Thinking of freezing your eggs? It may sound empowering—a little insurance policy for your future fertility. But don’t be surprised if you regret the decision.
According to a survey of 201 women who froze their eggs between 2012 and 2016, one in six regretted doing so. The women had their eggs frozen for nonmedical reasons; it did not include women who were freezing eggs because they were, for example, about to undergo chemotherapy.
They were surveyed about two years after freezing their eggs. Of those who froze their eggs, 89 percent said they thought they would be glad they did it, even if they never used the eggs. But 49 percent didn’t fully endorse their own decision. Most had mild regret, and 16 percent experienced moderate to severe regret.
Freezing your eggs, known as elective oocyte cryopreservation, is becoming quite popular as awareness of infertility grows and women face age-related infertility. The procedure is especially common in urban areas.
“This technology is tremendous if it’s the only way of having a biological child and having a family,” said Heather Huddleston, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF. “But it’s important that we progress thoughtfully, given all the implications this technology may have for women.”
On average, women took the survey about two years after undergoing the procedure. Just six percent of the women surveyed had used their frozen eggs to try to conceive a child, so it was unlikely that those who expressed moderate to severe regret about the procedure did so because the technology had failed them.
“While most women expressed positive reactions of enhanced reproductive options after freezing eggs, we were surprised to discover that for a group of women it wasn’t so simple – some even frankly regretted their choice,” Eleni Greenwood, M.D., another researcher, added.
Why the Doubt?
The researchers are conducting further study into why women regretted their elective decision.
“What is clear is that egg freezing is more than just your standard insurance transaction for many women,” Greenwood said.
One thing that may explain the regret is that women who yielded fewer eggs were more likely to regret going through the process to harvest and freeze eggs. They may have interpreted the low egg count as an indication that their fertility was already hampered. A low number of eggs retrieved is not a reliable indicator of poor fertility, though, the researchers said.
About 80 percent of the women felt they had enough information about the procedure but those who said they didn’t were also more likely to be regretful.
One woman told The Zoe Report that the procedure itself threw her body completely out of whack. Other reports have casted doubt on the effects of the procedure, too. Some realize that the eggs retrieved were not viable.
According to Kate Bourne, a senior IVF counselor at Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, VARTA in Australia, women who have unrealistic expectations about the outcomes for egg freezing are prone to regret their decision.
To Freeze Or Not to Freeze?
Egg harvesting and freezing isn’t an easy—or cheap—procedure. Women must undergo about 10 days of injections to stimulate their ovaries, and five or six ultrasounds where doctors can track egg development. To retrieve eggs, doctors insert a needle through the vaginal wall under ultrasound guidance. The procedure requires sedation.
While many women may regret freezing their eggs, others do it because they fear they will regret not doing so. That’s why it’s such a personal decision—and why women should have a detailed discussion with their doctors when choosing to explore it.
Before You Freeze…Focus!
But talking to your doctor isn’t enough, because freezing your eggs impacts your entire life, said Serena Chen, M.D., a fertility specialist from New Jersey. Women need to talk to a reproductive therapist as well, because freezing your egg taps into expectations about things like marriage, career–even single parenthood–that can be challenging to manage.
Providers often don’t focus on helping you decide if egg-freezing is right for you–they focus more on the science of it all. Many don’t explain that freezing your eggs can come with physical and mental health impacts.
“Women really have to take charge of their own body, their own health, their own family,” Chen said.
She wants women to be as informed as possible, so that even if egg freezing doesn’t work out, they don’t have regrets. When you take the time to make your decision, you hopefully won’t have regrets at all.