Parool: 'Pausing your biological clock? More people are freezing their eggs'

Our co-founder Ling & lead designer Gal were asked by Het Parool to talk about why they wanted to freeze their eggs. Read the article below, written by Sara Luijters.


People in their early thirties are increasingly opting for social freezing: the freezing of eggs for later use without any medical reason. "I want to be able to further my career."


Freezing your eggs to postpone your desire to have children? Until ten years ago, it was unheard of in fertility clinics or hospitals in the Netherlands to do so without a medical reason - e.g. risk of infertility due to cancer treatment. Nowadays, almost every woman up to 40 years of age is eligible for 'egg cell vitrification', an ultra-fast freezing method, and that is reflected in the numbers.


Amsterdam UMC, then the AMC, was the first hospital in the Netherlands in 2012 to freeze eggs without medical need. "The demand has increased significantly within a few years," says Mariëtte Goddijn, professor of Reproductive Medicine and head of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Amsterdam UMC. National annual figures are not yet known; they are still under investigation by the professional association, but it is clearly an urban centre phenomenon, Goddijn sees. "Since the start we have now helped about five hundred women, especially in recent years the numbers are doubling. The women who come to us are also getting a little younger; before they were 38 on average, now they are 36 on average."


For egg freezing, there is currently even a waiting list of just under a year at Amsterdam UMC. The limited possibilities during the Corona crisis also play a role in this.


Partner

One explanation for the increase could be that it's becoming more normal to talk about it - it's no longer as far from us as it used to be, Goddijn says. She sees mostly women who have their eggs frozen because they don't have a partner yet. "It gives them more time and peace of mind to still find that relationship. These women consciously renounce donor treatment and single motherhood."


At the Medisch Centrum Kinderwens in Leiderdorp, there has also been a sharp increase, says Nicole Beckers, doctor of reproductive medicine. In 2021, 88 punctures have been performed at the Kinderwens Medical Center to date.


To freeze eggs, hormonal stimulation is performed, similar to IVF treatment, Beckers explains. From the start of menstruation, a woman administers hormone injections to herself for a period of two weeks, which allows several egg cells to grow and mature. Then - with pain relief - eggs are "harvested" through a puncture. These are then frozen. The chances of becoming pregnant depend on the age at which the eggs were frozen and the number of eggs. Oocytes can later be fertilized and replaced via icsi (one strong sperm cell is injected into an egg). The maximum age for this is 50 years.


Time to think

Proponents of egg freezing praise the liberating, empowering nature of the technique, which provides more freedom of choice for many women, giving them more time to think, less pressure on finding a suitable partner and being able to choose for themselves the right moment to become a mother. It frees women from the fear of rattling ovaries and offers them a broader deadline, an opportunity to postpone having a child for a while. Critics mainly have ethical objections: they consider infertility a luxury problem or see it as an unnatural quick fix.


Proponents and opponents can agree on one thing: stretching the expiration date is not yet for everyone. Some large tech companies, such as Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Google, offer female employees compensation for freezing their eggs in order to avoid losing a good workforce (temporarily) to motherhood, but for now, egg freezing is accessible only to a small group of privileged women. Insurers do not cover the costs and it comes with a hefty price tag: including medication, it costs around 3,000 euros per treatment in the Netherlands, and two to three treatments are often needed to maximize the chances of pregnancy.


A woman's chances of becoming pregnant depend on the age at which her eggs are frozen and the number of eggs available. There is no guarantee of a baby: under the age of 36, you have about a 5 percent chance of a living child being born from each frozen cell. Social freezing is therefore primarily a plan B; conceiving a child through the natural route still offers the greatest chance of success. As far as quality and number of eggs are concerned, the earlier the better - because both decline rapidly after the age of 35.


A smart girl freezes her eggs in time, you might say. But, warns Beckers: "This method offers only one certainty: in a number of years you will have the same chance of pregnancy that you had when you had your eggs frozen."


