For women seeking information on fertility treatments, these doctor-led info sessions could be the answer (plus, there are free cocktails!)
When you get an invite to go to a party at a trendy igloo-themed bar in New York City, it's hard to say no. Which is exactly how I found myself bundled up in a borrowed parka and gloves, standing next to my best friend and shivering a bit as we sipped cocktails from cups made of ice. We were surrounded by mostly well-dressed women in their 20s and 30s, all lining up to take photos in a Game of Thrones-style chair bedecked in icicles. But it wasn’t the bar’s opening night, and we weren't there for a fashion week afterparty. We were there to learn about egg freezing.
I wasn't exactly in the market for egg freezing—I’m only 25. But I had heard about egg freezing parties, and, as a health editor, I was excited to learn about new ways science was promoting this biological clock-defying technology. And I wasn't the only one; some 200 other men and women had signed up online to attend the party hosted by Neway Fertility. (Find out The Truth About Fertility and Aging.)
Egg freezing has come a long way since the introduction of a new flash-freezing technique called vitrification (an experimental procedure until 2012)—it freezes eggs so quickly that there's no way for ice crystals to form. That makes it way more successful than the previous slow-freezing method, because there's less damage to the egg. And the higher success rate means more women than ever are hopping on board. In fact, egg freezing parties—casual info sessions for women and couples interested in the process—are popping up across the country in cities with high concentrations of career-minded women.
As the hosts ushered us away from from the ice throne and into another room to hear from a panel of speakers, I thought, 'This is where they tell us we're in the prime of our lives and we should all freeze our eggs, put off having children, and focus on ourselves.' Not quite.
“I’m here to talk to you about reproductive empowerment,” said Janelle Luk, M.D., medical director at Neway Fertility, our first speaker.
OK, I can always get behind female empowerment! Luk went on to explain that her main goal is to teach women about their own bodies before it’s too late, because while there are many inequalities women still face, one is our own biological clocks. But egg freezing helps level the playing field, making it easier for a couple in their late 30's to conceive. As Luk pointed out, the uterus is relatively ageless, but eggs have expiration dates—in fact, advanced maternal age is defined as greater than 35, when women have an increased risk of conceiving an abnormal pregnancy. Fresh eggs and frozen eggs will both do the trick when it comes to fertilization, they just need to be young.
And in other news they should have taught you in health class… Did you know that in your early 30s, you only have a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each cycle, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine? That sounds scary, but what it actually means is that you’re likely to get pregnant within five months of trying. That number, however, drops within five years, and you'll be five percent less fertile at 30.
After Luk had us all feeling a little freaked out (stats will do that to you), she told us the lowdown on the egg freezing process. A quick summary: After a consultation with a doctor and several tests and screenings, you undergo about two weeks of injections to stimulate the production of five to 12 eggs versus the usual one you produce per cycle; then a doctor retrieves the eggs by inserting a needle into your vagina (you're sedated) and using ultrasound technology to guide the needle to the ovary and extract the eggs from the follicles. Then the eggs are flash-frozen stored until you decide to use them.
We also heard from a patient who recently froze her eggs—she explained to the group that after being sedated, you wake up with just a bit of abdominal cramping, similar to what you might experience during your period. She assured us her vagina was perfectly fine afterwards. (The worst part? The injections can cause bloating. “Get out your dresses, because you may not want to wear pants,” she warned.)
The associate medical director at Neway Fertility, Edward Nejat, M.D., gave us another dose of reality: Some research suggests eggs can only be frozen for up to four years, so if you're considering this, talk to your doctor about what age is right for you—though your twenties are a good bet considering the drop in fertility after 30. Success rates can dependent on many factors, including duration of storage, number of eggs frozen, and age. (Psst... Here's Everything You Need to Know About Egg Freezing.)
Now that we had the whole scoop? Back to the bar, where we could chat with the speakers over spiked hot chocolate. Most people seemed empowered by the information, though maybe not ready to sign up on the spot. And in the end, that felt like the goal—making sure women are informed. It was a lot of info to soak in, but just knowing that egg freezing was an option seemed to make people feel good (and relax enough for another drink).
And the price of the night: free! But for those go through with the actual egg freezing, one cycle will run them around $6,500. No one ever said kids were cheap!