To Freeze or Not to Freeze? Breaking Away From the Biological Clock

Advice for women of advanced maternal age who want to have children, straight from an OB/GYN

“Should I freeze my eggs?” My 33 year-old single sister asks me.

It’s a burning question for the childless thirty-something. She’s calculating it all in her head. If I met someone tomorrow, I won’t be 35 until we are ready for children and that’s advanced maternal age...

Advanced maternal age. Say it once or twice. I know. Offensive. Insulting. God forbid. We need a new term. Maybe “delayed motherhood” or “mature mothering”?

My sister's biological clock is ticking. I can almost hear it buzzing from within. She’s in the prime of her career in the fashion industry. Constantly on the go, travelling between Los Angeles and New York. Certainly not a lifestyle conducive to motherhood.

“It isn’t fair,” she says.

It isn’t. Our biological clocks force us to reproduce when we are often in the prime of our careers. While children are a blessing, there is no question that we often must make very difficult career choices and sacrifices when motherhood is added to our resume.

But, what if we didn’t have to worry about our biological clocks? What if we were blessed in the same way as men and had the ability to reproduce until the day we die?

While on-call a few nights ago, I was awoken to come quickly for a precipitous delivery. I jumped out of the bed in the on-call room, fumbled to place my booties and stumbled into the birthing room. I was shocked when I saw my new patient. who was being coached by nurse.

A very pregnant woman, looking to be closer to the age of my grandmother, was pushing out a newborn that I caught in the knick of time. Her hair was grey, face leather-wrinkled, legs filled with loose skin and bulging varicosities. Her husband waddled over to the bed with the use of walking cane, as I handed over her baby.

Grandma-Mom’s eyes filled with tears and I was awestruck by the thought that we humans have broken the boundaries of reproductive medicine. We have breached the levees in the land of the barren and infertile and allowed the waters of the fertility sea to flow in the pastures. We have lengthened the time a woman can procreate and the ways in which she can do it.

I sighed with relief as I watched the senior-citizen couple admire their special delivery and sort of chuckled at the thought of the question my sister asked me.

Should I freeze my eggs?

Depending on the person and the situation, the answer can be quite complicated. It’s not that simple. Egg freezing is expensive and with only approximately 30 percent success rate. But, it’s an option. There are many options available to break free from the biological clock. In fact, anyone can have a child if they are well-resourced ($$cash-o-la$$), patient and open-minded enough to try the various methodologies.

Most insurances do not cover these options.

1. Egg freezing (oocyte preservation): This is a great option for women postponing childbearing or women with a medical condition (ie cancer) that requires medications toxic to the ovaries. Typically, the best result is to freeze prior to age 37. This is an expensive option and while technology is improving, it is still only carries about 30 percent success rate. Cost of egg freezing: $9,000–$15,000

2. Egg donation: For women who no longer have viable eggs, they can contract an anonymous egg donor or a friend/relative to donate eggs. This is the best option for women who did not opt to freeze or preserve their eggs and do not have ovarian reserve to produce good eggs. Cost of donor eggs: Free-$40,000, plus in-vitro cycle costs ($10,000–$15,000)

3. Frozen embryo donation (embryo adoption): Over 600,000 embryos are stored in freezers at infertility clinics across the country. Some folks opt to donate the embryos once childbearing is completed, rather than destroy them. Patients have the opportunity to obtain these embryos, especially in situations in which finances would restrict a patient’s ability to pay for egg donors. Cost of embryo donation: Free plus embryo transfer cycle costs ($5,000–$15,000). 

4. Surrogacy: A woman is either inseminated or in-vitro performed with live embryos and carries your baby for you. It’s typically quite costly and some states either do not allow it or heavily restrict it. Cost of surrogacy: $100,000–$150,000   

5. Adoption/Foster parenting: This option goes without saying and there are many different avenues to pursue, both domestically and internationally. Price can range from the application fee for fostering to heavy fees and wait times for both domestic and international adoption.

Women in their late thirties and early forties are the fastest growing demographic for pregnancy rates. Most women of advanced maternal age (mature motherhood) do just fine during pregnancy, but the risks of complications are higher. Keeping in mind of the increased risk, motherhood is still a possibility for those willing to take the plunge well into our forties and fifties.

Disclaimer: Medical stories are fictional. Originally published on Burning the Short White Coat.

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