Elizabeth Day: Invasive, brutal… the truth about egg-freezing

Three years ago, I froze my eggs. I was 37, in a relationship which had no future, and it seemed wise to take out the fertility equivalent of an insurance policy. I went to a private clinic, where I sat surrounded by shiny leaflets featuring close-up photos of a baby’s feet cupped in an adult hand, and handed over my credit card. One cycle cost £4,000. That was before you factored in expensive fertility drugs and the £350 annual storage fee.

For just over two weeks, I injected myself with hormones. The consultant kept increasing the dosage, telling me that I wasn’t ‘responding’ to the drugs. Every other day, I would schlep to the clinic for an internal scan. My eggs stubbornly refused to grow to the appropriate size.

Elizabeth Day
Jenny Brough

My moods became erratic. I cried a lot. Everything felt overwhelming – not surprising given the hormonal gloop swilling around inside me, tricking my body into thickening the uterine wall and producing more follicles than it usually would.

The average woman of my age could have generally expected to retrieve nine to 17 eggs. I got three. Or rather, I got two that had fully matured, and one that hadn’t but which they decided to bung in the freezer anyway, just in case.

The whole process had been invasive and tiring and expensive. Every year, I now get a brutal reminder of time passing when the storage invoice lands on my doormat and I pay it off, wondering if I’ll ever get to a point where I want to use them and asking myself if I am emotionally strong enough to withstand the almost inevitable failure that lies ahead. Because a pregnancy resulting from thawed eggs is absolutely not guaranteed. Quite the opposite. In 2017, 81 per cent of IVF cycles using a patient’s frozen eggs in the UK were unsuccessful.

Which is why, when I read about a new generation of ‘glam’ egg-freezing clinics opening up in America, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I think it’s great that women now have an array of options that puts them more in control of when, where and with whom they want to start a family (if, indeed, they want to at all). I am in awe of the fertility specialists who have made such scientific progress. But I do worry that egg freezing is now being held up as the great panacea, as if any woman can breezily do it in her lunch break, accompanied by an upbeat Ariana Grande track pumped through the music system, a green juice and an inspirational quote from Michelle Obama emblazoned across the wall (I am not making this up: this is exactly what the Trellis fertility ‘studio’ in New York offers).

The reality is that egg freezing does not solve your problems, it just delays them. Having so few eggs on ice, and knowing the statistics are not in my favour, means that any hope I do have is fragile. I’m 40 now, happily in a long-term relationship, and it’s almost as if I don’t want to defrost them and risk the procedure not working because that would mean my final chance to conceive with my own eggs has gone for good.

Even if my eggs did miraculously survive the thawing process and were fertilised and formed a healthy, sustainable embryo, I also know – having had two unsuccessful cycles of IVF in the past – that the implantation procedure itself is draining and difficult. And then the chances of carrying a pregnancy to full term are slim.

It’s a strange limbo to be in. And it’s important to talk about how conflicted I feel because other women are being sold a lie that egg freezing is the answer to a whole host of complicated questions. For you, it might be. But there is also a substantial possibility that it won’t set those questions to rest. Whatever happens, I would respectfully suggest that while egg freezing might be many things, the one thing it isn’t is glamorous.

This week I’m…

Rejuvenating

My skin with Herbal Essentials Illuminating Facial Mask – I genuinely noticed a difference after one application.

Watching

Big Little Lies season two, starring Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon. Is there anything else on television? No, there isn’t.

Listening

To Football, Feminism & Everything in Between – the podcast from Grace Campbell and father Alastair (yes, that one).