Why I Froze My Eggs

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt turned 35 and started to think about freezing her eggs. After two years of researching the doctors and the technology, she froze eight eggs, enough to try for one pregnancy. Lehmann-Haupt, author of In Her Own Sweet Time, talks with Neal Conan about her experience.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt was single, healthy and 37 years old when she decided to freeze her eggs. Technology and feminism, she writes, gave her a choice not possible a generation ago. She's now 39. Her eggs sit frozen in a little test tube in a big metal tank at New York University until she finds Mr. Right.

Of course the procedure wasn't free. And the injection of capitalism into the equation raised questions for her that needed answers. She wrote about her experience in a memoir that's just out called "In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment, and Motherhood." An excerpt was published in the latest issue of Newsweek magazine.

If you have frozen your eggs, if you've considered it, tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION, where you'll also find a link to the excerpt from Newsweek. That's npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt joins us from our bureau in New York City. And it's nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. RACHEL LEHMANN-HAUPT (Author): Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: And this was not a decision you took lightly. It was about two years of research.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: It really was. It was not something that I just woke up one Monday morning and said, hey, I'm going to go freeze my eggs like freezing leftovers.

CONAN: No, hardly. And one of the things that you came upon was when you were 35, that the technology was then very new and relatively untested.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Yes. I mean, the technology was actually invented in the early '80s by two scientists at the University of Bologna in Italy.

It began to get a lot of attention in the United States in early 2003 because a new company has launched called Extend Fertility. And I had gone to a meeting -marketing meeting or what they call educational event on the Upper West Side in Manhattan to learn a little bit more about it.

CONAN: And what you found out is that there are still a lot of questions and you decided, after talking with your doctor as well, maybe now isn't the right time.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Yeah. I decided not to talk to the doctors at the company. I wanted an independent voice. And I went to a woman named Dr. Nicole Noyes at NYU.

And Dr. Noyes had just gotten back from Italy, where she had taken a class in egg freezing. And she said, you know, I think this is a very promising technology, but I don't think that it's there yet. And the American Society for Reproductive Medicine agreed with her and they still categorize it as an experimental technology. But Dr. Noyes said to me, I think you should wait a year.

And you know, at the time, I was 35 and I had had some tests to show that my fertility was still in very good shape. So I decided to take a gamble and not do it then. And you know, if I needed to do it later, maybe the technology would have improved.

CONAN: You were also concerned when the head of the marketing for the company pitched egg freezing as a source of empowerment. And you say that gave you some concern.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Well, I mean, I wouldn't say that it gave me some concern. I believe egg freezing is a source of empowerment. And I understand what the head of marketing was trying to do. It could be a choice that is as important as the birth control pill when it first came out was.

But selling an experimental technology in an early phase gave me some pause because I wasn't sure whether the technology was ready and I wasn't sure whether I was being treated sort of like a well-healed guinea pig.

CONAN: A well-healed guinea pig.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Yes. Yes. I mean, I - you know, the women in the room at this marketing event - and egg freezing is not - I mean, it's not cheap. It costs $15,000. So this is not something that, you know, anybody can do and anybody can do for free. And so there is an element that when you're selling a technology that's still experimental, that you can look at it as that you're experimenting on your customers.

I mean, you can also look at those customers, which I sort of look at myself as, as an early adopter of a technology that could get less expensive and easier to do and more accurate, you know, in the same way that you say, like, a VCR, you know, goes down in price and…

CONAN: Anyway, the initial decision at the age of 35, let's wait. Come age 37, Mr. Right arrived, but then went away and turned out to have been Mr. Wrong all along. And…

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Very much so.

CONAN: …then you face another decision. And this time you do decide to go to Bologna and talk with the doctors who, well, came up with this revolutionary procedure.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Well, I went back to talk to Dr. Noyes and she said to me, I think it's there now, I'm ready to do it, and I think I wouldn't hesitate for a second. And you know, I was still skeptical and, you know, I was also at the same time, in the course of working on "In Her Own Sweet Time," and I decided to get on a plane to Italy to meet the inventors of the technology themselves to really sort of learn about it and understand it from the horse's mouth.

CONAN: And one of them proved to have some pretty interesting thoughts about it.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Yes. Dr. Eleanora Porcu, who's a wonderful doctor and a wonderful woman. But she is also of an older fashion Italian culture, Catholic. And she sort of believed that, you know, a lot women were sort of acting in desperation to get their eggs frozen. Where as - and that actually that using the technology as a crutch was not a choice of empowerment or, you know, to help push feminism forward but it was actually a way of marginalizing are natural biology.

CONAN: So by not… True feminism - her argument would go - would make it possible for women to have children when they should naturally have children in their 20s and early 30s before these questions have arise and not penalize them in the ways that society does?

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Well, I mean, her argument would be that - and I agree with her argument, which is why I was very torn - which is that, you know, our corporations and our companies should make it easier for working mothers to have child care, and make it easier for them to be free and be pregnant, and not have to worry about - so much about balancing their career and motherhood by, you know, better incorporating their career and motherhood, like providing child care.

Her argument was that, if you freeze your eggs, it is allowing women to marginalize that, you know, balancing. You know, I'm not sure, because I think it's just a choice like any other choice.

CONAN: And what would she say to a women in your situation: perfectly healthy, active career - just not married right now?

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Well, what she would say is - well, what she did say to me is she said, why don't you just have a baby? And I said to her, but I don't want to have a baby on my own. I said to her, I want to wait until the right person comes along. And I feel like egg freezing for somebody like me or somebody who is, you know, divorced and never had children in that marriage is another tool. And she agreed with me. She said, yes, it's a way to survive as a fertile woman.

