“When it comes to fertility 40 is not the new 30” according to egg freezing expert, Doctor Mark Bowman
We all know that we can’t halt the ageing process and that the window of opportunity to have children using our own eggs is finite, but the good news is that there is something that we can do to increase the chances of ultimately being a parent.
Do you know you want to have a family someday but the timing is less than ideal right now? Perhaps your career is finally taking off or you haven’t found ‘Mr Right’?
If you want to put off having a family and you’re considering freezing your eggs, you aren’t alone – there are countless women out there in the same boat. Just this week, egg freezing came up in at least four (unrelated) conversations I had with friends, acquaintances and, in one instance, a serious business meeting with a senior exec I had just met.
I’m 34 and despite the cost I’m seriously considering freezing my eggs. I wanted to hear from someone who has already been through the process, so I sat down with Juliette Saly (37), Television Reporter & Radio Anchor at Bloomberg in Singapore. Juliette went through the egg freezing procedure in Australia when she was 34.
Have you always wanted to have children?
Yes. I adore them! But I think the greater issue is that I have always wanted to have the opportunity to have children, which is why egg freezing appealed to me.
Why did you decide to freeze your eggs?
I had the AMH test, or egg-timer test as it’s known – it tests your ovarian reserve through a simple blood test – when I was 31 at the suggestion of a friend.
Fertility had never been on my mind until then, but when my results came back they were quite low for my age. I totally freaked out. It shocked me that the decline and quality of my eggs wasn’t something I could control, so over the next few years I started thinking about options. They say your fertility “falls off a cliff” at age 35 – so when I was 34, I decided the time was right (for me) to freeze my eggs.
I can’t do anything about the ageing process and I can’t do anything about finding the right person but this is something I can control.
What percentage of your eggs harvested were you told might become viable pregnancies? I.e. what is the egg freezing success rate?
I can’t speak for everyone, but the doctors gave me around 50 per cent chance of my frozen eggs making it to embryo stage and surviving a healthy pregnancy. But science is changing by the day – and in any case – my view is 50 per cent odds are better than nothing.
I like the fact that my eggs will always be 34.
What was your most positive take-away from the egg freezing process?
I feel calm. I know egg freezing is not a guaranteed insurance policy – but to me it gives me great peace of mind, knowing I have done all I can, while I can, to increase my chances of having a baby in the future.
How did your family and friends respond to your decision to freeze your eggs?
Everyone who knew I was going through the process was tremendously supportive. And since then, about five of my close friends have also frozen their eggs, and I am incredibly proud of, and happy for them too.
Will you wait to find a partner before using your eggs?
To be honest – I hope to never have to use them. I’m still single – incidentally defying my doctor’s “theory” that women who freeze their eggs find a partner within a year of doing it. Well it’s been three years now, buddy! But my plan is to hopefully fall pregnant naturally. If that doesn’t happen and I decide to go it alone, I would try artificial insemination with a fresh egg before using my frozen ones. They’re my absolute last resort – but I love that they’re there and continue to remain the same “age” so to speak as I was when I froze them.
I love that they’re there and continue to remain the same “age” so to speak as I was when I froze them.
You were 34 when you froze your eggs. Do you have a long-stop date for when you will rule out using them yourself?
Lisa Wilkinson asked me that when I was on the Today Show and I said 38. I’m 38 at the end of this year – eek!! So, I’m pushing it out to early 40s now!
Would you consider donating your eggs if you are unable to use them?
I would definitely consider it, but to be honest people who are after an egg donor are better off finding someone much younger than I was when I froze them. The younger, the fresher, the better!
Have you come across many other women who have had their eggs frozen too?
Many. As I say – my decision prompted a lot of my friends to do it and through my articles and speaking up about it, I have met many more. Including a lot of Americans. They’re much more ahead of [Australians] in terms of attitudes about fertility, but also science I believe. There are even egg freezing information parties in New York and Los Angeles – like a Tupperware party!
I know egg freezing is not a guaranteed insurance policy – but to me it gives me great peace of mind,
Freezing your eggs is not something commonly spoken about. Do you agree?
Absolutely. At school the issue of fertility is rarely touched on and then we spend all of our 20s trying not to get pregnant. This lack of awareness and dialogue around the issue was my main reason for publicising my story. And I think it is changing – slowly. I froze my eggs in 2014, it’s now 2017 and I think it’s definitely much more on the radar than it was then.
Because we don’t talk about fertility much, there is a risk of misinformation. If you see older women (celebrities) getting pregnant at 45, 46 etc they are probably donor eggs rather than their own. Don’t be fooled.
