What happens after egg freezing for ‘social’ reasons?

Life circumstances, including not having a partner, can prevent women from having children during their most fertile years.

To avoid age-related infertility women who plan to have children at an age when their fertility is likely to have declined can freeze their eggs when they are younger and use them in an assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedure when the time to have children is right for them. This is often called ‘social’ egg freezing to distinguish it from medical egg freezing which is mostly done for women before they have cancer treatment that can threaten their future fertility.

While egg freezing is becoming more common, not much is known about what happens to women after they freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons. But a recent survey of 96 women in Australia who had stored their eggs asked why they decided to freeze eggs and what happened afterwards.

The average age of the women at the time of freezing eggs was 37.1 years and the average number of eggs stored was 14.2. The most common reasons for freezing eggs were not having a partner with whom to have children; having a partner who was unwilling to be a father; wanting time to prepare financially, emotionally, and socially for single parenthood; investing in the future; and using egg freezing as an insurance against not finding a partner while still able to have children.

At the time of completing the survey only six women had returned to use their eggs and three of them had had a baby as a result. Another 12 women had conceived naturally and six had conceived after an ART procedure using ‘fresh’ eggs. The main reasons for not using the stored eggs were not wanting to be a single parent, preferring to conceive naturally, and not wanting to use a sperm donor which indicates that women were still hoping to find a male partner willing to commit to parenthood.

The take-home messages are that:

  • it’s the lack of a partner rather than wanting to delay childbearing as a result of personal life choices is the main reason for freezing eggs
  • most pregnancies that occur after egg freezing are from natural conception
  • while only very few women had used their eggs, it is possible that many more will use their eggs in the years to come
  • some women who had not yet used their frozen eggs did want to be a single parent and were still hoping to find a male partner to share parenthood with
  • women who, for whatever reason, don’t end up using their eggs have to decide whether to give them to another woman or discard them. Such a decision can be difficult, particularly for women who still want children but who are unable to through their circumstances.

Sources:

Pritchard, N., et al., Characteristics and circumstances of women in Australia who cryopreserved their oocytes for non-medical indications. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 2017. 35(2): p. 108-118.

Hammarberg, K., et al., Reproductive experiences of women who cryopreserved oocytes for non-medical reasons. Human Reproduction, 2017. 32(3): p. 575-581.