly being hammered over the head with data on their declining fertility. Burbidge says employees, not companies, are the ones driving the demand. a 2018 study by Yale University also found that most people who chose to freeze their eggs did so not because they prioritized their careers, but because they still needed to find a stable mate.

But the emphasis on fertility treatments as an insurance policy can be deceptively comforting. I have friends who have undergone treatment and have not received any statistics on the likelihood of success. It is not easy to find data.

This is partly because it’s new. Until 2012, the US considered egg freezing to be an experimental procedure. Many women who signed up for the process have not yet tried to use their eggs.

For those who do return in the hope of getting pregnant, the numbers are disturbing. Data from the UK’s human fertilization and embryology authority show that in 2016, less than 200 women had fertility treatment in the country with their own thawed eggs. The birth rate was just 18 percent.

This is not the story told by Instagram ads. They also do not focus on the fact that treatment is time consuming and invasive, requiring days of self-administered hormone injections, regular scans and egg recovery under sedation. Young women in their 20s have the best success rates, but doctors may be wary of recommending a surgical treatment they may not need.

Lord Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, called the freezing of eggs a “very unsuccessful technology”. Even proponents acknowledge the chances are slim. Success rates tend to be compared to IVF treatments, but the problem is that the birth rate for IVF itself only 24 percent per embryo transferred, according to the HFEA. Even for young women, every stage of egg freezing and thawing, from collection to fertilization and embryo development, carries a high risk of failure.

Fertility, or lack thereof, can be painful and upsetting. More options are welcome. But egg freezing is expensive, invasive and comes with a low chance. A growing industry that encourages women to view its services as an insurance policy without clearing up the chances of success offers little more than false hope.

elaine.moore@ft.com





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