Elective egg freezing extends fertility

Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, is a procedure in which a woman’s eggs are collected and preserved in liquid nitrogen until she wishes to use them to conceive. The opportunity for women to have their eggs frozen was, until recently, only given to cancer patients who were at risk of becoming infertile as a result of their treatment.

Women can put off having children until later in life. Photo: Anneka James

Now elective egg freezing is offered to single women who want to preserve their fertility. Dr Gillian Lockwood is the Medical Director of Midland Fertility Services, who offer the treatment. She says that there are many reasons why women freeze their eggs, with today’s society and extended life spans playing a large part: “Modern medicine, healthcare and better living circumstances means that our life expectancy is very much longer than it was, however in spite of this, our reproductive lifespan is still as short as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

New research from experts at St Andrews University and Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children has shown that by the age of 30, 95% of women only have 12% of their maximum ovary reserve. This declines to 3% at 40, making it almost impossible for women to conceive in their forties. Dr Lockwood says that today’s lifestyle is a big factor in a woman’s decision to undergo elective egg freezing: “For many women, having a University education, a career, a choice of life partner, establishing a home, and having children are all things they want to do, but there is only a narrow window, (20-35 years of age), in which they can conceive naturally. This is one way in which that very narrow window of opportunity can be extended.”

But egg freezing isn’t just opted for by career-focused women, Dr Lockwood explains: “The majority of women had always assumed they would get married, and have babies quite easily and naturally and for a significant proportion, they have been in long-term relationships that they assumed would result in marriage and babies. But they discover, in their mid- to late 30s, that their partner is a commitment-phobe. They perceive freezing their eggs as buying a little biological time.”

Dr Lockwood says other women have more sympathetic reasons such as looking after elderly, disabled parents: “It’s certainly not that these are power-crazed Alpha females who want to have it all.”

And whilst this may seem selfish and against nature, Dr Lockwood argues that all medicine is unnatural: “You could argue that all medicine is going against nature, every time you take an aspirin for a headache or I take out an appendix that is infected, then that’s not exactly natural…I think this appeal to naturalness is misguided.”

Twenty-year-old Chloe Warren, a student at the University of Lincoln, thinks that elective egg freezing is taking science too far: “I think it could be seen as unnatural because it means that the time the baby was meant to be born is governed by the human and not nature. We shouldn’t take fertility and reproduction into our own hands; it’s a bit like playing God.”

But twenty-one-year-old student Natalie Tompkins thinks it is a good idea and offers women more choices: “I really think that the idea of egg freezing is useful to women that are unsure about whether they would like to have children and are faced with a deadline. But I don’t think it’s fair for women to be deciding that at 50 it’s a good time to start trying. Maybe better restrictions should be put into place regarding who this procedure is made available to.”

For more information on elective egg freezing, visit www.midlandfertility.com

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