By Rachael Wong
If you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, you may have noticed the stream of ads on your social media feeds inviting you to freeze your eggs in order to “preserve your fertility” for later on in life.
The ads depicting professional, attractive, carefree women and catch phrases like “invest in your future”, “take charge”, “do it for you”, “sooner is better”, could easily lead one to mistake egg freezing as something similarly empowering, appealing and hassle-free. Which of course is the point (from the advertiser’s perspective). However, the reality is something quite different.
Egg freezing is costly, comes with short and long-term health risks, and absolutely no guarantees.
The chances that egg freezing will eventually result in a baby are low. Dr Michelle Peate, a senior research fellow at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital, points out that the ads fail to highlight the fact that “success rates aren’t super high” or the emotional impact involved. Dr Devora Lieberman, a gynaecologist and director of a Sydney fertility clinic, says "I think the most common misconception that women have about egg freezing is that it's a guarantee of having a baby in the future. And that's the one that worries me most." While her clinic offers the service, she finds herself talking most women out of it.
There are various health risks that come with being injected with the cocktails of powerful hormones used to stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce eggs. The most severe risk is Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which in extreme cases can be life-threatening. There are also longer-term risks of cancers associated with the fertility drugs that women have to take, not to mention the emotional toll resulting both from the hormones, as well as the false sense of hope so many women experience. A recent study showed that one in six women regretted freezing their eggs.
In Australia, an egg freezing cycle can cost up to $10,000, and this is excluding the costs of eventually fertilising the eggs and implanting the embryos. Some doctors are worried that women are being pushed towards unnecessary services like egg freezing by fertility clinics for financial gain. Others are concerned about the ethics of aggressively promoting expensive fertility services like egg freezing to healthy young women who may never need it (less than 10% of women who freeze their eggs will actually come back and use them).
While more research needs to be done around the risks of egg freezing, it is clear that the procedure raises significant concerns and that these need to be communicated properly to women who are vulnerable to having their fears about the future exploited by those who stand to make a profit.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women's Forum Australia.