Social Egg Freezing: The New Revolution In Family Planning

In 1960 The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the FDA as the first oral contraception and had a remarkable impact on society in general and women in particular. It empowered women to take control over their bodies and allowed them to decide when is the proper time to start a family. This was liberating to women who were now able to plan their future, start a career, acquire higher education without being restricted by unwanted or poorly timed pregnancies. This was beginning of the first revolution in family planning.

Fast forward five decades the field of family planning has advanced tremendously with the availability of better, more effective low dose birth control pills. Our society has also advanced, and women are now an integral part of the workforce; they are more educated, and they have more fulfilling careers.  As a result, more and more women choose to postpone childbearing in order to achieve these goals. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of first pregnancy is 28.5 years and in Ontario, it is 30 years and it keeps rising. Whether it is for not finding Mr. right or just waiting until the career is more established, more women are now making conscious decision to delay their motherhood.

Alongside with these socials trends, trends in Assisted Reproductive Technology made IVF safer, more accessible and affordable. In addition, developments in cryopreservation technique opened more opportunities for people trying to conceive allowing them to freeze sperm and embryos that are now widely offered in fertility clinics worldwide.

However, the current cryopreservation technique was not as effective for freezing eggs due to the high content of water in them which threatened to lead to the formation of sharp ice crystals during the freezing process. These ice crystals can rupture the eggs delicate membranes and damage its structure. Therefore egg freezing was not attainable until the discovery of a new freezing technology called Egg Vitrification. This technology is based on ultrafast freezing, with a rate of cooling that is faster than the rate in which ice crystals grow. This creates a solid that has no crystals and behaves like a very thick fluid – just like glass which is the source of the name (vitrous  – glass in Latin).  The technology is relatively old, however certain technical breakthroughs achieved in the last 5-10 years made it suitable for the cryopreservation of eggs. Research has shown that eggs frozen with this new technique do as well as fresh eggs in their ability to lead to pregnancy.

Egg Vitrification technique was embraced by the medical community and recently was recognized as a valid clinical practice by the American, European and Canadian fertility associations. Initially, it was offered to women with cancer as a way to preserve their fertility potential before starting anti-cancer treatment which may deem them infertile. And indeed, egg vitrification has become a staple in the treatment of cancer in women of reproductive age,  helping thousands of cancer survivors to become mothers. However, the current social trends suggest that the need to preserve fertility potential is much greater. More women delay starting a family until their late 30’s, an age in which the ability to achieve live birth decline exponentially.   

The idea of offering this technology to healthy young women is revolutionary and empowering. “If before, birth control allowed women to control when NOT to get pregnant. Now they can control when to get pregnant. This is indeed revolutionary concept”  Says Dr. Bentov, Juno’s Medical Director.

And so the new revolution started, social egg freezing became part of the conversation of healthy young women. Facebook was the first tech company to announce in 2014 it would pay for egg freezing as an employee benefit and many other companies like Apple, Google, Uber and Yahoo followed their lead.

Egg freezing is not right for everyone, and ideally, it is something to consider early, before age 35 even as a single before you are “ready” to start a family. Egg freezing should always be considered as a plan B to the much better option of starting a family early. It is important to discuss this option with your OB/GYN or fertility specialist.


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