Recent breakthroughs in egg-freezing technology may be a game changer for age-related infertility. As a woman profiled in a recent Vogue article on the topic says, “oocyte cryopreservation” is freeing her from the “tyranny of the expiration date” of being able to have children.
How does it work? What are the pros? What issues does it raise? Check it out.
How it works
A woman can spend about $15,000 to be injected with hormones to stimulate the release of lots of eggs. The eggs are frozen with a flash-freezing process called vitrification, then put in a cryogenic vat until she wants to use them. When she does, she will go through the IVF process, but with younger eggs, thus enhancing the chances of getting pregnant.
And it seems the odds are good. Recent studies indicate that the “birthrate in IVF procedure using frozen eggs extracted from women under the age of 36 is now close to 50 percent.”
More women are waiting longer to start having kids, which often creates fertility problems. At age 40, more than half will not be able to conceive without help, and by 44 even with IVF, only about 5% end up being able to conceive. In a word, the eggs just get old.
But freezing the eggs keeps them young, and when you use them in the IVF process, it creates better odds of conceiving.
Some doctors worry that it may give women too much of a false sense of security. It may take more than one hormone injecting cycle to produce enough eggs to be “reasonably sure” of a single pregnancy. And even when the woman uses them down the road, there is no guarantee they will be able to make viable embryos.
Say a woman chooses to freeze her eggs in her 20s, then goes to use them in her 40s. According to reproductive endocrinologist Samantha Pfeifer M.D., to date there is “no data on how long eggs can be frozen.” Only preliminary studies indicate the eggs may last ten years.
But the biggest issue goes to a larger question. If a woman has her younger eggs, and her uterus is able, she could start to have children not just in her 40s, but in her 50s. It’s also possible with hormone treatments that uteruses can be ready to carry a child even in postmenopausal women, so the age could be even higher—into a woman’s 60s!
Egg freezing making women able to have biological children at advanced ages begs the question: At what age does it become irresponsible to try and become a mother? Or said another way-How old is too old to become a mother? At what age is it “too late” when you think of the child first? A child, that could have, say a 65 year old mother at the age of 12?
Egg freezing may help women have better chances of conceiving if they wait until they are older to have children, but at what point is it a selfish act, one that will truly not be in the best interest of the child?
Egg freezing could take us into new realms of craziness when it comes to the lengths women will go to have their own biological children. And those kids’ lives could look crazy too, like having to tend to aged parents in high school, or finding a way to pay for nursing home care before they graduate college.
How far will a pronatal society let “fertility preservation” go??
I’m a strong believer in reproductive choice, and at a certain point I feel like I just have to take the bad with the good. For me, this technology may just be part of the dark side of reproductive choice – some people use their freedom in ways that seem irresponsible and even immoral to me. (Like people terminating their pregnancies to make sure they give birth to sons and not daughters. I’m not ready to ban abortion just to stop things like that.)
It seems foolish to have a child when you’re 50, but there are already plenty of people not really prepared to have children who do anyway. And, let’s face it, nowadays there are lots of grandparents raising their grandchildren because the parents can’t or won’t raise them.
I tend to err on the side of autonomy. I’m sure many childed people think I’m twisted because I’ve chosen not to have kids. Maybe for them I’ve wasted my reproductive freedom by making a choice that’s bad for society. They’re wrong, but they’re entitled to think that. In the meantime, they better keep their hands off my freedom.
What angers me more is the fact that things like IVF treatments get much more support, much more funding and attention, than birth control does. If any of my tax money or any of my insurance premium goes to pay for fertility treatments, then I want birth control to be subsidized as well. As of a few years ago, the U.S. military health care system provided Viagra but not birth control pills, and that’s just unbalanced. (I know, Viagra is not exactly a fertility treatment, but it certainly makes conception much more possible….) I don’t want the American health care system, as screwed up as it already is, responsible for making sure that everyone gets as many kids as they want, not if I’m on the hook for paying for it.
Well, it is also foolish to have a child at 16, but many do it.
I’m older. We did get pregnant in our 40s but never carried to term. I desperately want to be a mama, but i also have to live within my reality. I have some fairly serious health issues that make caring for children (without nearly full-time help) a non-reality. I can’t do it. However, if i was a healthy nearly 50 year old, i would be seeking what my options to be. I imagine we would adopt an older child rather than try to have our own, but with life expectancy up and people having more money to spend as they get a bit older, i don’t think we should rule it out for everyone. There are numerous cases of women who have gotten pregnant naturally in their early 50s.
Still, it does make me a bit leery for science to be so involved with procreation. And while i hate to limit anyone, someone having a child in their 60s or 70s does concern me. The oldest known mother to date has been 70.
Kathyrn, Whoa I did not know the oldest woman to have a child was 70 — what else do you know about it e.g., how many ivf’s, she had to be post menopausal, yes? ~L
Three are listed at over 70 – one in 1776 when she was 72, but the baby was stillborn, two women in 2008, both via IVF, post menopausal.
Thanks for that link–blows my mind.
Just an interesting tidbit:
I was talking with a friend of mine, a few months ago. This lovely lady, Marge, is 82. She had three children, and has enough love to help raise many foster children. She’s told me stories about those poor children – some who ended up on her doorstep with only the ratty clothes on their back, and would leave with at least a week’s worth of new outfits – that made me tear up, and thank the universe for people like her.
We were talking about kids, and I told her about my decision, and why I made it. She told me “Kids aren’t for everyone. You’re too old to have them, anyway.” (I’m 27!!!)
I still laugh about it – and I think about it every time I hear about a woman 40+ having a baby.
Now that I think about it, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Marge. I need to stop by and chat a bit!