A recent Wall Street Journal article says that 20% of U.S. women are waiting until after age 35 to start their families. This represents a huge increase in just the last 10 years. The reasons women are choosing to wait include:
- focusing on career and professional advancements
- waiting for the right partner
- pursuing advanced degrees
- desire for more financial stability before starting a family
- unexpected health complications for themselves or their partners
But with each passing year, women may face added challenges to getting pregnant. Fertility declines rapidly after age 30 and even more so after the age of 35. A healthy 30-year-old has approximately a 20% chance each month of getting pregnant, while a healthy 40-year-old has about a 5% chance each month–in many cases, even with the help of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Many are choosing to preserve their fertility, by freezing their healthy eggs, and in doing so, they are taking a lead role in their own reproductive health.
Fertility Preservation began as an option for women who needed to undergo chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer. These women did not want to compromise the health of their future baby as they underwent intensive treatment for the cancer. But in the last years, the fertility industry has seen a dramatic increase of the number of healthy women who are electing to preserve their “reproductive window” by freezing their eggs. The well-known health and science write, Sarah Elizabeth Richards, describes her own decision to freeze her eggs as, “Perhaps the most powerful gender equalizer of all—the ability to control when we have children.” This is a fresh perspective on the current conversation of women trying to “have it all,” especially at a time when one in five American women between the ages of 40 and 44 is childless—and half say they would still like to have children. Egg freezing offers a once-unimaginable reprieve.
To date, thousands of babies have been born from frozen eggs. The largest published study of over 900 babies from frozen eggs showed no increased rate of birth defects when compared to the general population. Additionally, the study showed no increased rates of chromosomal defects between embryos derived from frozen eggs compared to embryos derived from fresh eggs. In 2014 a new study showed that pregnancy complications did not increase due to egg freezing. Although these data are reassuring and the technology has made great advances, we do not have the benefit of long-term data to derive at a definitive conclusion.