By the time you’re 36, your chance of conceiving naturally per month has decreased significantly – from 25 per cent to 15 per cent – and that’s if there are no other factors at play. The downward slope continues until, by age 45, the average natural fertility rate per month is approximately one per cent. Genea
I genuinely think that in 10 years’ time we won’t be having these conversations, we will be just doing it. Like we now get laser eye surgery. Years ago, when I had laser eye surgery it was considered ‘cosmetic’. These days’ it’s main stream and health funds pay for it.
How would you describe your egg freezing experience?
It was not an unpleasant experience but it was not the best experience of my life.
Do you need to take time off when freezing your eggs?
Not necessarily. If you work near the clinic it’s entirely possible to do it while working. But it is a big commitment – you go into the clinic almost every day for two weeks, or at least a few times a week.
What did the egg freezing process look like for you?
On the first day of my period I went in to see the Doctor and had a blood test. They said “yep, your hormone levels are where they should be, we’ll start treatment.” Then I got my bag of needles so to speak and they showed me what to do.
I gave myself injections (just a little pin) every morning for a week or so to encourage as many mature eggs to drop as possible. Then I went back to see the doctor a couple of times for a blood test. I had an internal ultrasound to see how the eggs were growing. And once we knew the eggs were growing they gave me another drug to stop them growing too much.
Essentially, the drugs force what would normally occur during a monthly period cycle to happen over around ten days.
The Genea website explains that once ovulation is triggered “eggs are collected under ultrasound guidance. This procedure takes approximately 10-20 minutes and is usually performed using light sedation and local anaesthetic so you remain awake during the procedure and recover more quickly.”
What happens to your eggs when you die? (Sorry, morbid!)
Mine are written into my will! They’re going to my sister at this stage. Then it’s up to her to decide whether she would want them or to donate or destroy. I hope we are both old grandmothers by that stage and it will be a redundant issue.
How long can you freeze your eggs for?
I think most clinics keep them for a maximum of 50 years. Every year I get a letter from my clinic updating my preferences for storage.
How much does it cost for a woman to freeze her eggs?
For me it cost around AUD10,000. It’s not cheap but when I’m 40 I’m sure I’ll look back and know that spending the money on freezing my eggs was a better decision than spending it on hand bag, a cheap car or nice holiday.
What are the ongoing egg storage costs?
Very minimal – I think maybe AUD$400 per year.
Do you have any funny anecdotes to share about your egg freezing experience?
I said “I LOVE YOU” to my Doctor – Dr Mark Bowman from Genea – while coming out from under the anaesthetic once he told me how successful we had been. It was an exciting moment and he just patted my hand and smiled in response. I think he gets lots of grateful female patients telling him how much they love him.
What advice would you give to someone considering freezing their eggs?
You have to do your own research and go to a clinic that you trust. I am a journalist, and a thorough researcher so I think I had every possible scenario covered and question answered by my doctors and fertility specialists well before I underwent the procedure!
I personally spoke to three fertility specialists across at least two different clinics before I decided and I reviewed the statistics in various medical journals. I went to IVF Australia and I went to Genea. I ended up going with Genea in the end because their statistics were better.
I’m of the belief you get what you pay for. So, my advice would be to spend the money and go to a clinic with a good reputation. If a clinic claims it can freeze your eggs for AUD2000, it’s probably too good to be true.
Your egg freezing journey was covered by Channel 9’s The Today Show and Women’s Agenda, what was the Australian public’s response?
Serendipitously, the week I went public with my story was the same week Apple and Facebook announced plans to pay for egg freezing of female employees who wished to undergo the procedure. Suddenly everyone was egg freezing crazy and I became somewhat of the egg freezing poster girl in Australia.
Nearly every single message I received was one of “you go, girl” and more importantly, I had messages from friends but also people I had never met thanking me for opening up the conversation. My honest belief is that egg freezing will one day become the norm, and there shouldn’t be stigma or ignorance surrounding it.
I know egg freezing is not a guaranteed insurance policy – but it gave me great peace of mind.
You received some criticism on social media for freezing your eggs, what was the predominant message from these critics?
I had maybe two or three bad “eggs” – pardon the pun – i.e. randoms on Twitter who hide behind bogus profiles, telling me things like “You shouldn’t interfere with God’s plans” and “Maybe some people are not meant to have children.” I gave those idiotic comments about as much time and respect as they deserved – none. First of all – it’s nobody’s business what you do with your own body, and secondly – it’s empowering that we have choices like this available to us now.
