Should Women in Medicine Be Freezing Their Eggs?

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You may have heard about tech companies in Silicon Valley offering an “egg freezing” benefits package to lure the top candidates for demanding, all-consuming careers that eat up their precious fertile years in their late 20s and early 30s. Most women who are leading the workforce are not thinking about having children early and may not be in a relationship. However, more and more women are becoming aware of the risk of declining fertility in their 30s and look favorably upon the idea of a safety net. For some, having options takes the pressure off having kids during career-building years or finding “the one” while the biological clock is ticking away.

A career in medicine is similarly demanding. It is certainly possible to have children during medical school, residency, or your early years as an attending…but anyone telling you this is an easy option is not being truthful. Many (if not most) women in medicine delay childbearing years. Should more of them be considering freezing their eggs? You will likely hear from other residents or attendings about the importance of long-term birth control during your training, but few talk about the possibility of freezing your eggs.

The science behind egg freezing isn’t perfect. You must understand that the earlier you freeze the eggs, the better the egg quality and chance of future pregnancy. For example, eggs frozen in a woman’s early 30s will have a much better chance of successful fertilization and pregnancy than if frozen at age 36 or 37. Often, women assume they will deal with the issue if they still haven’t found the right person by age 35, but by that time it may be too late. There is also no guarantee that freezing your eggs will always result in pregnancy. However, it does at least give an option to women who are not ready to have children during prime fertile years but desperately want to keep the possibility of biological children open.

Of course, there are always other options to consider, such as adoption, utilization of donor eggs, or even the possibility that a woman may have no trouble conceiving at an older age — this is true for a small minority of patients. For some people the cost and commitment of freezing eggs may not be something worth pursuing. My hope is only that we are giving women the knowledge to make the decision that’s best for them.

In writing this article, I researched current pricing for egg retrieval at a local popular fertility clinic to get a realistic picture of what could be expected. Here is what I found:

  • $7,500 covered the cost of one egg-freezing cycle. This included the necessary monitoring appointments, the actual egg retrieval, and the first year of storage and cryopreservation.
  • On average, women under 37 with good ovarian reserve may produce about 10 eggs per cycle, but typically 15–20 eggs are recommended to be frozen if normal reserve.
  • Other factors to consider would be medication costs and subsequent storage fees per year.
  • Often egg freezing is not covered by insurance, but many other payment options or freezing plans may be possible. (Statistics and pricing pulled from Shady Grove Fertility website)

(Statistics and pricing pulled from Shady Grove Fertility website)

I have yet to hear of a residency program offering an egg freezing benefit to potential candidates on the interview trail. (Please let me know if I am wrong!) However, I have certainly heard of interns being offered free birth control.

In all honesty, I am unsure how most women perceive the egg freezing benefits that are currently being offered at other jobs. Is this viewed as a progressive option by companies looking out for the best interest of their employees? Do some view it as an unspoken push to consider delaying childbearing as it is in the best interest of the company and they are encouraging employees to utilize the benefit, as opposed to having children early in a career?

In full disclosure, I am an obstetrician-gynecologist, not a specialist in reproductive endocrinology (REI), who would perform these procedures. While I have nothing to gain personally by discussing a topic such as this, I saw enough tearful patients and colleagues who “wish someone would have told them sooner” about this option that it compelled me to write this article. In addition, there may be significant financial and emotional savings by opting to freeze eggs early rather than waiting to start a family once a career is firmly established. A very late start may instead lead to a path of multiple failed IVF cycles with no pregnancy in the end.

As the number of women physicians rises, we must acknowledge the unique challenges we face. It should absolutely be the right of a physician to have a child when she desires, and we need to continue to work towards a supportive environment in healthcare for working mothers. On the other hand, for women who are not ready for children just yet, but who want to keep the option open, we are at an exciting time when egg freezing may provide an empowering option moving forward.

Dr. Valerie Jones is an obstetrician gynecologist. She also writes on her website: ObDoctorMom.com. She is a 2017–2018 Doximity Fellow. You can also follow her on twitter at @ObDoctorMom

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