National Infertility Awareness Week 2014 does exactly what it says on the tin: ‘Raising awareness of infertility and encouraging understanding of reproductive health.’
Apple and Facebook dropped the latest infertility bombshell earlier this month by offering egg freezing to employees. Company packages already include birth cash bonuses, financial support for IVF and adoption.
My favorite reaction comes from Mackenzie Dawson of The New York Post: ‘It’s a devil’s deal in the guise of a gender equity perk. What a weird cynical message it sends.’
It’s just over a year since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine – ASRM-lifted the ban on egg freezing, to offer hope to women with cancer, cautioning: ‘Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope, encourage them to delay childbearing. There is concern regarding success rates.’ What a wonderfully understated soundbite.
Chilling facts of Egg Freezing
Each month at ovulation a woman may produce an egg or even two.
To get enough eggs for freezing, ovaries are stimulated to work overtime. Female hormones are injected twice daily during a rigorous 3-week programme. Scheduled blood tests and vaginal probe ultrasound track progress. Hyperstimulation of the ovaries can be life-threatening. Harvesting of eggs is done under sedation with ovaries punctured for suction extraction.
Two or more cycles of treatment are required.The eggs are flash-frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen for an annual fee of about €500. Do the company incentives cover this?
Ready for a baby?
Step 1. Female hormones prepare the womb for pregnancy.
Step 2. Thaw eggs
Step 3. Fertilise eggs
Looks simple enough, doesn’t it?
What they don’t tell you
You are having IVF! And there’s more. Egg freezing in liquid nitrogen hardens shells. Ordinary IVF won’t work. You’ll need ICSI – Intracytoplasmatic Sperm Injection – to inject the sperm right into the egg.
The failure rate of IVF is roughly 75% so realistically, you are talking 2 or 3 more cycles.
What are the figures?
Egg freezing is marvelous. It’s egg thawing that’s the problem.
I loathe math, and these figures are dismal.
Maybe the 77% failure rate of women who freeze their eggs aged 30 speaks for itself. IVF and ICSI failure rates are over the 75% range.
If each cycle costs €8,000 and you need three or four, it adds up to a crippling financial burden.
And the real cost?
I just don’t buy into the notion of big companies evil intent.Delaying motherhood has much more to do with finding a partner to have a child with, financial stability and career prospects in a competitive workplace. After all, Silicone Valley’s laddish culture spawned Tinder, a hot instant hook-up site. Any surprises that it supports cutting-edge bio-tech?
Egg freezing gives no guarantees. Ironically, that which offers slim hope to cancer patients, may contribute to infertility woes if the thaw comes for hopeful women with waning natural fertility. The stress of infertility is comparable to that of a cancer sufferer. Add in depression, post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD, and relationship breakdown.
That’s a huge cost and a chilling reality.