Women hitting their career-building stride in their early to mid-30s are often faced with an impossible decision – lose their professional momentum or give up on the possibility of having a family.
But new options have emerged, if quietly, starting in 2012.
Before then, egg freezing was considered experimental, says Dr. Caitlin Dunne, co-director of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine. “The old technology wasn’t very efficient, so it was only used in specific situations, such as before some types of breast cancer treatment.”
By 2012, medical technology advances that make it possible to flash-freeze eggs (and embryos) made the process much more viable, and “the floodgates opened,” says Dr. Dunne. “Companies like Google, Apple and Facebook and the American military now cover the cost of egg freezing to help women extend their fertility.”
Career planning isn’t the only pressure women face as their fertility wanes. Today, the number one reason that her clients freeze their eggs is that they haven’t met the right person yet, says Dr. Dunne. “I’m seeing women in their 30s and late 20s who have identified that having a family is important to them; they want to maintain that option.”
For many reasons, women are having children later in life – in 2015, women 30 to 39 had 58 per cent of all births. But egg viability begins to erode after age 34; by the age of 44, chances of a successful pregnancy fall to just two per cent even with in-vitro fertilization.
This new technology means that 40 really can be the new 30. Hormone therapy helps eggs mature that would otherwise be flushed from the body at the end of the ovulation cycle. Flash-freezing them for later implantation increases the chance of a successful pregnancy to greater than 60 per cent. “It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best treatment we have,” says Dr. Dunne.
In-vitro fertilization (IVF) has now been around for more than 40 years. But more recently, vitrification – flash-freezing eggs or embryos – has transformed treatment, vastly reducing the occurrence of multiple births and the associated risks. Embryo survival rate has increased from 30 per cent to 50 per cent to greater than 98 per cent, which means it is possible to transfer one embryo at a time.
Organizations now have an opportunity to attract highly sought-after professionals by covering this treatment for their employees, says Dr. Dunne. (While the cost varies somewhat across the country, the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine charges $7,600 for a cycle of egg freezing, and the additional cost of medications ranges from $3,000 and $6,000.)
“Women are under tremendous pressure these days to achieve their goals – education, career, personal, travel – and have a family, all within a 10- to 15-year period,” she says. “Compared to men, who make new sperm every 70 days, virtually their whole lives, this biological inequity is something that we have to deal with. It’s something that we all need to be aware of so that we can be more open to having this conversation – and more supportive of the men and women who struggle.”
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