25 May 2021 COVID-19 Accelerates Egg-Freezing Boom
Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, already growing in popularity as a way to preserve fertility against disease and to postpone childbearing for career reasons, has exploded during the COVID-19 era.
Early predictions of a post COVID-19 “baby boom” as an end product of enforced home confinement haven’t quite panned out; apparently many people decided the pandemic and accompanying social unrest was a good reason NOT to procreate.
But for others, the enforced confinement of COVID-19 shutdowns, the shift to telework and the existential threats to health and safety were a wake-up call, a reminder of biological limitations and a desire to take control of events.
One unexpected result, as we reported earlier, has a been a growing demand for and a shortage of sperm donors.
Another has been a skyrocketing demand for egg freezing, as more women, after a year of COVID-mandated isolation, seek to buy more time to further careers or to find the right partner before becoming mothers.
Egg Freezing Developed to Help Women Undergoing Cancer Treatment
Egg freezing, was originally developed in the 1980s as a way for women with serious medical conditions to preserve the option to have children later in life, according to a report by The Guardian.
“In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the ‘experimental’ label from the procedure, paving the way for ‘social’ or ‘elective’ egg freezing to grow in popularity,” the report continues.
In the ensuing years, an entire industry sprang up to meet demand, and today the process is marketed to young professional women as another form of “self-care” and feminist empowerment. Between 2009 and 2017, the number of U.S. women who froze eggs increased by 23 times, according to a report from Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), The Guardian reports.
Statistically the age at which women reproduce has been going up for decades. In Australia, the fertility rate of women aged 35-39 doubled between 1987 and 2017; among 40-44 year-olds, it tripled, according to Dr Alex Polyakov and Dr Genia Rozen of University of Melbourne.
Nowhere has the demand been more pronounced than Australia. Thirty-two-year-old management consultant Uma Patel told Financial Review, “When COVID struck I realized you can’t predict anything ... and this lets me have as many options on the table as possible.”
“The pandemic has focused people’s lives quite specifically on the role of family and of careers, and delays have occurred as part of this not only because of career progression but also personally as dating and socializing was replaced with Zoom,” said Queensland Fertility Group medical director Anusch Yazdani. “So people start to say, ‘We know that fertility decreases with time, we know that COVID has pushed this a year back, so what can I do to protect the resource of my eggs.’” Many of his clients freezing eggs are professionals, lawyers or medical specialists, he said.
Simone Campbell, a fertility specialist at Brisbane’s City Fertility Centre, reported a nearly 100 percent increase in egg freezing at her clinic in the past year, most commonly by women aged 30 to 35. Some are freezing their eggs to delay motherhood as they pursue careers, she said, but most are worried about meeting the right partner within the biological window during which they are fertile.
Postponing Motherhood with Egg Freezing
While egg freezing is increasingly used to allow women to postpone motherhood into their 40s, there are no guarantees of success.
Older women are both more likely to use the eggs they freeze and more likely to be able to afford the cost of the process—but their odds of success are significantly lower.
Eggs harvested from a 30-year-old woman and frozen have a 50 percent chance of successful fertilization, Financial Review reports. But the odds drop to just 2 percent when the eggs are harvested from women over age 40.
In addition to the donor’s age, the number of eggs harvested and preserved also impacts the odds of success: A 2016 study for The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) found that women who froze eggs at age 35 or younger had a 15 percent chance of live birth; for those who froze 10 eggs, the odds increased to 61 percent and to 85 percent for women who froze 15 or more eggs.
Women who freeze their eggs when they are in their 30s have significantly better odds of eventually conceiving than those who wait—but there’s also a higher chance they will never use the eggs they preserved.
That’s because there’s a greater chance that younger women, in ensuing years, will meet a partner and get pregnant the old-fashioned way. In those instances the frozen eggs may never be used.
Fewer than 20 per cent of women who freeze their eggs will use them in the future, according to the University of Melbourne report. “This is probably related to a multitude of factors including successful natural conception, remaining un-partnered or not wishing to use donor sperm,” they write.
While costs can be prohibitive—a single cycle in the U.S. typically costs $15,000 to $20,000, including medication, treatment and storage—fertility insurance coverage, including for fertility preservation, is mandated in a growing number of states, as we wrote. Some firms, particularly in the tech sector, are offering coverage for egg freezing as a way of recruiting and retaining women employees.
In addition to future fertility preservation, egg freezing also has improved the effectiveness of in vitro fertilization, or IVF: Outcome rates have improved with the use of cryopreserved oocytes, which has now become a standard best practice of fertility treatment.
For women who are considering freezing their eggs, it is essential to be fully informed of all potential medical risks and side effects and to have a clear understanding of the expected results. A properly drafted donor agreement stating the obligations, requirements and, most importantly, intentions of donor and recipient, also is essential to the recipient as the intended parent.
Egg freezing is not yet a guarantee of future fertility, but it is another powerful tool that is making parenthood a possibility for more people than ever before. For information about egg donation and egg donor agreements, contact IFLG’s team of experienced assisted reproductive services legal professionals.