You have had an illustrious international career: you were the face of Finance at CommSec in Australia before becoming an On-Air Reporter for Bloomberg in Hong Kong. Recently you became TV Reporter & Radio Anchor in Bloomberg’s Singapore office. Do you think having your eggs frozen enhanced your career progression?
No. That’s not a reason at all for why I did it. It was about age and feeling scared I may miss out. I have never worked for a company where I felt like having kids was a hindrance. For me – the right guy, right time just hasn’t come along – it was certainly never about putting off having children just to get ahead in my career.
High-profile companies like Facebook have announced that they will offer egg freezing for their female personnel in order to retain valued employees. Is there a danger that employers will expect women to freeze their eggs, if it’s on offer?
It’s a very shallow way of looking at the story to think that just because a company offers something like this, everyone is going to apply or do it. Although, I don’t think that if you start work at Apple or Facebook, you’re going to get there and get a bag of needles on your first day at work. It’s an incentive to retain top performing people. I think it’s empowering and I can’t imagine any company expecting or forcing a woman to do it to progress her career.
Of the women I know who have frozen their eggs for social reasons, it’s about defying the ageing process, and or because they haven’t met the right person. And if you work for a company who helps you pay the costs of that – all power to you, because it’s not a cheap process. I hope one day health insurance companies will also cover some of the costs.
Do you think offering egg freezing in the workplace is a hollow victory for working women? i.e. it is a diversion from the more important structural and cultural changes which need to be made in the workplace?
Again – I really don’t think this is the main reason women are doing this. But yes – of course major changes need to be made. And that needs to come from the top – i.e. men. There’s no point having conversations about equality in the workplace and changes that need to be made unless there are men in positions of power involved, willing to make those changes happen.
Do you think freezing your eggs is as revolutionary as the pill was back in the ‘60s?
That’s an interesting question.
I don’t know if I would go that far. This is about trying to have a baby, whereas the pill is about trying to control having a baby. The pill changed lives, it changed planned parenthood. Egg freezing has probably changed planned parenthood to a lesser degree. But I think it’s an amazing opportunity (now that we have more information and many of us have more disposable income because work) to be able to make these choices for ourselves.
Common egg freezing process FAQs
What is the best age to freeze eggs?
Although experts have come to no consensus on this question, according to a 2015 study published by Anne Steiner in the journal Fertility and Sterility the best age range to maximize your baby chances without forking out a large sum of money on eggs you may never use is between 30 and 34.
What are egg freezing success rates?
In an interview with Forbes, Doctor Schriock explained that “freezing eggs is not like having a life insurance policy. Freezing your eggs is a second choice, because you can’t count on it for sure. But this is a good backup plan until we can change corporate America.”
Success rates vary, depending on the woman’s age when the eggs were frozen and other factors. Five to 15 per cent of frozen eggs are not viable after being thawed. But once an embryo has been successfully created (by joining a surviving, thawed egg with sperm), the chance of a successful pregnancy is basically the same for frozen eggs as for fresh eggs.”
Are there any side effects to egg freezing drugs?
Dr. Schriock also explained that “generally, the more eggs a woman produces while taking hormone injections, the more severe her side effects will be. Some women experience bloating, breast tenderness, and sore ovaries after the eggs are retrieved. Following the retrieval procedure, women can often return to work the next day. They may need about a week to feel back to normal.
Often, women worry that they’ll “waste” or “run out of” eggs as a result of freezing them. This is a common myth. In the egg retrieval and freezing process, the eggs that are used would have naturally died off anyway.”
Does insurance cover egg freezing?
At this stage, insurance is unlikely to cover egg freezing.
Meet Juliette Saly
Juliette Saly is an Australian journalist with over 15 years’ experience working across a variety of mediums.
Juliette worked as a TV news producer and reporter at Australian TV Networks 7 and 9, before becoming a familiar face of the CommSec media team for almost a decade. In 2016, she worked in Hong Kong as an On-Air Reporter for Bloomberg. A recent promotion saw her move to Singapore to take up the role of Television Reporter & Radio Anchor for Bloomberg.
Juliette is passionate about equality and women’s issues and has written for a number of publications including Women’s Agenda and Anne Summers Reports.
Do you and your friends talk about fertility often? Have you considered freezing your eggs? Let us know below and then head over to the Iris Lillian Squad Facebook Group to continue the convo with others who have been there, done that and bought the t’shirt.
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