Journalist Sarah Elizabeth Richards thought she could step away from the panic of her ticking biological clock and postpone motherhood by freezing her eggs. She spent nearly $50,000, but says it was the best investment she ever made. We talk with Richards and a fertility specialist about the benefits and risks of freezing eggs, the hefty price tag and what it means for women to delay motherhood. Do you have questions about freezing eggs? What would make you consider doing it?

Marcelle Cedars, professor and director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at UCSF
Sarah Elizabeth Richards, journalist and author of "Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It"
Diane Tober, medical anthropologist and associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley

  • lombadesign

    Financial luxury. Please come back to earth.

  • thucy

    Every day brings us closer to Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.”
    Millions of Americans without health care. Children going to bed hungry.
    A population that is outgrowing the food supply growable under global warming conditions.
    As a woman, I respectfully suggest: these women guests have no shame.

  • gomboti

    I have many thoughts and feelings on this topic from a slightly different perspective, but I’ll try to be brief.

    My mom had me when she was 25. Now she’s 56 and has 4 year old twins with her second husband. She went through about a decade of fertility treatments before going down the donor egg and surrogate route, which resulted in the twins. I can tell though that she will not be able to be the kind of mother to them that she was to me. She’s far more tired, far less patient, and has a lot more stress in her life now than she did when I was growing up.

    I think it’s terribly unfair to have children so late in life, since it increases the chances of not being alive long enough to see them reach important milestones in their own adult lives. It’s also unfair to the other people involved in the situation. My mother pretty much expects me to take care of the children if something were to happen to her.

    From my experience, delaying parenthood is not a good idea.

    – Ana from San Jose

    • aa aa

      Good point about it being unfair to children to deliberately choose children so late in life. However, we should have been giving this message to MEN all along as well, since it is/was not uncommon for them,(especially in polygynous cultures) to have children in their 60s or older and then drop down dead a month or less later. Also, now that US taxpayers pay Social Security to survivors it is a burden on ALL of us to have to pay out to children whose parents (both male and female) had them too late in life. Privileged women now feel it’s their right to have children late in life because privileged men have done this forever without considering the burdens it places on others.

      (BTW, concerning your case, IMO non-relative surrogate motherhood should be banned altogether, since it exploits other women–usually poorer women. Having been pregnant myself, I can think of few more cruel things than to take a child from someone after she’s been through pregnancy given what it does to your body in both the short- and long-term. If the choice is freezing your own eggs or making another woman your surrogate mother, the former is far preferable since at least you take the physical burdens on yourself).

  • thucy

    The writer sounds like a really nice person, but also totally oblivious to the insanity of how self-involved you have to be to go through this.
    If you haven’t committed to a working relationship, and you’re not willing to be a single mother, and so on and so on, it’s entirely possible that you’re not actually interested in actually having children.
    If you don’t actually want to have children, why not be a good aunt or foster mom or big sister or teacher or mentor. There are plenty of kids who need your help.

  • thucy

    translation Dr. Cedars: “first we just need to talk about… how much money The hospital can make off of women who can’t face the reality that this is maybe a really stupid idea.”

  • thucy

    Dr. Cedars says that our limited medical resources may be used to freeze eggs, which is beneficial in providing “a sense of security”??? For whom?

    For God’s sake, Cedars, how many EXISTING poor children aren’t getting care while money is spent on freezing some entitled trust fund baby’s eggs?

    Winner take all, Dr. Cedars. That’s the ethos of UCSF.

    • Susan Fox LAc

      I have had the good fortune to work with Dr. Cedars, an excellent caring physician, as she has helped women & couples through their journey of infertility. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, Thucy, that you would prefer to adopt a poor child {have you ever navigated through that system?}; others are equally entitled to pursue their dreams of building their own families.

      • thucy

        My point apparently sailed right over your head. The issue isn’t my opinion, the issue is how limited funds and health care resources are distributed.
        People in this country, children and babies included, are DYING from a lack of basic medical care. You want to pursue your dream at their expense? Nice. Some of us want to pursue justice, not facilitate injustice by throwing more money at Dr. Cedars’ revenue stream at UCSF.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Why do spoiled, elitist, perfectionists come to mind listening to this show? Not to mention the whole idea that a baby/child seems to be seen as more of a status object.

