Brigitte Adams has chosen baby names for her future son or daughter. She’s already got a copy of Goodnight Moon to read to her unborn child. But that baby isn’t even a zygote yet. It’s a dream on ice, one of 11 eggs that Adams froze last year at the age of 38, with babies on the brain but Mr. Right nowhere in sight.
Adams isn’t the only panic-stricken woman in her late 30s doing this; more and more single women are freezing eggs, now with their parents — the hopeful grandparents — footing the bill, according to a recent New York Times story. But Adams was the only one to feel so alone and confused throughout the process that she started a website for wannabe moms like her. It’s called Eggsurance, which is both appropriate and tongue-in-cheek because just as with insurance, women who freeze their eggs hope they’ll never have to use them; they’d much prefer to meet a man and go about the business of procreating in the more traditional way. But if that never happens — or if it does, and their natural egg supply is too old and finicky — at least they’ve got a stash of frozen gametes at the ready.
Eggs become less viable as women age, and about a third of women ages 35 to 39 report fertility problems. With more women than ever waiting longer to have children, it’s inevitable that some will need an assist from fertility clinics, which are starting to promote egg freezing to single women.
Adams feels a personal calling to spread the word about the urgency of egg freezing. Some clinics won’t even freeze eggs once a woman turns 38; the clinic Adams used — the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine — agreed to freeze hers even though she was nearly 39, but insisted that she start the process right away.
Adams likens women’s fertility in their late 30s and early 40s to the cartoon characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. “You’re racing down,” she says, “and all of a sudden the cliff drops.” Yet despite all the media chatter about the female biological clock, Adams says many women simply don’t realize what they’re up against. “I try to be very gentle about it, but I say, Guys, you need to be aware of this. Their mouths drop. Most women are shocked, even very well-educated women. We’re so concerned with not getting pregnant for so many years that that fertile window is escaping us.”
As Adams began trying to understand her options, she grew frustrated that she couldn’t find comprehensive information on egg freezing. Snippets were buried in the pages of various fertility clinics’ websites, but much of that information focused on getting pregnant. And she wasn’t ready to do that yet. “I always wanted a traditional family,” says Adams, a marketing consultant for tech companies. “I didn’t want to be a single mother.”
Flying back to her San Francisco home from her first fertility appointment, Adams started thinking about the questions that any woman beginning a similar journey might have. How does egg freezing work? What key questions should you ask your doctor? Adams felt she could answer those questions for other women, in an authoritative yet chummy tone, from one girlfriend to another.
“Egg freezing is such a new technology, and clinics are on a learning curve,” says Adams, who says most of the information she received at her fertility clinic was related to in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, which combines egg and sperm to form embryos, and not to egg freezing. “They used to have a couple of egg-freezing patients trickle in, but those numbers are now rising. Clinics need to recognize the new face of egg freezing.”
Because egg freezing is still considered an experimental procedure, no statistics are kept on how many women are doing it. But the method has taken a giant leap forward in the past few years since a Japanese biologist developed a process — vitrification — that flash-freezes the eggs. Some clinics are reporting a 90% success rate defrosting the flash-frozen eggs, which is a significant improvement over success rates with slowly frozen eggs.
On Eggsurance, which launched earlier in May, Adams gives women the nitty-gritty on egg freezing: how much it costs (she’s found prices as low as $7,000 and as high as $18,000, not including about $5,000 in medication), how it works, and clinic reviews. A blog on the site features rotating topics, including a recent post from an attorney about the importance of including frozen eggs in estate planning. Access to Eggsurance is free; Adams hopes that she can make money by getting clinics to advertise in her database, which includes all the facilities in the U.S. that offer egg freezing.
With her 40th birthday approaching in July, Adams says she feels more upbeat about motherhood now that she’s got her future frozen. “When I was 35 or 36, I was wrapped up in anxiety about how am I going to meet that person?” she says. “I’m really happy I was proactive and froze my eggs. It gave me a sense of calm and freedom.”