Later Baby

A little extra insurance: putting your oocytes on ice

The beautiful, wholesome, racially ambiguous models smile knowingly from the laterbaby .org homepage. "So much to accomplish, so little time!" reads the headline. These go-getters are smarter than you—they're not going to start panicking about their wrinkling, mutating eggs if they wake up one day to find themselves 36, on the career fast track but with no suitable sperm in sight. They're putting their oocytes on ice—a little extra insurance—so that no matter what happens in their personal and professional lives they'll be able to make babies when they're ready.

Recent advances in egg freezing technology (clinicians think they've found the best way to keep a frozen egg from forming killer ice crystals) and fertilization (you can't just mix the sperm and egg together—it's better if frozen eggs are injected with sperm from a tiny needle) have made the still-experimental procedure the new hope for relatively older prospective mothers. NYU opened the doors to its Egg Freezing Program to the general public this past summer, and so many Manhattan women attended the October teach-in held by Extend Fertility (the leading egg-freezing-for-posterity provider, which has partnered with clinics in New York, Austin, and L.A.) that people had to sit on the floor and stand along the wall.

The trouble is, a lot of the women willing to put their bodies through the arduous (think hormones, cramps, needles) and expensive (approximately 15 grand) process have eggs that may not be in the best shape. It's too late for them, but what if egg freezing were to expand from the purview of the panicked, Botoxed set to fresh-faced, proactive youth? An endocrinologist told New York magazine this past October that someday "girls will get braces on their teeth when they turn 12, freeze their eggs when they graduate from college, and get pregnant whenever they want."

Egg meets needle.
photo: Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York
Egg meets needle.

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  • Not so easy to imagine, but innovators in the burgeoning "fertility preservation" industry are spreading the gospel.

    Last month Extend Fertility launched laterbaby.org, which, says VP of marketing Julie Hammerman, while not intended to spread the word about egg freezing per se, is instead meant to educate young women about fertility health in general, including the possibility of harvesting one's own eggs. Still, the site features several links to extendfertility.com, and at the heart of it is a truly unnerving fertility quiz.

    Sample questions and Extend Fertility's answers:

    Q: A woman's fertility begins to decline in her thirties.
    A:
    False! [Actually it begins in her twenties.]

    Q: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and obtaining a clean bill of health at annual exams are good indications of future fertility.
    A:
    False! [You're stuck with the eggs you're born with.]

    Q: The key to a woman's fertility is her age.
    A:
    True!

    Q: Which of the following conditions is likely a sign of reproductive health problems?

    (a) menstrual cramps
    (b) increased hair growth on face, chest, and stomach
    (c) spotting during a normal cycle
    (d) swollen, tender breasts during a cycle.

    A: The correct answer is b. [In other words, one day you could turn into a wildebeest. You won't find a partner, and if you don't get your eggs frozen, you'll be a lonely wildebeest.]

    According to the crawler at the top of the Web page, about 700 women had taken the quiz at press time, with an average score of 55 percent. Just 55 percent? It's enough to make even the most baby-indifferent 32-year-old start sweating.

     
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