A few weeks after Lucia Lipari’s 33rd birthday, she found herself in a doctor’s office reading a magazine article about women freezing their ova (unfertilized eggs). Almost immediately, she picked up the phone, made an appointment with the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, and dug into her savings account to press the snooze button on her biological clock.
Egg freezing is trending in cities like New York City and San Francisco (where the Lean In ladies tend to live), leaving a lot of women feeling way less anxious about meeting a partner who’s marriage material, STAT. Buzz about the procedure tends to focus on how it can help career-focused women stay on the job during their prime childbearing years, but anecdotal intel suggests it may be more of a radical dating-life decision than career-blazing aid.
So really, why are more women freezing their eggs? And how many are women like Lipari—who’s now nearing 40 and has an eight-month-old daughter she conceived naturally—and may never really use them? (Her eggs are still sitting happy in a freezer.)
No matter where you fall on the family planning spectrum, here are some need-to-knows about putting your eggs and reproduction options on ice:
1. Most women are doing it because they haven’t found the right relationship—not because they’re worried about missing out on a big promotion, a lot of docs and women say. “I’ve always been pretty career driven, but it was more the opportunity of finding the right father and partner,” says Susannah, 38, who works at MTV. “It’s a weird cover to say it’s your career…when in actuality I think most of those women would have wanted to get pregnant if they were in the right relationship.”
Lynn Westphal, MD, director of women’s health at Stanford Hospital & Clinics agrees. “I’ve had quite a few patients tell me that they didn’t feel quite so much pressure to meet someone after they froze their eggs,” she says. “It helped them have healthy relationships.”
2. And it takes off a lot of pressure off the relationship once you’re in one. Susannah is still dating the same (younger) guy she met right after she froze her eggs in 2012 (go figure)—but neither of them feel the immediate pressure to get knocked up.
The same goes for Lipari, whose current husband actually felt relieved when he found out she froze her eggs. “When I met my husband, I told him ‘I want to be a mother, in fact, I froze my eggs.’ He thought it was really cool,” Lipari says.
3. The best age to have it done is a lot earlier than you think. A lot of women don’t start thinking about their fertility—and whether it’s declining—until they hit their mid or late 30s, but experts say you might want to consider it sooner. “There is not a right age for everyone, but…overall, the ideal age is 33 because most women will start to notice a decline in their fertility as they get much older than that,” Dr. Westphal says.
“We’re born with a certain number of eggs, and over time the quality and quantity of those eggs decrease,” echoes physician Sheeva Talebian, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital. Talk to your mom, your aunt, your grandma—if they went through early menopause, that’s something you should know and factor in, she says.
4. The procedure itself is only about as painful as your period, but it’s serious, in that it involves 10 days of hormone injections that you self-administer. Patients usually go to a class, with a nurse, to learn how to do them (don’t worry, the needle is tiny), says David Reichman MD, assistant professor of reproductive medicine at Cornell. On the day of, you’ll be under anesthesia during the procedure, which is very similar to IVF, he says. “The only difference is that after we extract the eggs during IVF, we fertilize them, whereas with this process, the objective is to freeze them.”
5. It’ll cost you a pretty (substantial) penny. All in all, the procedure runs about $10,000—and could be more depending on how many egg retrievals you do—plus the yearly storage fee, which ranges anywhere from $800 to $1,000 (!), says Dr. Talebian. And we’re told insurance usually doesn’t cover it.
6. You can still get pregnant naturally. Just because you freeze your eggs, doesn’t mean you can’t go on to have a baby the old fashioned way. “If my boyfriend and I end up in that place, I would love to do it naturally first,” Susannah says.
7. For a lot of women, it’s the ultimate empowering move that puts them in control and not feeling like they have to compromise at work or on the love front in order to start a family. For Sarah Richards, a 38-year-old journalist who wrote about the process, egg freezing did just that. “I know I’ll be a mom at some point. But if I had to think I was losing my fertility, I would be sad and anxious. With freezing, it becomes a question of when, not if.” —Molly Gallagher