|‘It’s a family decision. Because you’re talking about your future family. Grandchildren are really important to parents. Everybody wants to experience being a grandparent.’ JENNIFER HAYES, with her mother, Gloria, left, who paid for her egg freezing, in Darien, Conn. |
At the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, a popular destination for women hoping to preserve their fertility by freezing their eggs, Dr. William Schoolcraft, the founder and medical director, has started to notice something different: more of the women are arriving with company.
“I see these patients come in, and they’re with two elderly people, and I’m like, ‘What the hey?’ ” Dr. Schoolcraft said.
The gray-haired entourages, it turns out, are the parents, tagging along to lend support — emotional and often financial — as their daughters turn to the fledgling field of egg freezing to improve their chances of having children later on, when they are ready to start a family.
The technology to freeze a woman’s delicate eggs to be used later, when the eggs being released by her ovaries may no longer be viable, has improved sharply over the past decade. There currently is no single source of data on the number of women who are choosing to freeze their eggs, but doctors in the United States say the practice is slowly growing.
The procedure remains expensive, generally costing between $8,000 and $18,000. And because it offers no guarantees and is still considered experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional association, it can seem to some like an extravagant gamble.
But it is a gamble that many would-be grandparents are willing to take with their daughters, even if it means navigating a potentially uncomfortable conversation.
“By the time Allison was 35, I felt the clock was tick-tick-ticking,” said Candace Kramer, 61, whose daughter took her up on the suggestion to freeze her eggs — and her offer to pay half the bill. “I viewed it as opening up an opportunity for her.”
Such arrangements are not unusual, said Dr. Daniel Shapiro, the medical director of Reproductive Biology Associates of Atlanta. He estimated that at least three quarters of his center’s egg-freezing patients — more than 100 over the past two years — have parents who paid part or all of the bill.
“I was surprised at first about the parental involvement, but now I expect it to be the case,” said Dr. Shapiro, adding that many patients tell him, “My parents want me to have this as a gift.”
His center, along with an offshoot called My Egg Bank North America, are trying to make it easier, and less uncomfortable, for family members to pay for the procedure, marketing the “Gift of Hope”: a gift certificate and a silver charm bracelet for the recipients.
Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, author of “In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood,” described conversations about fertility between women and their parents as “the postmodern, adult birds-and-the-bees talk.”
She added, “There is a very fine line between concern and pressure.”
Gloria Hayes, who lives in Darien, Conn., bit her tongue for months after hearing about egg freezing, hoping that her daughter Jennifer, a restaurateur in Telluride, Colo., would broach the topic herself.
“I just didn’t feel right approaching her about it, because it’s almost a criticism in a way — ‘You’re getting old,’ ” Mrs. Hayes said. When Jennifer finally floated the idea, “I was thrilled,” Mrs. Hayes said. “I thought this could just take a lot of the stress off her.”
Mrs. Hayes and her husband offered to pay for the procedure, but Jennifer Hayes was initially reluctant to accept the money.
“My mom said to me, ‘Do you think we’d rather have this money sitting in an account or have a potential grandchild someday?’ ” she recalled. “When she positioned it that way, it somehow just changed the way I felt.”
“It’s a family decision,” said Ms. Hayes, 36, who now blogs about her experience at RetrieveFreezeRelax.com. “Because you’re talking about your future family. Grandchildren are really important to parents. Everybody wants to experience being a grandparent.”
Susan Lorman raised the idea of egg freezing when her daughter Stephanie, a sales representative in Los Angeles, was over for dinner shortly before her 35th birthday. Stephanie had just broken up with the latest in a string of boyfriends and was in tears, distraught over what-if situations that involved losing her shot at motherhood.
“I thought no, no, no, I’m going to give it one more year,” Stephanie said. But on the eve of her 36th birthday, Stephanie took her mother up on her suggestion and called a fertility doctor, David Tourgeman, whom she had met at the gym.
“It was a gift of love,” Mrs. Lorman said. “I’d had my kids at 22, and here she is, a healthy, beautiful young woman who felt her years were passing her by.”
When Brigitte Adams, a San Francisco marketing consultant, brought up the idea of freezing her eggs to her parents, her father quickly approved. So quickly that, for a moment, Ms. Adams felt stung.
“It was a little degree of shock,” she said. “This is actually real if they’re pushing me towards this,” she recalled thinking at the time.
Ms. Adams, who is 39, said she felt “this incredible calmness” after freezing her eggs. “No longer was I under such pressure that the next guy I dated would be daddy material,” she said.
Her parents not only paid half the cost of the procedure but also invested in Ms. Adams’s new venture: Eggsurance.com, a Web site about egg freezing.
As the technology has evolved, more fertility clinics across the country have begun offering egg freezing to two groups: women preparing to undergo cancer treatment, which can affect fertility, and those seeking to expand their window for childbearing.
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, a professional group, has begun collecting data on how many women freeze their eggs, but it is not yet available.
The number of babies born from frozen eggs is not tracked. Some experts put the figure at more than 2,000 worldwide, many from donor eggs.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s experimental label is under review; some fertility professionals say that removing the label could prompt a surge of interest.
Still, there are doctors who caution that egg freezing can provide a false sense of security: What if a patient pays to freeze her eggs at 34, only to discover that she is unable to get pregnant with them in her 40s?
Such risks, though, can seem less weighty to patients when their parents share the cost.
Amy West, 37, a psychologist in Chicago, said that she could have afforded the $7,600 bill to freeze her eggs, but that with her parents paying $5,000, “it somehow didn’t feel like as scary an investment.”
In November, Ms. West’s mother, father and brother flew in from Washington for the egg retrieval, which followed days of hormone injections.
Even Ms. West’s mother, an international environmental and human rights lawyer, whom Ms. West described as “very career oriented” and “not the type to nag,” could not resist a joke after hearing how many of her daughter’s eggs had been successfully frozen.
“I have 26 grandbabies!” she exclaimed.
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