Lisa Schuman, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who has been working individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatments for almost twenty years. Lisa has also conducted several studies on the psychology of egg freezing patients.
There’s good news about egg freezing.
There has been a steady rise in the acceptance and excitement around using egg freezing to allow women to extend their fertility and build the family of their dreams. I know this well, because as a family building coach and psychotherapist, I have worked with hundreds of women who have elected to freeze their eggs. In my own research and in the research done by my colleagues, women who freeze their eggs report feeling fortunate to have an opportunity to delay childbearing and often experience a sense of relief and empowerment for having done so.
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The background on egg freezing: according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the first human birth from a frozen oocyte was reported in 1986. Since then, research has found no increase in congenital anomalies in children born of frozen eggs, nor in the children’s birth weight, when compared to the general US population. This research has led the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) to remove the term “experimental” from the procedure in 2012, as they concluded that the procedure was safe. Similar to what occurred in the 1960s, when birth control pills became an available form of contraception and offered women new reproductive choices, women may now elect to determine the timing of their family building.
In research that I conducted, I found that women who froze their eggs were typically well educated and wished to control their reproductive lives. Women who delayed childbearing for personal and/or professional reasons found egg freezing empowering, as they were responding proactively to their fertility and family building potential.
Egg freezing may also provide some peace of mind and relief from self-recrimination. In one study, women who were asked about their motivations for freezing their eggs most frequently stated they wished to avoid self-blame in the event they later attempted a pregnancy and could not conceive. We know that women can be self-critical, and although many of these women were successful in their own right, they often blamed themselves for not conceiving or marrying sooner. Egg freezing can alleviate this pressure because, although it’s not a guarantee, it does provide an opportunity for women to finish school, establish themselves in their careers, and/or find the right partner, and feel less anxious about their biological clock.
Positive feelings about egg freezing are found both within the general population and the women who have already undergone treatment. In 2011, Belgian researcher Dominick Stoop reported that 31.5% of the surveyed women of childbearing age would consider themselves future egg freezing patients. In looking at patients who completed the process of egg freezing, he found that 96% of these patients would elect to repeat the process.
And in the research that I conducted in 2012, I found that women who pursued egg freezing felt proud of their decision, as indicated by the fact that they often shared their egg freezing experience with their friends (78% of patients), family (84% of patients), or both (65% of patients).
Every day we are gaining a better understanding of the needs, motivations, and intentions of women considering egg freezing. Amongst the women I speak to in my practice, the majority who elect to cryopreserve their eggs believe the procedure is important to their emotional well-being and will help sustain their hope of becoming mothers in the future, and that is good news for everyone.