Infertility, surrogacy, and egg-freezing are taboo topics many women do not openly discuss with each other, and so women get much of their information about these important topics either from just their health care provider or the media. These topics are not acceptable topics of frank discussion and this can lead to women becoming ill-informed about the honest realities surrounding these procedures. How many eggs should I freeze, how to find a good reputable sperm bank, which states are more paid surrogacy friendly, what is the egg freezing procedure actually like – it would be much easier if these topics are discussed more openly, saving those involved countless hours of frustrations and research.
Information about these topics in the media generally do not involve facts about the procedures but are spun into attention grabbing headlines that speak to polarized liberal or conservative opinions that like to dictate how everyone should be conducting their lives. Case in point – when Apple and Facebook gave their employees coverage of up to $20K in fertility related expenses (and this includes IVF, hiring surrogacy lawyers, surrogacy costs, egg freezing, etc), all the headlines in the news spun this into a debacle that sounded something like “Facebook and Apple pays their female employees to freeze their eggs”.
One only needs to look at this headline on Wired.com, Marketwatch.com, The Daily Beast, and many other news outlets to see how they are all strangely alike on this one news story. And of course egg freezing was the focus even though the infertility perk that Apple and Facebook offered also cover IVF and surrogacy; no one seemed to title their headlines “Apple and Facebook pays their female employees to get surrogates!”. That would seem silly.
To give women an opportunity to openly discuss these topics with a panel of experts, Rachel Sklar of The Li.st (a network of professional women) hosted The New Fertility event at the bright spacious midtown headquarters of furniture maker Knoll Inc. Speakers at Wednesday night’s event include Dr. David E. Reichman- A reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at The Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Centerfor Reproductive Medicine of Weill Cornell Medical College, doula Latham Thomas of Mama Glow, Time Magazine journalist Jessica Bennett, journalist Sally Kohn, and former Bloomberg correspondent Lizzie O'Leary.
Dr. David Reichman started the discussion off with a presentation of how eggs are formed, released, and extracted for egg freezing, along with ultra-sound images that compare the number of follicles you see in ovaries for women in their 20s vs 30s vs 40s (easy way to check your fertility level). Latham Thomas spoke about the important of improving your chances at pregnancy through stress relieve, to which Dr. Reichman remarked that it was a good idea, but he has to consult many young women to not over-do their exercise regime (especially with Soul Cycle) as studies show that over-exercising can trick the body into thinking that it is stressed, or in danger and therefore the timing is not right for carrying a child.
Sally Kohn shared her experience of conceiving with her same-sex partner through sperm donors; she notes that if it cannot be properly done at home, it can be done at a clinic through a simple procedure known at IUI, where the sperm gets manually inserted into the womb with a tube. Sally also emphasized the importance of finding a good lawyer, especially if you are using a sperm donor or a paid surrogate. And she also demystified the sperm purchasing experience for the audience quite well. A tiny vial of sperm is about $250 and you may have to try several times to get it right. Sperm donor companies vary in the amount of information they will provide about a donor – some companies provide childhood and adult pictures so you can pick someone who resembles you and your partner. Once the purchase is made, it is sent to you in a big box in dry ice, not discreet at all for a tiny vial of sperm!
For women thinking about egg-freezing, Lizzie O’Leary spoke about her personal experience. Lizzie noted that the cost of egg-freezing is NOT covered by insurance, and because it’s all out of pocket, and expensive, it’s worth comparing prices from different cities and states. She decided to have the procedure done in Washington D.C as costs there are much lower than that of New York City. The drugs for her were $1800 and $7000 for the procedure of egg retrieval. Once the eggs are retrieved, the cost of storage also varies by city- it can range from $300 per year in D.C vs over $1000 per year in New York City.
Once the eggs are frozen, it can be preserved forever though doctors recommend women using their eggs before they reach the age of 50 because women are more likely to develop fibroid cysts in the womb in middle age.
Lizzie also spoke to great details of getting your eggs frozen; you have to give yourself shots in your lower abdomen for 17 days (varies by person) with a 16 gauge needle, you have to ice the area to prevent soreness and because your stimulating your ovaries to produce many eggs to be extracted, your ovaries can grow from the size of 1 cm to 12 cm, so your waist expands somewhat significantly. The eggs are extracted while the patient is under anesthesia so you will need someone to help you get home.
All the panelist agreed that since infertility and surrogacy is a taboo topic, it is very important to work with healthcare providers and lawyers who will partner well with you in these procedures to your best interest.