Gal Agmon: ‘It makes me feel more secure about my future.’

IMAGE IMKE PANHUIJZEN


Gal Agmon (31, digital product designer) is freezing her eggs for the first time this month, in Israël

"In December I will turn 32. I find it symbolic to have my eggs frozen just before my birthday. I'm having it done in Israel, where I'm from and where my family lives. There was no waiting list there, unlike in Holland. In Israel it is fairly common to have your eggs frozen, especially among women in their late thirties who would like to have more children.


When I first heard about social freezing a few years ago, it still sounded like a scifi scenario. But the more I talked about it, the more it felt logical. Many women in their 30s struggle with getting pregnant and with ivf, when you might be able to avoid that by freezing your eggs at a young age and having them put back in at a later time. I'm not doing it because I'm single, but because I'm pretty sure I don't want to become a mother in the next five years. I want to see more of the world, maybe live in other places and be able to make more strides in my career.


My gynecologist in Israel was surprised. She said, 'You are young, you will find someone tomorrow to marry and have children with. Why would you do this?' But I want to be able to decide about my own life.


IVF is already very normal, freezing your eggs is becoming more normal: hopefully it will also become more accessible to a larger group of women. At the moment you still have to pay for everything yourself if there are no medical reasons. I put my savings in: about 6000 euros for two treatments. I see it as an insurance for the future. If I am ready for a child when I'm 37, I can try with the eggs of my 32-year-old self. That way I have a better chance of having a healthy baby.


It's not as crazy as it seems, many women want to be in control of their own lives. It's time to break the taboo on it."


Ling Lin: ‘If I'd known about this at 21, I would have done it then.’

IMAGE IMKE PANHUIJZEN


Ling Lin (33, co-founder of start-up Grip, an at-home fertility test), had her eggs frozen last year

"I'm from the US and there it's already quite normal to have your eggs frozen around this age - as is testing your reproductive health at 30. Here it is hardly discussed and even considered strange if you want to know how fertile you are at a young age. Only if you fail to conceive after several attempts do you get a test.


But society is changing. Women are dating longer, having careers and want to decide for themselves when it is convenient to become a mother. I've always been very ambitious and career-oriented. A baby changes your hormones, and with leave and caregiving responsibilities falling more on women in practice, it creates a career gap with male colleagues that is not easy to make up. It would be a lot more equal if young fathers were at least given longer leave, but that is still often not the case."


I had just started my own start-up and didn't want to be held back by the ticking of my biological clock. My boyfriend at the time, who was younger than me, wanted to wait a few more years anyway before having children, so this was the very best alternative for me. Having my eggs frozen was a plan B for me. I was lucky, because in one round 23 eggs could be taken, of which 19 could be frozen.


If I had known this at 21, I would have done it right away. Then I might've been able to freeze 30 eggs instead of 19, and the quality would have been much better. If I ever have a daughter, I wouldn't give her a car as a present, I would give her 3,000 euros to have her eggs frozen. I know it's not a hundred percent guarantee of having a child, but it makes me feel good that I've taken control of this myself."

Grip-test Last year, American-Chinese expat Ling Lin started Grip, a test that allows you to test your fertility at home. A blood sample is sent to the lab and after seven days you receive a report that gives an indication of your ovarian reserve (how many eggs you have) and the risk of an early menopause. It also gives an indication of the risk of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), blocked fallopian tubes and thyroid problems. "Based on that data, women can make decisions about their bodies and their future," Lin explains.

"Since its launch last year, 3,500 women have already tested. Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies, and science and technology are there to help with that. It is empowering to be able to decide on your own fate, for example whether you want to have your eggs frozen. I hope that the Netherlands will start to see the relevance of the test and that it will be reimbursed, as is already the case with similar tests in Denmark."


A Grip test costs 139 pounds, or 99 pounds if you use hormonal contraception.

Curious if you'd be able to freeze your eggs? Take our quiz here!


Read the original (Dutch) article here