Egg freezing parties are becoming the new thing for women. Especially since two of the largest technology companies in the U.S., Facebook and Apple, are now paying for their female clients to freeze their eggs -- egg freezing is the new after work cocktail conversation. Just this week, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article highlighting these trendy freeze-your-eggs soirees. As I inferred in my latest HuffPost blog, which was also in response to the booming egg freezing conversation, I am thrilled, dare I say excited, that the fertility conversation is moving to front and center, as it is a very important topic. However, as a practitioner that has helped hundreds of women conceive, I am really apprehensive that egg freezing is being positioned as the "answer" to our current infertility epidemic.
1. Age is NOT our biggest factor when dealing with fertility challenges, yet egg freezing translates to younger woman as a mechanism to buy time.
2. There is so much more that goes into getting pregnant than the egg from a woman.
3. Frozen eggs are rarely ever used. Or, as fertility doctors often say: When it comes to eggs, fresh is much better than frozen. In fact, as a recent article published in Slate, "Should You Freeze Your Eggs," stated: "According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), even freezing eggs relatively early -- younger than age 38 -- is a long shot; the chance that one frozen egg will lead to an eventual baby is a dismal 2-12 percent." Of course, there are situations where frozen eggs are the only options; however, as a reproductive endocrinologist recently told me, when I interviewed him for my latest book:
I asked, "If you had a women who froze her eggs at 35 and is now 40 and needed in-vitro fertilization (IVF), do you use the frozen eggs or do you put her through an IVF cycle and get fresh 40-year-old eggs?"
He responded with, "I'd go for fresh eggs, as fresh is always better than frozen; but the frozen eggs are a good backup. I always like to have more to play with."
The takeaway for me from this conversation is: Egg freezing is a backup plan and by no means a guarantee of a future baby.
What this means is that for girls who go through the egg freezing process at a younger age, and then go on to conceive naturally, they won't use those eggs. Even if they wind up needing to do IVF to get pregnant, their doctors still will likely have them go through another egg retrieval process because they prefer to use fresh eggs over frozen ones.
Furthermore, in 2013 the ASRM in an article published in the journal Fertility and Sterility stated its opinion on egg freezing:
Data on the safety, efficacy, cost-effectiveness and emotional risks of elective oocyte cryopreservation are insufficient to recommend elective oocyte cryopreservation. Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing. In particular, there is concern regarding the success rates in women in the late reproductive years who may be the most interested in this application. Patients who wish to pursue this technology should be carefully counseled about age and clinic-specific success rates of oocyte cryopreservation vs. conceiving on her own and risks, costs, and alternatives to using this approach.
Even the ASRM feels there is not enough data to recommend women to electively freeze their eggs. This is mainly due to the fact that frozen embryos (egg and sperm-fertilized) are much more stable and easily manage through the freezing and thawing process than frozen unfertilized eggs. Some doctors argue, that with the advent of new technology, the freezing and thawing process for both eggs and embryo's has improved, however freezing and thawing eggs still poses a problem and can definitely compromise the quality of those precious eggs. And, isn't this whole topic about egg quality?
The current argument is that as you age, your ovarian reserves diminish and your egg quality declines. And, the egg freezing party trend is imparting to young women the notion that if you freeze your eggs at a younger age then you can have better quality eggs, from a younger version of yourself, to get pregnant with later in life -- whenever is convenient for you -- after you have put in your time working hard on your career.
But here's the thing I want to remind you: Youth does not always equal better health.
In fact, there is an entire branch of science, called epigenetics, that is showing that that the way you live your life -- stress, diet, sleep, emotions -- all affect that way you age. And you can actually slow down, even reverse, the aging process depending on how you live your life.
With all that said, I'm not opposed to egg freezing. But the conversation needs to go deeper than just "freeze your eggs, buy yourself time." The conversation needs to focus on ways to optimize health and vitality, on lifestyle traits that have now been scientifically proven to speed up or slow down the aging process, on the fact that a lot more goes into getting pregnant than just the egg, on the fact that these frozen eggs have a small chance (between 2-12 percent) of creating an eventual baby and, most importantly, that even if your ovarian reserve has declined with age, it doesn't have to mean that the quality of the eggs you do have left are poor or useless.
Yes, as a whole, women are more career focused and having babies later in life, but that doesn't explain the entire infertility epidemic. Age is not our biggest issue when it comes to fertility challenges -- rather, environmental factors like stress, poor diet, depression, lack of sleep and daily exposure to known hormone-disrupting chemicals are major contributors. In knowing that, shouldn't we take time and educate young women on how to manage these negative environmental toxins? Better yet, shouldn't we be teaching them how to combat, even reverse, aging by making lifestyle choices that optimize their health and fertility? Yes, egg freezing provides a sort-of insurance policy for successful pregnancy later in life -- but it is not the solution to our current state of fertility. Rather, the solution is to educate and empower women and remind them to not give up hope on their body and its ability to conceive naturally. I think we should host parties that teach women how to optimize and preserve their health and fertility -- mentally, emotionally, physically and nutritionally -- now and later in life.