What do you think about egg freezing?

There has been quite a debate about egg freezing after a call for the NHS to offer egg freezing for women of 30 to 35 as an insurance policy for their future fertility – you can read more about it here. Although the suggestion was supported by the patient charity Fertility Network UK, others didn’t agree, and Lord Winston warned that he felt women risked being exploited by the suggestion. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also called for caution where social egg freezing is concerned. It’s an interesting debate.

Perhaps freezing eggs might for some women save future heartache, but it’s still far from guaranteed that taking this option will result in a baby in the future. As anyone who has experience of IVF knows, having a good stock of eggs doesn’t bring any certainties, and women might need to go through a number of cycles of freezing to have eggs for the future. But could investing in egg freezing save the NHS money in the long run? An egg freezing cycle is essentially the same as an IVF cycle but split into different stages – so you are still harvesting eggs, fertilising them in the laboratory and then replacing them into the womb at a later date. So might you actually end up paying for IVF for women who might not ever need it? The reality is that the majority of people pay for their fertility treatment themselves, and perhaps sorting out the postcode lottery of funding for IVF in England would be a better first move as this is a medical treatment for people who have fertility issues, rather than a medical treatment for people who are trying to insure against having difficulties in the future.  What do you think?

Egg freezing in China

eggI’ve just watched this really interesting feature about women from China travelling overseas to freeze their eggs. Apparently, unmarried women are not allowed to access any form of fertility treatment in China, including egg freezing. In fact, women who are married are far less likely to want to freeze eggs anyway, but the restrictions have seen growing numbers of women travelling overseas in order to freeze their eggs.

What’s quite sad about this is that many of the women clearly believe that they have bought themselves time, or some kind of insurance, by freezing their eggs when – as anyone who has been through fertility issues knows only too well – having frozen eggs is no guarantee of anything in the future.

You can see the feature and read the accompanying article here 

On egg freezing

There have been a couple of interesting items on egg freezing in the last few days. The first is a piece from the Telegraph, based around a BBC Radio 4 documentary about egg freezing presented by Fi Glover which looks at the reality of egg freezing. It’s definitely worth a read – and a listen – as it looks at why people consider egg freezing and asks whether the promises it offers are a reality.

At the same time, the Guardian’s Mariella Frostrup was answering a dilemma in a letter from someone who felt angry and let down by a friend who had suggested that she shouldn’t bother freezing her eggs at 35 as she was now 40, wanting a baby and had been told she had possibly left it too late. What was most interesting about this was the completely misplaced certainty that she would have been able to have children had she frozen her eggs, when in fact as Fi Glover’s programme and the Telegraph article explain, this may be very far from the case.

There is a huge media interest in egg freezing, and this is an interesting discussion whatever your point of view…

The Fantastic Fertility Fest

I was in Birmingham yesterday for the first ever Fertility Fest which was a truly amazing day. Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier put together the festival and had worked tirelessly to create something which managed to be moving, interesting, emotional, inspiring, uplifting, thought-provoking and exciting all in one day.

It was wonderful to have so many artists who have produced such different work about their experience of fertility problems gathered together under one roof – visual artists, playwrights, photographers, musicians and writers. To have them joined by leading fertility specialists added another context to the discussion and proved to be a fascinating mix.

I chaired the opening session where Jessica was joined by playwright Gareth Farr, whose play The Quiet House, which is about a couple going through IVF, forms a central part of the festival. They spoke about why they’d both wanted to write about their experiences of fertility problems, and about the stigma and taboo which still surrounds infertility and treatment. They set the tone for the day, explaining how the idea for Fertility Fest came about and what they hoped the day would achieve.

I went on to the session about IVF with writer Jo Ind and visual artist Tabitha Moses, where we were joined by Anya Sizer from the London Women’s Clinic. Jo read some passages and a poem she’d written at the time of her fertility problems and treatment, and then Tabitha presented some of her work about fertility – her beautiful embroidered hospital gowns featuring women’s fertility stories and the light-box embryos, pinpricked out using the syringes she used for her IVF. We had a fascinating discussion afterwards about their work, about infertility and treatment, about IVF pregnancy and parenthood and about the compulsion to explore fertility problems through art and writing.

