You never know what you’ll get when you try to date a human woman these days: maybe she will turn out to be a casual witch, or really into hot yoga, or she’ll just happen to be in the process of freezing her eggs. We can’t help with the first two in this piece, but the latter is fairly easy to get your head around. Let’s discuss.
In a way, dating a woman who is freezing her eggs is like dating a superhero, if by superhero you mean a rich woman with excellent foresight. This (expensive) procedure is basically stopping time, at least if/when it works: she’s icing her eggs at a younger age when they are fresher and better, so she can use them when she’s older to have a younger woman’s baby in an older woman’s body. Kind of amazing, but it comes with some important caveats. Women (with money) may freeze their eggs anytime during their baby-making years, but the age women tend to be really targeted for this procedure is increasingly around the early to mid thirties, with some experts saying age 34 is the best age, in weighing both cost and benefit.
Whoa, you can really do that?
Yes, in theory — more on that in a sec. To do it, a woman goes to a doctor, gets some blood tests to measure her hormones, and then is given a prescription for hormones that will stimulate her ovaries to make more eggs for harvesting. She will spend about two weeks self-administering hormone shots via her stomach or thigh (fun date idea: Netflix and ouch), and will also visit a fertility clinic throughout this time (maybe even daily) for ultrasound monitoring of the process.
At the end of this process, the eggs will be retrieved under anesthesia via a needle inserted into her vagina. If the eggs are high quality enough — and the process aims to get 10 good ones per session — they’ll be flash-frozen using something called vitrification, then stored for the foreseeable future. Later, if she decides to use them, they’ll be thawed out. If that goes successfully — the thawing can damage the egg — the eggs will be fertilized via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) using the sperm of a partner (like you, or some other guy) or a donor, and then re-implanted into her body to see if it sticks. If not, she might undergo another round. If so, she might end up with a baby!
So I guess it means this chick wants a baby?
Not necessarily. It means, at the very least, that she might want a baby some day, but not now, so why not reserve the option while the eggs are still fresh?
If she’s not sure, why is she doing it?
Women freeze their eggs for a variety of reasons. PBS reports that women who are diagnosed with cancer may freeze their eggs before undergoing chemo, because chemo can cause early menopause or damage the ovaries. But about 75 percent of women who freeze their eggs do so because they aren’t with a partner at all, or they aren’t with a partner who wants a baby, or they aren’t with a partner who wants a baby right now.
Or, she’s using egg freezing as an insurance policy that will give her the option to have a baby at some point if she wants. That could be because she just isn’t ready to procreate now, hasn’t met the right person, isn’t sure she wants to at all but wants to keep the options open, or knows she wants to finish her degree or hit some career milestones first before getting knocked up.
If you’re a little further into the relationship with this woman, she may be doing it because she wants to have a baby with you, but you aren’t ready now, or may never be.
Is this some feminist shit?
Unequivocally, yes. Having control over your reproductive system is hella feminist. Choosing precisely when you want a baby is about as empowering as it gets, assuming it works.
Wait, it’s not a guaranteed option?
Unfortunately not. Recently, equipment malfunctions and egg loss at two egg-freezing facilities pissed a lot of people off, so there’s that risk. It’s also hard to know how successful the procedure is, because out of some 20,000 women who’ve had eggs frozen at this point, some 85 percent never actually had the eggs thawed out, The New York Times reported. This means that these women either went on to conceive naturally or just opted not to have kids, either because they never met the right partner, or any partner, or they decided against it.
When it comes to actually thawing out those puppies for use, estimates suggest that 95 percent of women who freeze eggs under age 36 will be able to successfully thaw them out. That drops to 85 percent for women who froze their eggs over age 36. But “successfully thawed” doesn’t mean “successfully implanted” and resulting in live birth. PBS says that the odds of one good thawed egg leading to a live birth is somewhere between 2 and 12 percent. The Times says a 36-year-old with 10 good frozen eggs on hold has a 60 percent chance of things going right. But another study they cite says the chance of giving birth is more like 30 percent, even with good eggs. That’s not nothing, but it’s dicey.
Overall, there have been about 5,000 live births worldwide resulting from frozen eggs, according to LiveScience data from the University of Southern California.
How much does it cost?
It depends, but the whole shebang, from shots, to retrieval, to storage costs, to thawing out to implanting, can run you around $20,000 — if you never thawed them out, figure more like $12,000-$15,000. You may need more than one cycle to get a good batch of eggs. While some cool startups like Apple and Facebook offer egg freezing as an employee perk, as it stands, it’s not covered by insurance, which means she or someone she knows ponied up for this personally. (More clinics are offering payment plans these days, though — insert your frozen egg layaway joke here.)
So what does it mean for you to be hanging out with a woman freezing her eggs? Can you still have sex?
Enlarged ovaries don’t always make for a great bang sesh, and experts say, generally, to limit exercise and intercourse during this time. There are other mitigating factors: she’ll go on birth control for a month before the procedure to sync up the ovaries, but will also be extremely fertile. Since she’s definitely not trying to get pregnant at this time, it would be very ironic to get pregnant while spending a lot of money trying to hold off on pregnancy, meaning carefree whimsical sex during the cycle itself doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Will she feel like shit?
Probably. The process can be no big deal, causing only moodiness, bloating, discomfort, or mild spotting — “Like eating too much pie after Thanksgiving,” one expert claims. But it can also cause some pretty uncool side effects due to something called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, where there’s bloating, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain and heavy bleeding. Some women experience fluid buildup in their abdomen. There’s also the emotional stuff: you want it work, and hope it works, and you just dropped all this coin on a debatably reliable backup, so if it doesn’t work, that sucks.
So it sounds like that means there’s no pressure to have the baby talk?
It all depends. If you’re in the early dating and the idea of ever having a family comes up, will it make you feel weird or relieved to know she’s already thought ahead enough to have it potentially covered? If you’re dating and can’t agree on when or if to have children, will her opting into a kind of Hail Mary for the future make you happy or pissed or freaked out?
Over at The Cut, a woman tells the story of how freezing her eggs ended her long-distance, very-TBD relationship. Weirdly, just them talking about whether or not she should freeze her eggs ultimately highlighted the fact that they wanted different things.
But other research suggests it’s largely a good thing for dating. Even if the confidence is totally unfounded because there’s no guarantee it works (don’t mansplain that to your date please), many women report a “psychological boost” from having frozen their eggs that takes the heat off on the biological clock countdown. Others say it clarifies for them whether they do or don’t want children at all. A quarter of women in one survey said it made them feel “more relaxed, focused, and less desperate, with more time to find the right partner.” The same women said the men they dated overwhelmingly met the news with a supportive and positive response.
Those all sound like good things. If nothing else, it means when you’re hanging out and dating, you can just take the time to figure out if you like this rich sensible woman, without any sense of rushing it because she or you feels, biologically, culturally, or otherwise, like time is running out.
So if the woman you’re across from at drinks tonight reveals she’s thinking about freezing her eggs, has frozen them, or will be soon, make like a frozen egg and chill out, be cool, don’t say anything insensitive, and take it slow. And at the very least, buy this woman a fancy drink. She just dropped 20 large on a pretty risky insurance policy that may one day produce your child.