Babies

05.30.13

Motherhood Rescheduled: To Freeze or Not to Freeze

In her new book, Sarah Elizabeth Richards discusses reproductive science and why she's glad she froze her eggs.

So, does egg freezing improve women’s lives, after all? If we look at the end result—whether those frozen eggs turn into babies—the answer is yes for only one of the three women profiled in this book who thawed their eggs. This success rate is in line with doctors’ estimates that women have a 30 to 40 percent chance that the procedure will work. Although these women froze their eggs when the technology first became available and wasn’t as effective as it is today, they all still expected their eggs to work. Yet two of three women did not get what they paid for.

But the question is more complicated than that and can’t be answered objectively. Their faith that egg freezing would work set in motion positive events in their lives. They enjoyed years with less baby panic, comforted that they were getting a second chance at motherhood.

Both Hannah and Kelly believe freezing their eggs gave them time to find their husbands. Although freezing didn’t dampen Monica’s urgency to have a baby with Adam, it enabled her to feel more relaxed as she pursued subsequent relationships. It also gave her peace of mind as she focused on her endometriosis treatment. As for me, egg freezing gave me time to explore and enjoy a lovely relationship and become ready to be a mom.

I’ve also been able to calmly enjoy dating as I search for that curious mix of attraction to and chemistry with someone who shares my goals. Since breaking up with Paul two years ago, I’ve met dozens of interesting men, including one from San Diego with 10-year-old twins who said he’d love to have more children with me. Some seemed uncomfortable when I told them that I had frozen my eggs. Others thought it was the best idea they’d ever heard. One man told me over dinner, “You seem really chill about it all. It’s so nice.”

I’ll also admit I’ve been laughed at (by everyone from strangers I’ve met on planes to family members with teenagers), as if expecting to find love and babies at age 41 is the craziest idea in the world. The funny thing is that when I was younger, I was terrified of being in this boat at this age. I could never have anticipated that the boat would get a lot more fun. Or that I would feel prettier and softer. I no longer wish that everything would work out; I’ve simply made up my mind that it will.

Then it did, just as it always does when you keep an open heart and go on enough Match dates. I met a wonderful 45-year-old single dad from New Jersey who wants more kids and wanted to hear all about my frozen eggs. Four hours after meeting at an Upper West Side wine bar, we were making out in Central Park in a warm September foggy mist. A month later, he said the sweetest words I have ever heard: “I can’t believe I found you.”

I can’t stop kissing him.

Egg freezing allowed me to change the narrative of my life from mourning and desperation to hope and potential. I wake up every morning feeling good about my future. That is worth something, even if those eggs don’t give me biological children.

Perhaps the better question is this: Are these psychological benefits worth taking the risk that you might not have a baby with your own DNA?

Motherhood Rescheduled by Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Some doctors have argued that egg freezing serves a valuable purpose by helping women get in touch with their desire to become mothers. When a woman freezes her eggs, two things happen: she comes to terms with the fact that her fertility is fading, and she invests significant time, energy, and money in protecting that asset. The combination is a powerful catalyst. “You’re making a public declaration to have a baby,” explains Dr. Jamie Grifo, a fertility doctor who helped start the egg-freezing program at New York University. “You have made a statement and taken action. You own the decision. You’re not being a victim." In fact a survey of 240 women who visited a New York City fertility clinic for a consultation on egg freezing between 2005 and 2011 found that 84 percent said they had discussed with family their intention to undergo the procedure, and 78 percent reported talking about it with friends.

Georgia Witkin, the psychologist I had seen before my first round of egg freezing in New York, said there’s something powerful about having those eggs in the freezer. I think there’s something more powerful about putting those eggs in the freezer. Paul had awakened my longing to have children, but the act of freezing made me commit to it. In my case, eight times.

Critics’ biggest concern is that women would use egg freezing as an excuse to ignore their biological clock. Yet surprisingly, the women in this book believe the act of freezing motivated them to take steps that brought them closer to becoming moms: Hannah, Kelly, and Monica became more serious about dating, and I left someone I dearly loved to be free to find a partner who also wanted to be a father.

It’s also important to point out that these women didn’t use their frozen eggs as an excuse to wait indefinitely. As soon as Kelly was married, she started trying to have a baby. Monica was so aware of her ticking clock that she decided to start the journey without a partner. And Hannah, worried about her creeping age, finally pushed her husband to make a decision to have more children.

Egg freezing doesn’t silence the biological clock. Rather, it temporarily dulls the ticking so you can catch your breath and make good life choices. After a while, the noise, now quieter and steadier, faithfully reappears. But instead of feeling like a victim paralyzed by anxiety, you feel more in command of your own destiny. It is that mindfulness that makes me do what I’m supposed to do to make my life go in the direction I want. It forces me to put on a dress and a smile and attend another alumni cocktail on the nights I would love to stay home and watch Mad Men in my yoga pants. It makes me find the enthusiasm to tell yet another Match date that I love shopping at farmers’ markets on Sunday afternoons.

Excerpted from Motherhood Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It, by Sarah Elizabeth Richards (Simon & Schuster).