In the afternoon, I was in the session on male fertility with photographer Aaron Deemer, musician and composer Fergus Davidson and fertility expert Professor Allan Pacey. Aaron began by talking about his extraordinary photos of the men’s rooms at fertility clinics, and about his visits to clinics in China and the UK – and explained how the photos have become a way into talking about men and fertility. Fergus gave an incredibly moving talk about his fertility problems and experience of miscarriage, and then played some music he had composed accompanied by pictures. I think most of the audience in the room were in tears by the time he had finished his courageous and honest account, and it made me realise how rare it is to hear a man speaking so openly about the pain of fertility problems and of miscarriage. Aaron and Fergus were joined by Professor Allan Pacey for the discussion afterwards who added a professional view to the debate which gave a forum for a subject so often overlooked. It was great that Dr Robin Hadley, an academic who has researched men’s responses to childlessness, joined us in the audience for the debate.

The final session of the day on the Future of Fertility was started by Amanda Gore from Liminal Space who talked about their most recent project involving the creation of a fictional beauty brand and pop-up shop designed to unlock the facts around egg freezing. Chair Peter Guttridge skilfully led the panel of experts – Professor Geeta Nargund, Professor Jacky Boivin, Dr Gillian Lockwood and Professor Allan Pacey – as they discussed what they felt lay ahead. Egg freezing, synthetic sperm and eggs, a dwindling population and the future of NHS-funded fertility treatment were up for discussion!

The day ended with a production of Gareth Farr’s play The Quiet House. I couldn’t stay for that but am really looking forward to seeing the play in London. There were so many amazing artists and experts, and I just wish I could have attended all the sessions. If you are anywhere near London and haven’t got tickets for Fertility Fest on June 11 – book one right now here before they sell out. It promises to be another truly fascinating day.

What do you think about egg freezing?

White_chicken_egg_squareEgg freezing has been in the news once again this week with a story about a pop-up shop, Timeless, which will set up in London at the end of the month aiming to educate people about what is really involved in freezing eggs. It will contain products which are made to look like items you may find on Beauty shelves, such as the Eau de Pressure perfume range and the 3 simple steps to freeze your fertility, reminiscent of Clinique’s 3 step system. There will also be some debates.

There was a lengthy article by Eva Wiseman in The Observer on the subject, followed by an interesting opinion piece from Viv Groskop. You can also visit the Timeless website for more information.  What do you think? Is it a good idea to provide more information in this kind of way? Does it end up just being another marketing tool for egg-freezing by giving a platform or is this really going to make people stop and think? De let me know your opinions on the subject…

Want to know more about egg freezing?

eggYou couldn’t fail to have heard about egg freezing, which seems to have captured media attention as the latest development in fertility treatment to be regularly hitting the headlines, but do you know all that you should?

Is egg freezing something that every young woman should be considering? Or is it just the latest money-making enterprise from the fertility sector? Should it be reserved for those who need to preserve their fertility for medical reasons rather than be freely available to young, healthy women?

If you want to know more about these issues, come along to the event organised by Progress Educational Trust on 21 October at University College London titled ‘Beating the Biological Clock: Should you Freeze your Eggs?”.  Leading experts in the field Professor Barry Fuller, Dr Francoise Shenfield, Dr Imogen Goold and Professor Maureen McNeil will all be there to debate the issues and I’ll be chairing.

If you’d like to come and join us, visit www.progress.org.uk/eggfreezing

Is freezing a feminist issue?

I was at a seminar recently where the idea that egg freezing would lead to more equality between the sexes was debated – if women were able freeze eggs when they were younger, it was argued, they wouldn’t need to worry about their biological clocks. Women could have children when they wanted rather than in the time frame that nature specifies, thus making them more like men. It was pointed out that men have been freezing sperm for decades and yet when women are given the chance to freeze eggs, we suddenly raise all kinds of ethical issues.

It’s an interesting argument, but is egg freezing really a way of making women more equal?For a start, it’s a costly business and is only ever likely to be available to those who can afford to pay. And it’s often not until a time when female fertility is already in decline that most women have the money – or the inclination – to freeze their eggs.