    Am thinking of how many times I have heard it takes more to be a Father than fathering a child. The same can be said of Mothers.

    • aa aa

      I agree they sound elitist. But the reason we have this problem with now wealthier women demanding this right is that we have not stigmatized men from having children too late in life (in their 60s or 70s!), which places big burdens on taxpayers (now Social Security pays to survivors), and bigger burdens on the children’s other relations, let alone the children themselves. Now privileged women feel they should have that option too. We should have been giving men the message all along that choosing to have children late in life is unacceptably costly to others.

  • thucy

    Thank you, Forum, for including Dr. Tober’s input. Far more valuable than what Cedars provided. It’s frightening to learn that law firms are now providing egg freezing, because the workplace is so demanding. The notion that this may become compulsory is pure “Handmaid’s Tale”.

    Egg freezing – this is a step backward for feminism.

  • Marilee

    Going through IVF right now at age 40. Going through it publicly actually (live-streaming) to hopefully dismantle the stigma of being called infertile. But I would have loved to have heard that freezing my younger eggs was an option. Had no idea that I’d be having this kind of trouble starting at 39, when I live a very clean and healthy life.
    And just married last year, so was really only ready to start this life of parenthood with someone recently.
    Whether or not I could have afforded egg-freezing…that’s a whole other issue.

  • disqus_fJGJzqlnR6

    I wish the author would be more sympathetic to egg donation. There are lots of responsible egg donation agencies out there helping build families. Egg donation has much higher rates of success than live births via egg vitrification.

    • thucy

      I think Tober made the point that egg “donation” is pretty dangerous to the young women who “donate”

  • SDB

    All the women and particularly the host had very annoying voices/intonation/speaking habits: NOT good for radio

    • Diane Tober

      Thanks. I’ll try to work on that! 🙂

  • Diane Tober

    Thank you for your comments. There was a lot I wanted to say during this forum, but didn’t get a chance to cover. First, is the issue of access and privilege. This egg-freezing technology is only available to those who can pay for it. Dr. Cedars stated how she sees this as an option for a small group of women, but didn’t expand to state exactly who those women were or what they looked like.

    Next is the issue of safety. There is a great deal of evidence emerging that hyper-stimulation of a woman’s ovaries–to produce more than the normal number of follicles–causes numerous complications; including the bloating and irritability and “PMS-like” symptoms mentioned, as well as more serious complications like ovaries rupturing, and even stroke (like a recent case in Canada), increase in risk for certain cancers, and even (in some cases) death. Yet, there has been no concrete, reliable research or follow-up on the risks for women who have undergone these procedures.

    Then, both Richards and Cedars mentioned the option of using an egg donor. In this case, a healthy, young woman puts herself at risk for some financial incentive, in order to help an older (more affluent) woman have the experience of carrying and delivering a child. Again, the issue of socio-economic status prioritizes the reproduction of some women over others. At the same time, the younger women put their own fertility and health on the line for financial reward. There are numerous cases where young women have suffered so many debilitating health consequences following egg harvesting and retrieval that they have completely exhausted their own insurance and their own resources to try to undo the damage caused by the drugs and procedures. How can any woman of conscience ask another woman to put herself at risk so that she can have a child?

    Then, there’s this whole notion of spending money for a “reproductive insurance policy.” This is ridiculous. If you spend money on car insurance, for example, and you crash your car, you know your coverage will pay for a certain percentage of the value of your car so that you can get a replacement. However, a woman can spend tens of thousands of dollars for a procedure that might work–if she’s lucky. Maybe, the physician can retrieve enough eggs. Maybe they’ll survive the freezing process. Then, maybe, some of them might fertilize, and maybe some will be implantable. That’s a lot of maybes for so much money! This is not an insurance policy. A woman is not guaranteed that the money she spent will result in a baby when she’s ready. It’s a false sense of hope that is being marketed to women in order to make the fertility industry a lot of money. Dr. Cedars didn’t mention that even the ASRM does not condone “social egg freezing” and that this is a process that is only recommended for medical situations. Any woman who thinks this procedure is going to preserve their reproductive lives is fooling themselves.

