fertility

You Need More Than a Frozen Egg to Make a Baby

Photo: Fernando Trabanco Fotografía/Getty Images

“Future” is a word commonly used in discussions of egg freezing. Women who choose to freeze their eggs are making an investment in their future. For women unsure of their future plans, egg freezing can provide a sense of insurance. If you don’t want to become a parent now but might want to become one in the future, perhaps egg freezing is for you. In a Wednesday New York piece about how and why millennial women are freezing their eggs, the word “future” appears six times. The words “in vitro fertilization” appear zero times.

Despite the fixation on an egg-freezing candidate’s future, one eventuality is often strangely absent: Women who use their frozen eggs to attempt a pregnancy must do so with IVF. Nice as it might be if the situation were otherwise, we cannot make babies with just eggs. You cannot flip a switch on frozen eggs and watch as they hatch into babies. You cannot and wait for sperm to come along. A woman using frozen eggs needs a clinic to unfreeze them, to fertilize them with sperm, to monitor as they (hopefully) become embryos, and to transfer an embryo — partially formed from that frozen egg — into her uterus. Though the future invoked by discussions of egg freezing is often a hazy one, the realities of using frozen eggs are absolute.

According to the Times, “fees today can vary from about $4,000 to $7,000 for a procedure that entails one to two weeks of birth control pills to turn off natural hormones, nine or 10 days of hormone injections to stimulate egg production, followed, once the eggs have matured, by retrieval and freezing.” Those figures, however, do not include what it would mean to actually get a baby: The second part of IVF, which involves unthawing eggs, fertilizing them with sperm, possibly testing those embryos for evidence of chromosomal abnormalities and/or genetic disease (through preimplantation genetic screening and preimplantation genetic diagnosis), and transferring an embryo in the hopes that a pregnancy results. Depending on what kinds of medications and testing a couple needs, the cost for fertilization and a frozen transfer is at least $5,000 more.

Like a lot to do with motherhood, fertility treatments have a narrow reputation. Who gets them? Our collective imagination would have you believe that all the women in a fertility clinic’s waiting room are older, sad, and desperate to get the baby they aged out of having “naturally.” Last year, for an article about egg-freezing boutiques that do not offer the other parts of the IVF process, a young woman considering egg freezing told the Cut: “I would feel very bad to be in the same room as a woman trying desperately to get pregnant.” Another said she was reluctant to freeze her eggs at a clinic for women “having issues starting a family.”

These are somewhat understandable conclusions to draw from looking at boutique egg-freezing clinics’ marketing, which tends to feature breezy young women enjoying a ripe present of mimosas and laughing girlfriends. But it’s striking to hear women willing to pay thousands of dollars toward a future baby set themselves so far apart from the very women, should they take the final steps to make that baby, they will inevitably become. The dichotomy is a false one: As the Times points out, there’s still just a of a single frozen egg leading to a live birth.

It’s true that some women make use of fertility treatments because they are older, sad, and desperate to have a baby. It’s also true that some women encounter fertility issues because of underlying medical problems that have nothing to do with age. That some couples turn to fertility treatments because of a man’s infertility. That cancer or another illness mean a couple uses fertility treatments. That same-sex couples use fertility treatments. That couples with unfortunate genetics use fertility treatments, to save a future child from disease. That women without partners use fertility treatments.

When it comes to fertility treatments, what’s most true is that they are used by people who, for whatever reason, have thought and planned and paid more than usual to try for a biological child. This group of people is attempting to become parents in the most boring, often disappointing, and sometimes miraculous way. And this group includes women who freeze their eggs.