Motherhood, Rescheduled

The new frontier of egg freezing and the women who tried it.

Tell Your Friends to Freeze Their Eggs

Yup, it’s awkward ... but your influence is more important than you think.

When I started researching my book about how egg freezing changes women's lives about five years ago, I made a pact with myself not to push the procedure on my friends. I was willing to answer any questions or share my story about why I decided to freeze my eggs, but I figured that few women wanted to be reminded that they and their eggs were getting older. So, except for a few close friends, I mostly avoided the subject out of respect for their privacy. I put fertility in the same category as weight: Just as no one wants to be told they could lose a few pounds, I assumed they didn't want to hear about how they could save a few eggs. Plus, I had my own social life to consider. Who wanted to risk inviting a big buzz kill to their parties who would yammer on about the biological clock?

Well, now I realize I was wrong. I should have pestered them more. According to a recent survey of 183 women who froze their eggs between 2005 and 2011, slightly more than half first learned about the option from their friends. That's in contrast to just a quarter who heard about it from their ob-gyns and a quarter who became aware of it through television and magazines. In other words, women talking to other women mattered way more than other seemingly influential sources, such as doctors' opinions and mass media. 

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Here are three reasons why you should broach the topic with your friends:

1. It lessens the stigma about egg freezing.

There are usually good reasons women put off motherhood, such as pursuing educational opportunities, financial security and/or a stable life partner. The problem lies in how we think about it. It doesn't matter that freezing one's eggs is a way to prevent birth defects or gives you more time to find a decent partner. Many women, unfortunately, feel ashamed about taking advantage of a medical procedure that might give them a few more baby-making years. They see it as a "last resort" because they didn't steer their romantic and professional lives the way they were supposed to. Yet, when women feel free to talk about fertility with the same ease they can share restaurant recommendations, the topic starts to be viewed for what it actually is -- a medical procedure that might give them a few more baby-making years and not a statement of personal failure. Over time, the idea of freezing becomes less fraught and more normal. Hopefully, when we change the tone of this conversation, younger women will feel more comfortable stashing away some eggs when they are better quality instead of waiting until the last minute like their older sisters.

2. It feels like support, not pressure.

Even though the idea of a baby deadline is a source of overwhelming anxiety for many women, it does feel nice to be able to commiserate with someone. (I am grateful for my good friend Janelle, who told me when I was 35 with no plans to start a family in the near future that egg freezing might be a good backup for me.) And, sorry to say, it feels better having that chat with a peer rather than a parent -- even though both are concerned about your reproductive health. It just does.

Here's what I didn't understand at the time: My tap-dancing around the topic probably made my friends more anxious because of what I wasn't saying. I was unknowingly perpetuating the idea that being a woman of a certain age who still wanted children -- a "Clock Ticker" -- was something to feel bad or embarrassed about. I had no problem bugging my friends to try online dating. I routinely snapped pictures of them at events and forwarded them with the caption, "This would be great for your profile." One friend even said to me, "Don't give up on me! Keep bugging me to get online."

Why should egg freezing be any different? In dating, I was encouraging them to advertise their awesomeness. As for fertility preservation, you're supporting their dreams of a family and saying, "Hey, your fertility is kickin'. Go save some for later." These are easy gestures of friendship.

3. Egg freezing is more affordable.

Obviously, you don't want to feel like an insensitive jerk crowing about an option that your friends can't afford. But as egg freezing becomes cheaper, it's easier to bring up the topic. The procedure still can cost up to $12,000 (not including medication) in some clinics, but it's dropped to as low as $2,000 to $5,000 in some markets. That's still a chunk of change, but the cheaper prices mean that more women will be able to save up or pay it off on a credit card over time.

So, if you have a friend who's in her 30s and isn't ready to start her family -- or who might appreciate having those frozen eggs for a second child -- don't be shy. Tell her to freeze 'em. She'll probably be less put off than you think. She might even thank you.

As for my own friends, I apologize for my silence. Your dreams are more important than my discomfort. I'm going to speak up more, even if you don't invite me to your party.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a health and science journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It

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