Ladies, don’t put all your eggs in a frozen basket
The New York Times ran an article recently with the rather fascinating headline: “Eager for Grandchildren, and Wanting Daughters’ Eggs in Freezer”.
The front-page story was about the growing phenomenon of American parents helping their single daughters to freeze their eggs for later use – at a cost of anywhere between $A 7,500 and $17,000. Why? Well, as 61-year-old Candice Kramer put it: “By the time Allison was 35, I felt the clock was tick-tick-ticking. I viewed it as opening up an opportunity for her.”
Call it a grandchild insurance policy. With women increasingly deferring babies until later in life, America’s would-be grandparents are investing in hope.
In fact, the practice is becoming so common that one US clinic has begun marketing “Gift of Hope” packages with a special certificate and silver charm bracelet for the recipient. Only in America, right?
Well, I’d say only in America [itals] right now. Fertility SA says they have not yet frozen the eggs of a woman purely as an insurance against age, although the procedure is available.
One major factor is cost. The freezing of eggs isn’t covered by Medicare unless there’s a specific medical reason – struggling to get pregnant naturally, known reduced ovarian reserve, or imminent cancer treatment, for example. Without the Medicare rebate, out-of-pocket expenses can easily hit $5000.
A few other issues might be at play, too.
For one, in Australia the freezing of eggs has always been considered a medical necessity, not a lifestyle choice. (Sure, it’s unconventional, but to my way of thinking it’s also understandable – particularly for those women who are desperate for a child, racing through their 30s and unable to find Mr Right.)
But another reason could be the general lack of awareness about the rapid deterioration of eggs as women move through their 30s.
Reduced fertility is now widely understood, but until this week I had no idea that the chance of your baby being born with birth defects also increases with age.
Although published statistics show little change in the number of congenital abnormalities in the past decade, newly appointed Director of Clinical Services at Flinders IVF Michael McEvoy says he’s seen a definite trend in babies being born with defects as women increasingly seek to start a family in their late 30s and 40s.
“Many women seem to be under a false illusion of perpetual fertility when in actual fact their chances of infertility, miscarriage and birth defects increase every year,” says Dr McEvoy, who’s been a gynecologist in Adelaide for the past 30 years.
“A 39-year-old woman, for example, has 39-year-old eggs. Male sperm, on the other hand, is only about 70 days old. The older an egg gets, the greater the likelihood of complication.
“Some women just expect to have a normal baby at 40, but very clearly their eggs are past their prime and they should accept that, sadly in some cases, there will be a poor outcome.”
We 40-somethings weren’t given this sobering news back in school. In fact we were told the opposite: have sex and you’ll fall pregnant. Little wonder that my generation of women has sailed through life believing we can have it all, when all along our bodies have been conspiring against us.
And little wonder that in America, wised-up, grandchild-less parents are confronting their daughters with what one commentator describes as “the postmodern, adult birds-and-the-bees talk”.
I’m not encouraging Australian women to race out and have babies. I’m not suggesting you all dash off to a fertility clinic and freeze your eggs (sadly, there’s no absolute guarantee that even young eggs will be viable when a woman comes to using them).
But in the quest for women’s rights, perhaps we’ve forgotten the importance of informed choices. Yes, it’s great that we enjoy more work/life options than ever before. But the reality is our bodies have limitations.
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