Egg freezing: How I made an Agonising Decision over my Fertility
Early in 2014, I set myself a challenge: to decide whether or not to freeze my eggs.
I was 42, single and childless. But I had a great life. How much did I really want to change it by having a baby? Would I ever meet a suitable partner? Did I really want to be an older mother?
How desperate was I to be a mother anyway?
As I researched the subject, I realised that it would make a fascinating documentary topic for Al Jazeera, where I work. After all, it’s a pretty hot topic, with companies such as Apple and Facebook offering to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs.
To be honest, when I started out, I didn’t envisage myself being quite so much at the centre of it.
But, as the film progressed, it became clear that my own journey was key to unlocking what the experience of weighing-up egg freezing is really like.
Exploring a personal subject in front of a crew and a potential audience of millions isn’t easy. Especially when I was used to being the one filming, not being filmed.
And you can’t get much more personal than fertility. I had to face up to some big truths on camera.
But I’m not the only woman asking herself these types of questions.
Nor am I the only woman in her early 40s, single and childless. On the contrary, as I and the producer, Lynn Ferguson, researched the film – which airs tonight – it became clear that I am part of a growing trend.
Three times as many women are having children in their forties, as in my mother’s generation. One in five women in Britain and the US are childless in comparison to one in 10 a generation ago. For women born in the 1970s, like me, that could be as high as one in 4. I am in fact a good example of “women these days”.
It was clear – this is what the film needed to be about.
The assumption is that childless women have focused on themselves and their careers, instead of family. Sure, work can play a part, but it’s far from being the whole story.
Many women are childless by circumstance, not by choice. There can be all sorts of reasons – not meeting a suitable partner in time, ambivalence about having children until it is too late, being unaware of how rapidly fertility declines, not having the funds, not feeling ready to have a child and so on.
I had been pretty ambivalent about whether or not I wanted to have children. My life was fulfilling and interesting. I loved my work – making documentaries around the world. It was a life full of adventure and I didn’t feel any void. I’d had some good relationships with men but none of them had worked out in the long-term.
By the age of 42, however, the thought of never having children was preying on my mind. As I met consultants who told me the stark facts about fertility at my “advanced maternal age” I began to have sleepless nights.
The fact that I myself might never have a family was something I had to face up to in front of the documentary crew. Not easy.
But, inspired by the women I met during filming, I believed that a personal and honest exploration of the subject was the best way of helping others in a similar situation to myself.
I also hoped that my journey through the subject might be benefit younger women, too. In today’s super busy, high-pressure world – when there are so many demands on our time and so many option – I would encourage every woman to really think about whether, when and how she wants to have children, before the age of 35.
This is when fertility first starts to drop.
As I looked at fertility forums online and read the stories of childless women, or women struggling to start a family, I was deeply affected by the huge amounts of desperation and pain. The grief of childlessness can be particularly difficult to deal with, because it can be an intensely lonely experience. It is rarely publicly acknowledged or discussed. I wanted the film to raise at least some awareness of this issue.
Although I’d never felt desperate to have a child, hearing the experiences of other women made me realise that I might feel a huge gap if I didn’t have one. The possibility of prolonging my fertility through egg-freezing became increasingly attractive. It might buy me some time to meet the right man. Wouldn’t I regret passing up this opportunity?
But was it worth spending so much money (around £9,500 in the UK), on something that consultants told me only had a 10 per cent rate of success at my age?
I was helped out of this dilemma by two things. I live in Istanbul, a short plane ride away from Cyprus, where good treatment comes relatively cheap. And I was told by doctors that I was a good candidate because my ovaries were in above average shape for my years.
And so, in the end, after weeks of agonising, I decided to go ahead and freeze my eggs. The documentary also follows me through that process.
Time will tell whether I will ever use them. And if I do? Who knows, maybe there will be a second film in the offing.
By Amanda Burrell, Al Jazeera English