The XX Factor

Don’t Freeze Your Eggs Quite Yet

A technician opens a vessel containing women’s frozen egg cells

Photo by LEX VAN LIESHOUT/AFP/Getty Images

In her recent Slate article, I Should Have Frozen My Eggs,” Amy Klein, who is currently in her early 40s and undergoing IVF treatments, writes: “Freezing your eggs is worse than PMS but better than a trip to the dentist and can be done in less than a season.”

 I beg to differ with Amy’s upbeat assessment. The fact is, with assisted reproductive technologies (ART), women and their partners never know what to expect. When I first signed up for IVF treatments in my forties, I never thought the science would fail, and it never, ever occurred to me that the “reputable” donor egg agency our clinic referred us to would promote egg donors who were infertile. The resulting trauma was far worse than anything I had previously experienced in my life­­—including my worst trip the dentist.

 Amy goes on to describe how simple the egg freezing procedure is: “Before you ovulate, a doctor retrieves your eggs with a syringe from your ovaries via your vagina. Then he puts the good ones in the freezer.” My first question for Amy is this: Why are you so confident that any of the eggs doctors may extract will even be “good” to begin with, or that after five or 10 years in deep freeze they will produce a healthy child?

The only thing we really know about vitrification––flash freezing women’s eggs—is that an estimated 1000 babies have been born to women younger than thirty years of age who were facing life-threatening illnesses. There is no evidence-based research to support the notion that women who are older than thirty will have any success with the technology. We don’t know if these live births were the result of 3,000 or 10,000 trials. We have no information about how many miscarriages or stillbirths may have ensued, and we have no idea how flash freezing might affect offspring’s health later in life. In short, there is little, if any, evidence to back up Amy’s enthusiastic endorsement of this still-young technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Amy is so hopeful about egg freezing, and I salute her desire to help women avoid the painful predicament of age-related infertility. But sadly for Amy––and millions of other women around the world, including me––even after thirty-five years, ARTs continue to fail far more often than is reported or discussed. The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology reports that of the 1.5 million ART cycles performed around the world in 2012, 1.1 million failed––that is a 77 percent failure rate. In the United States in 2010 (the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control) there was a 68 percent overall failure rate, and for women older than 42, failures were as high as 88 to 95 percent.

Until we see more evidence-based research, I suggest we approach egg freezing and other ARTs with caution.