Women find egg freezing emotionally challenging, DMU research finds

Research by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has shown that women who freeze their eggs are more likely to find the procedure emotionally challenging than other fertility patients.

A paper recently published in Human Fertility by Dr Kylie Baldwin and Professor Lorraine Culley of the Centre for Reproduction Research at De Montfort University found that women who freeze their eggs find the procedure particularly emotionally challenging often due to the fact that they are undergoing the technology without the support of a partner.

Egg freezing

The study examined the experiences of 31 women who had frozen their eggs for ‘social’ reasons. The participants, 84 per cent of whom were single, were asked why they had chosen to do this, how they found the experience, and what information they were provided about the probability of eventually achieving a live birth with frozen eggs.

For the majority, the lack of a partner or having a partner unwilling to commit to fatherhood was the most common reason for egg freezing.

The participants also sought to freeze their eggs to prevent feelings of regret should they be unable to conceive in the future and to ensure that they made the right choices in the present; specifically, to ensure they did not engage in ‘panic-partnering’ (entering into unwise relationships to have a genetically-related child).

The research also found that the information provided to women when they were considering freezing their eggs was inadequate and nearly all the women interviewed said that the clinics they approached were unable to provide an accurate estimate of the likelihood of a future live birth with their frozen eggs.

There was also a lack of detailed discussion with doctors about post-freezing processes and outcomes, and the women, whose average age at the time of freezing was 37, were not given clinic or age-specific information.

The participants reported that the most challenging aspect of the procedure was the emotional stress of going through the experience alone, particularly when attending the clinic as a single person compared to other patients who were attending with partners for IVF treatment.

Some also felt a degree of stigma and embarrassment for making use of the technology at a stage in the lifecourse when expectations normally include marriage and motherhood and suggested that clinics could do more to support women undergoing egg freezing.

This could be achieved by having specific times for those undergoing social egg freezing as opposed to IVF, by providing more time in consultations for women attending alone and by displaying greater sensitivity about the reasons women have for egg freezing.

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The authors concluded that to ensure egg freezing is not oversold as a way to ‘stop the biological clock’, it is important that women are given as much individualised information as possible about the likelihood of success with frozen eggs or at the very least are clearly informed of the limitations of current evidence.

Furthermore, they note that health and fertility professionals would benefit from an increased awareness of the reasons women have for undertaking egg freezing, to enable them to address the specific emotional needs of women who are more likely than IVF patients to be undertaking this process without the support of a partner.

Dr Baldwin said: “Whilst the number of women freezing their eggs remains small, many more are now considering this option as a way of extending the window of time they have to pursue genetic motherhood.

“Clinics providing this technology have a responsibility to support informed decision-making by providing women who enquire about egg freezing with detailed information about the likelihood of achieving a live birth specific to their age at the time of freezing.

“Furthermore, women should be informed of the costs and risks, as well as the physical and emotional demands of egg freezing and any future IVF treatment.

“Clinics should also be aware of the specific emotional needs of women undergoing egg freezing who are more likely than IVF patients to be undertaking this uncertain and ambiguous process without the support of a partner.”

Posted on Thursday 1st November 2018

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