• Rhiane Kirkby

This is why more women than ever are freezing their eggs.

As experts suggest that women should freeze their eggs by the age of 37, Stylist investigates this growing trend - and speaks to the women who have been through the process.

"I feel empowered and in control. Being a mum is a massive want for me. I’ll do it on my own and I’m very comfortable with that.” Sharon’s single, 32 and about to start her first cycle of egg freezing. She’ll have eggs harvested from her ovaries and frozen until she wants, or needs, to use them for pregnancy. And, in doing so, she’ll join growing numbers of women in their early thirties who are opting to take fertility ‘MOT’s’ and, depending on the results, potentially future-proof their chances of having children.

“I’m not in a relationship and don’t necessarily want to be,” explains Sharon. “But I know I want to be a mum and I keep thinking, if I’m not actively looking for a partner then will I ever have my own child? I don’t want to put that pressure on myself or someone else. Online dating made me feel really bad, really unwanted and unhappy with my future and nervous about it. I decided if I want to have a family, this is what I have to do.”

Egg freezing has become increasingly popular in the UK over the past few years, partly due to advances in technology which has made it more successful, but also because of the growing number of clinics offering the service. What started out as a medical procedure designed to help women whose fertility was compromised, has now gone mainstream. And it’s safer and more successful than ever before. The physical risks for egg freezing are the same as for a cycle of IVF and complications are very rare, but it’s a big commitment physically, mentally and financially.

The latest data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, published just last month, shows that in 2016, 1,173 egg freezing cycles were carried out in the UK, compared to just 29 in 2001. And we know the vast majority of the women going through this invasive and intensive treatment are healthy and doing it for social reasons - and, contrary to popular belief, a new study from Yale suggests the reasons have little to do with their careers.

“I see three different types of women,” explains Dr Zeynep Gurtin, who is conducting the first in-depth study into egg freezing in the UK for the London Women’s Clinic and the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. “The first group are determined to become mothers but have given up on finding ‘Mr Right’ and want information on ‘solo motherhood’ using donor sperm. The second group, women in their early thirties, are proactively planning and freezing their eggs at their biological prime. And the third are women in their late thirties and early forties who, whilst aware they’re standing on their reproductive precipice, still want to hold out for that elusive partner to have a family with.”

She goes on to explain that, in the 10 years egg freezing has been widely available in the UK, there’s been a shift. “Whilst the trend to date for social egg freezing has been for women in their late thirties and early forties to freeze their eggs to preserve their remaining fertility, we are now increasingly seeing women in their early thirties thinking proactivelyabout freezing their eggs for the future.”

“What’s driving more healthy, young women to spend around five thousand pounds to preserve their fertility?”

Dr Gurtin has seen increasing numbers of younger women coming to free fertility seminars, single women social events and also signing up for fertility ‘MOT’s’ (a paid-for consultation with a specialist who analyses the quantity and quality of a woman’s remaining eggs, as well as the health of her reproductive organs). Her, as yet unpublished, research at the London Women’s Clinic’s further confirms this trend, revealing that the average age of women freezing their eggs between 2012 and 2016 was 37.5, falling to 36.7 in 2017. She also found that 95% of women freezing their eggs for social reasons between 2012 and 2016 were single.

So what’s driving more healthy, young women to spend around five thousand pounds to preserve their fertility? With the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google offering to pay for their employees to freeze their eggs, there’s long been a mistaken perception that it’s all about careers. But research from Yale University in America shows that’s just not the case, and the main reason is that more and more women haven’t yet found a partner they want to reproduce with. “The same is true here,” explains Dr Gurtin. “When I speak to women I ask whether they feel they chose career over family, and not a single woman has yet said yes.” 

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