Why are women freezing their eggs? To find Mr Right

Career is not the main motivation for women who freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons, study finds

Women are choosing to freeze their eggs to gain time to find the right partner rather than to pursue their careers, new research suggests.

Women are choosing to freeze their eggs to gain time to find the right partner rather than to pursue their careers, new research suggests.

 

Women are choosing to freeze their eggs to gain time to find the right partner rather than to pursue their careers, new research suggests.

Based on interviews with 31 heterosexual women from the UK, Norway and the US, who had frozen their eggs for non-medical reasons in the UK, researchers discovered that the greatest motivation was because the women said they had not found the right man to father their child.

“Women weren’t engaging with technology for their career, they didn’t necessarily seek to delay, (or) put off motherhood, but it was very much more about they wanted to pursue motherhood at the right time, in the right way, with this right partner,” said lead researcher Kylie Baldwin, of the Reproduction Research group at the UK’s De Montfort University.

“Women’s use of this technology is often driven by their relationships with men,” said Baldwin. She presented her results at the British Science Festival on Wednesday, revealing that the primary reason why the women had opted to freeze their eggs was because they had yet to meet Mr Right.

“It wasn’t just about finding the right man, it was about finding the right potential father for their child,” she said. “They very much wanted to parent with their male partner who was committed to parenthood, who was going to perform that role of the hands-on father and would share the role of upbringing, the pleasures and pains of upbringing, equally.”

Other reasons, such as job instability or housing-related issues were also mentioned, says Baldwin, with 20 per cent reporting an underlying health condition that contributed to their choice.

Emily Jackson, professor of law at the London School of Economics and a specialist in reproductive issues, said that despite coming from a small sample of women the findings were consistent with reports from the limited number of other studies available.

“(The findings don’t) mean (egg freezing) is not entirely unrelated to work, in the sense that the reason why one might find oneself 38 and single might have something to do with what career conditions were like in one’s 20s,” she said.

Egg freezing technology has taken off in the past five years or so, with increasing availability of a new approach, called vitrification, that has boosted success rates of conception.

Tim Child, the medical director of the Oxford Fertility Unit, said that the findings chimed with his experience. “The majority of egg freezing requests are because someone wants to preserve their fertility so they feel as though if it is a few years before they meet the person they want to have a child with, and perhaps their fertility has declined to an extent where that might be more difficult to happen, at least they have got some fertility frozen in time,” he said.

Child also says that the sample size does not undermine the results. “You can base such studies on quite small numbers if the studies are conducted to a high standard.”

While the proportion of women freezing their eggs is still low, numbers are growing. According to the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), 816 British women underwent treatment to freeze their eggs in 2014, compared to 652 women in 2013. The approximate rate of live births using frozen eggs, based on those thawed in 2013, was 14 per cent. Although, the report notes, “The success rate is affected by the age of the woman at the time her eggs were frozen and was considerably lower for women in the older age group.”

While several companies, including Apple and Facebook , offer egg freezing for female employees, Baldwin says she is not convinced by the approach. “Some of that use of egg freezing technology is often trying to solve the problem of older motherhood by not addressing the root cause, and the cause in many cases is this lack of a partner, lack of job security, not the desire to climb the career ladder,” she said.

With 37 as the average age of participants, the research reveals that women are leaving it until later in life to freeze their eggs, despite the decline in egg quality with age, says Baldwin. “Women need to be engaging with this technology for it to be the most effective before the age of 35, or perhaps even earlier,” she said.

But as Jackson points out, there are other considerations. Women in their early thirties still have a good chance of a natural pregnancy, she says, meaning that freezing eggs in their 20s could be an unnecessary invasive and expensive procedure. What’s more, in the absence of special circumstances, current legislation only allows eggs to be frozen for a maximum of 10 years. “The 10-year time limit means that in a sense it is not sensible to freeze them early, even thought that might be clinically sensible, because they won’t be available to you (later),” she said.

Baldwin also warns that the idea of egg freezing should not be presented to women as a quick fix. Cheryl Fitzgerald, consultant in reproductive medicine at Old St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, agrees. “I think seeing egg freezing as an option when it is things like you haven’t got your house or your haven’t got your job sorted is a really, really bad message because the majority of those women will then not end up with a baby,” she said.

“Egg freezing is obviously great for those women who have no other option, but I think it shouldn’t be something that women resort to at an early stage. I think society needs to change and facilitate women to have their babies when they are younger.”

While Fitzgerald stresses that it is up to individuals to decide whether or not to freeze their eggs, she warns against the idea of viewing the technology as a simple solution.

“I think it is quite dangerous to start suggesting that, by medicalising a social problem, we can cure it,” she said. “If you’ve not met your partner, you’ve not met your partner, but I think it is a really bad message to give out that actually now we can get round this by egg freezing, because the majority of those women will still not have a baby.”

Guardian service

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.