Fertility Preservation: Hope for the Future.
The six words jump off of the large screen in front of us. Around me, 30 or so people sit in plush leather chairs nibbling on catered tea sandwiches. It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and we’re in the dark “Screening Room” of one of California’s most highly respected fertility clinics, Southern California Reproductive Center, located on the sixth floor of a building just off of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It’s a fancy establishment, the kind of place with gold curtains and a bold painting of the sun on the ceiling.
Like me, most of the people at this free “Fertility 101” information session appear to be women in their thirties, and we are all here to learn one thing: whether this place can save us from our rapidly and inevitably declining fertility.
On the screen, a Powerpoint slideshow shuffles through “fun facts” that signal all will be okay. We learn about the doctors we’ll be hearing from this evening (Dr. Chang loves karaoke) and look at photos of children born through in-vitro fertilization, known here as #Hopenators. The center informs us that what we’re all dealing with is normal—one in six couples face fertility issues—and provides us with inspirational quotes to further soothe us. Never give up on something you really want, the center tells us. It’s hard to wait, but it’s harder to regret; what isn’t today, might be tomorrow. The center also requests that we leave a review on Yelp.
“Fertility Preservation” can mean any one of many things, we learn. It can mean sperm freezing or in-vitro-fertilization, in which an egg gets fertilized in a lab and not a uterus. But critically for the purposes of centers like this, it also can mean egg freezing, or “oocyte cryopreservation,” a process in which a person injects hormones to stimulate ovulation, which allows eggs to be extracted, frozen and stored for later use.
Free “information sessions” like this one have become increasingly common at U.S. fertility clinics over the past five years, primarily thanks to two developments related to egg freezing, according to Rene Almeling, a professor of sociology at Yale University and the author of Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm. The first occurred in 2012, when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine stopped labeling egg freezing as an “experimental” process, which allowed fertility clinics to market the process more broadly and aggressively. Then, in 2014, Facebook and Apple announced their employees would receive full egg-freezing coverage for non-medical purposes.
Media coverage of the tech giants’ shiny new employee benefit led to broader public knowledge of and discussion around the egg-freezing process, which was often depicted as an empowering means toward female career advancement. Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story in 2014 with the headline “Freeze Your Eggs, Free Your Career.” TIME published one titled “Company-Paid Egg Freezing Will Be the Great Equalizer.” Hal Danzer, a reproductive endocrinologist and co-founder of Southern California Reproductive Center, or SCRC, told me that the women who come in are “really excited about doing this for their careers.” But one 2018 study found the primary reason people decide to freeze their eggs is lack of a partner.
Whatever the reason, egg freezing has become the fastest-growing fertility preservation service in the business. In recent years, the number of U.S. egg freezing cycles has more than doubled—from around 5,000 in 2013 to almost 11,000 in 2017. While data is not yet available for 2018, the founder of the New York-based egg freezing clinic Kindbody recently told The New York Times that she expected that number to jump to nearly 76,000. Danzer said that SCRC used to be involved in 20 to 30 egg freezing cycles annually. This year, the center expects that number to hit 300.
But the aggressively optimistic and inarguably swanky information sessions like the one I attended can mask some of the more complicated scientific realities surrounding egg freezing. [Continued; read the full article here]