The other concern for those who freeze is that having a store of eggs in the bank could lull them into a false sense of security. Women are sold the idea of preserving their fertility but fertility isn’t something you can pickle in a jar – and freezing your eggs isn’t a guarantee that you will eventually have a baby or even viable embryos. The eggs have to survive thawing, they have to fertilise, develop and implant. Success rates are not high.

So is egg freezing a feminist issue? Will it allow women to stop worrying about their declining fertility? Is it empowering them or is it storing up future disappointment?

Is an egg-freezing party really the best place to inform yourself?

120px-2_eggsApparently it’s the latest thing in the States and is set to arrive on our shores soon – the egg-freezing party hosted by a doctor who calls herself the “egg whisperer” who will tell you all you need to know about freezing – and offer you discounts on her freezing service if you go along to a party, or host one yourself.

I’m all in favour of people knowing more about the realities of egg freezing, but I’m not entirely convinced that a party organised by someone who is trying to sell her egg freezing service is the best way to do that.  What women really need is impartial advice about this, a real assessment of their chances of producing viable eggs and honesty about the age-related decline in egg quality as well as quantity. The truth is that egg freezing is not likely to be able to offer a successful “extension” to your fertility if you are already in your forties, and yet many of the women who look into this as an option are older – apart from anything else they are more likely to be able to afford to pay for it as egg freezing is a costly business.

There’s a growing debate about companies providing egg freezing for employees after a couple of US companies offered this to staff – but what hasn’t been so widely reported is that this move was an extension of existing fertility packages which also offered funding for IVF. Perhaps that might be a more welcome move…

If you’re interested, you can read more about egg freezing parties in this article from the Evening Standard

Another egg freezing story

So, here’s another woman telling her egg freezing story publicly. This one, Joanna Krupa,  is apparently a celebrity (I’ve never heard of her, but I must admit that I’m not that up on celebrities!). She tells us that she’s been hearing egg freezing is currently “trendy” and is her “security blanket”. As she’s married, I’m not quite sure why she’s freezing eggs rather than embryos – perhaps that’s not as “trendy”…

What’s really worrying about stories like this is that women seem to have been sold the idea that freezing eggs is some kind of protection against future fertility problems, but having a stock of eggs doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything – they may not fertilise or implant.  There’s nothing wrong with egg freezing in itself, as long as women go into it understanding the limitations. The worry is that many will be disappointed in the future when they realise that the money they’ve spent can’t ensure that they will be able to delay having a family until they feel the time is right.

A question of egg freezing

I’ve just been watching this really interesting documentary by Al-Jazeera journalist Amanda Burrell who is trying to decide whether to freeze her eggs as she approaches her forty-third birthday. It’s a fascinating look at egg freezing through the eyes of a childless woman who is wondering whether she really wants to be a mother, and whether she should consider freezing her eggs.

We are often told that women know all too well about the biological clock and that we don’t need to keep reminding them – and yet the huge gaps in Amanda Burrell’s knowledge show that the message is still not really getting across. Of course, she was aware that female fertility declined with age – but she had little idea of the reality of what happens in your late thirties and early forties. She is delighted when a doctor tells her that her ovarian reserve is better than might be expected for her age, but appears to quickly gloss over what he also explains to her – that this doesn’t guarantee the quality of her eggs.

Freezing is discussed as an “insurance”, but even with a good ovarian reserve, freezing your eggs at 43 is going to be a pretty huge gamble.  Amanda gradually becomes more aware of this, but what isn’t ever fully explored is the fact that even with good quality frozen eggs you are still at the start of a journey as anyone with experience of fertility treatment will know. Eggs have to fertilise, embryos have to implant – neither of which can be guaranteed – and when you are using eggs produced at the age of 43, your chances of having a miscarriage even if you did get pregnant are high.

This is a fascinating look at the reality of being a single childless women approaching the end of your fertile years. It’s also an incredibly brave documentary as Amanda explores her thoughts and feelings about motherhood, childlessness and egg freezing. Do watch it – http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeracorrespondent/2014/12/motherhood-ice-201412492641993386.html