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March 17, 2008

Should You Freeze Your Eggs?

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It didn't take long before the anxiety resurfaced. I knew I was the target of an aggressive campaign — one that put out promotions like "Freeze with a friend" and encouraged women under 35 to have the procedure because that's when their eggs would be in their prime (and they could start racking up storage fees).

On a tip from a friend, I called Dr. Nicole Noyes, one of the doctors who started the egg-freezing program at the New York University Fertility Center and who has banked the eggs of more than 50 women. I wanted to know if success rates really had improved. They had, she said. Her study bore eight births from 15 cycles of IVF with frozen eggs. I gasped. Those were roughly the same success rates as IVF with fresh eggs! "When should women do it?" I asked. Her answer: At the last minute possible. Since technology would likely continue to improve, women under 35 should wait. "I say to them, 'Hold out and see what your life brings.'" As for me, Noyes said that if I didn't foresee having a baby right away, I should decide to freeze as soon as possible.

Something about my enthusiasm seemed to annoy Noyes — as though I wanted to freeze just so I could fit in a few more South Beach getaways. "Don't just think, 'Freezing bought me six free years,'" she warned. If I decided to thaw my 36-year-old eggs at age 43 and the procedure didn't work, I would have lost my backup (my 43-year-old eggs might be too old). Egg freezing, she stressed, isn't a guarantee. I called other centers and heard the same refrain. Dr. Mark Sauer of Columbia University Medical Center explained that although egg freezing was viable, the numbers weren't always as rosy as the ones I'd seen so far. Some women may not even produce a lot of eggs, or respond to hormone shots at all, he said. The technology is new: So far, only about 200 babies around the world have been born from frozen eggs. He added the exclamation point: "There will be some women who have nothing. They'll spend a lot of time and money and find out it doesn't work," he said.

My stomach lurched, and I actually swooned until he mentioned that you could improve the odds if you fertilized some of your eggs right away and banked the embryos. That technology is more established and has a greater chance of resulting in live births.

That was a great idea! But where was the advice column on how to have that conversation with your man? "By the way, I really like you and am having my eggs frozen Friday, so I was thinking maybe we could make some embryos, if you're cool with that." The other option was to stop by a sperm bank and pick up a few samples from donors, just in case. Or both. When I thought of my poor brood-to-be from different fathers waiting for a uterus in a freezer outside Boston, I felt overwhelmed. I thought egg freezing was supposed to let me put off thinking about all this stuff. Instead, it was getting messier by the minute.

I casually mentioned freezing to my mom, who went off: "This is crazy! Your whole generation is nuts," she shouted. "Just get on with it. Get married. Get pregnant. End of story." She sort of had a point. It shouldn't be this hard. Her voice softened: "Honey, I'm not trying to harass you. It's just that I don't want you to miss this," she said. "And you'd be such a good mother."

That's when the tears flowed. What if the eggs didn't survive? What if the IVF didn't work? I thought of my best friend from college, now making the rounds of fertility doctors. She was devastated, and I wondered if I was being cavalier with what was supposed to be one of life's seminal experiences. Would I be Very, Very Sorry?

Over the next few months, I saw babies everywhere — in adorable snowsuits in the park, screaming in airports, gurgling in my friends' arms at holiday reunions. I took long looks into the eyes of my juicy 8-month-old niece and wondered if I could live without her.

The uneasy truth was that I didn't know. I knew that egg freezing was an expensive risk (with hormone shots that could make me bloated and bitchy — and give me hellish cramps afterward), but that didn't change the fact that I still wasn't ready to take on a baby right now. My man wasn't ready — and if he was, he wouldn't be my man. Children are wonderful, but they can also stress you financially, physically, and emotionally. I wanted to be in a rock-solid marriage with a track record before I had kids. And I didn't want that process to be strained by some deadline that no one could really identify.

Ironically, egg freezing might actually help my love life. Two months after Extend founder Jones froze her eggs, she got engaged. She told me of several others whose relationships moved forward after they banked their eggs. We theorized there was a "freezing effect": When you threw The Clock out the window, you relaxed, he relaxed, and life moved along as it should.

Recently, when I told my boyfriend I was considering freezing, he gushed, "I'm so glad to hear you say that." We spent the rest of the night talking about how men feel the pressure, too. He had his own stories of first dates that felt like interviews and friends whose courtships were detrimentally fast-forwarded by The Clock. Of course, we couldn't be complacent. But we both agreed it would be nice to take my ovaries off the table for a little while.

Even if freezing was a wretched failure, I knew there were other ways to be a mother: donor sperm and egg, surrogate, adoption, or even being a stepmother. I wasn't sure I had to have my own genetic offspring anyway, especially since my DNA carries Alzheimer's, addiction, mental illness, premature gray hair, and fat ankles.

I turn 37 in July, and I have decided to freeze my eggs at the end of this month. Ideally, I'll start a family in a few years and never need that freezer outside Boston. But I think it would be crazy not to take advantage of all my options — especially if I have trouble conceiving a second child. Since I made the decision, the chatter in my head has calmed. I forgot how much I missed the quiet.

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