    Then, like I mentioned, there’s the issue of when does a “choice” become compulsory? I firmly believe that all women should have the choice to have the children they want, when they want, and be permitted to parent the children they have. A reproductive justice perspective. However, the fact that employers are now advocating that women freeze their eggs in order to excel in their careers is of great concern. Will a woman who chooses not to freeze her eggs receive fewer benefits, pay raises, advances in her career compared to her colleague who does freeze her eggs? Can the availability of this technology ultimately be used to create a greater divide between the women who choose to have their children younger and those who choose to try to have their children later? How will this technology be used to take the heat off employers in regard to family leave policies, sick care, maternity leave, etc. Why is it that women like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer can have the privilege to build a nursery (staffed by a nanny) next to her office and simultaneously order telecommuting employees (many of whom of course have children) back to the office? These kinds of issues of disparity are directly related to access to reproductive technologies, wealth, and delayed childbearing options.

    Also, given the history of the uses of hormones in this country, we should be wary. DES was prescribed for many women to prevent miscarriage. The result, aside from medical problems for women who took DES, DES daughter typically battle fertility issues. Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal women has also resulted in increased cancer rates for women. In egg-harvesting, very powerful hormones are used, and women are essentially guinea pigs.

    And the Handmaid’s Tale analogies that several of you have pointed out are more true than anyone knows. Currently, in the state of California, a bill is being considered by the Senate (AB 926). This bill would permit researchers to pay women for their eggs at the same rate as the fertility industry. It is sponsored by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which gains to profit from the use of eggs for research. While the fertility industry targets primarily college-educated women, of the same demographic as those who can pay for eggs, the eggs for research market would span all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. The end result being that some classes of women would be sought out for eggs to produce babies, while other classes of women (lower income and less-educated) will be sought out for eggs for research. Proponents of this bill argue that women have the right to make informed choices regarding what to do with their bodies, but how can any woman make an informed decision when the data on risks and outcomes of egg harvesting procedures are not available?

    In the comments someone mentioned that egg-freezing is a step backward for feminism. I think this is exactly on point. Women are being sold these unproven “technological fixes,” thinking they will level the playing field, when in reality they’re buying into an expanded marketing scheme that ultimately undermines women’s lives.

    • thucy

      Holy cow. As a former health care worker, I find it so frustrating that these issues weren’t given sufficient time on the program. These issues of patient care equity carry over to every department. I seriously hope they ask you back on KQED for a special on the divide between health care for the wealthy and the working class. In the meantime, thanks for delineating these issues on the website.

      • Diane Tober

        You’re welcome. Patient care equity is a really interesting issue. If you look at how different technologies are used, marketed and accessed by different groups, the disparities are alarming. For example, personalized medicine using DNA analysis for those who can afford it, while others can’t even access basic health care services.

  • Hannah

    It seems to me that the reproductive medical community followed by the media have once again prematurely endorsed another fertility treatment without first ENSURING safety for women going through the treatments and the children born from them.

    The general public knows virtually nothing about the failure and success rates of vitrification––the new flash freezing technique that has been used to preserve the eggs of women
    younger than 30 who are facing life-threatening illnesses. While an estimated 1000 babies have been born from this technology worldwide, there is virtually no data that tells us if these live births were the result of 3,000 or 10,000 trials. We have no idea how many miscarriages or still births may have ensued, and there
    are few, if any, long-term infant health studies evaluating how flash freezing half of a child’s DNA might affect them later in life.

    It is true that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (a professional society) in October 2012 decided that the technique should no longer be considered experimental but their opinion is only one among many.

    To their credit, the ASRM said was not yet ready to endorse widespread use of egg freezing for elective treatments. Citing a lack of data on safety, efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and potential emotional risks, their report states: “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing.”

    One must wonder why the ASRM felt so compelled to provide a stamp of approval for a procedure still lacking in reliable safety and efficacy data.

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