But the thing that was really important that she said was, in order to do that, at the age of 37, you need to be really, really focused on, what I call in my book, "In Her Own Sweet Time," your fertility identity. Which is that every woman's biology is very different. It doesn't just drop off a cliff when you're 30 or 35.

When you hit the age of 30, your fertility enters a period of extreme variability. And so, rather than panicking, it's really important for a woman to find out about her own individual biology.

Now, I was really lucky in that I did some tests in which I found out at 37 that I was very biologically young. And because of that, that made Dr. Porcu say, well, I think that then you might be a good candidate to try this experimental technology. And being in the place I was in - and I decided to go for it.

CONAN: We're talking with Rachel Lehmann-Haupt about her article published in Newsweek: "Why I Froze My Eggs." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255; e-mail, talk@npr.org.

Caroline(ph) is calling us from Detroit.

CAROLINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. You're in the air. Go ahead.

CAROLINE: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I was explaining, I could not have my eggs frozen at the time, but I considered it. I had a miscarriage at 25. And due to the complications, I had to have a partial hysterectomy at that time. So I've not been able to have my own children since the age 25. And now, into my second marriage, and on the rocks, I m looking at being single again. And my options for having children now are limited. And so I just thought that this is the best thing. I applaud her for making the choice, and wonder if there are options for someone at my age. I'm 39 at this point, and what do I look at besides spending thousands of dollars for this procedure to be done.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Well, Caroline, In my book I talk about, not just egg freezing as one of the choices that women have now when they are single or even couples who are facing infertility or women who are older. There are a lot of new choices, and we are able to expand our concept of choice.

You could get your, you know, fertility checked. And you know, I'm not a doctor, so I'm not going to give you any medical advice. But, you know, I can only talk for my own experience. I went and I got my fertility checked. And I learned that you can - there's an ultrasound test that you can take to see the number of antrofollicles that you have. And that can give you a pretty good take on, you know, how many egg, if you're still producing eggs.

I mean one of the problems is, over 35, you know, your eggs are more damaged. But, you know, there are other choices. You could choose to just get pregnant on your own right now with the sperm donor, if you really want to be a mother, or you could…

CAROLINE: I can't carry a baby, so I have no womb.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: You have no womb, okay, I'm sorry. I misunderstand you. You could adopt a child.

CAROLINE: Yeah. I'm considering that. Mm-hmm.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: You could - I don't know the situation your eggs are in, but if you extract it, your own eggs, you might be able to hire a surrogate.

CONAN: Which would be much more expensive.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Which would be much more expensive. Although, you know, I mean it's quite surreal, but people are beginning to actually outsource wombs to India these days.

CAROLINE: Huh.

CONAN: Caroline, we wish you the best of luck.

CAROLINE: Thank you so much. Thank your for the options as well.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Good luck.

CONAN: We're talking with Rachel Lehmann-Haupt. Her new book, "In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love Commitment and Motherhood."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Debbie's(ph) on the line. Debbie calling from Portland, Oregon.

DEBBIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Debbie.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Hi, Debbie.

DEBBIE: I had my first child when I was 38. Got pregnant right away on the honeymoon actually, had a great pregnancy, and then had three miscarriages. Despite fertility tests that said everything was fine, I was getting pregnant, but I had three miscarriages.

We adopted a beautiful, beautiful child. And so I just did not opt - it wasn't an option for me to think about freezing eggs. I just, you know, I'll tell you one thing is being in your 40s and getting up at all hours of the night with your baby, you know, it's tiring.

And I think that, you know, I am a feminist. I support choice. I can sort of see how it's empowering, but at the same time I think that biology works and that there's a reason why, you know, when you get past a certain age, it's really, really hard actually to be a mother. And you know, maybe that time has passed.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: You know, I think it's an individual choice for all women. I was actually at a book reading last night for a friend who's a photographer, who just have book come about pregnancy. One of the women she photographed was woman named Alitha St. James(ph) who had twins when she was, I believe, 58 years old.

You know, again, it gets back to individual biology. We all have individual levels of tiredness or not tiredness. We all have individual drives for what we want to do in our lives at certain times. And, you know, to some extent, I don't think it so exaggerated to have children in your 40s now. We are living so much longer. Our parents are living so much longer.

I think that the number of women having children over 40 - or the statistic that I read, recently, is that the number of women having children between the ages of 35 and 44 has doubled since the 1980s. So there's definitely something going on here.

DEBBIE: I would agree. And I think - but at some point, it really does become, I think, unmanageable maybe. The other thing - this is the other point I would make is that there's a lot of beautiful children in the world who need wonderful families. And I would really encourage adoption.

CONAN: And Debbie, just let me add that I didn't do it all, of course, but getting up in the middle of the night and taking care of small children was no springtime break in your early 30s either. So…

DEBBIE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's pretty tiring whenever you do it.

DEBBIE: It is exhausting, for sure, but worth it.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Debbie. Bye-bye.

DEBBIE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can talk next to - this is Lorraine(ph). Lorraine with us from Jacksonville in Oregon.

LORRAINE (Caller): Hi, there. It's a fascinating program. I appreciate it.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Hi, Lorraine.

LORRAINE: I'm a family's physician. And when I entered my residency, I attended a lecture on reproductive technologies. And they told us that, not too far in the future, five or 10 years away, that all female medical students would stop at the fertility clinic to freeze their eggs before they enrolled. And -because we have such a long career tracking, wouldn't be child bearing until much later.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: You know, that's what Christy Jones, the head of Extend Fertility, who started it, you know, when she was in her door room at Harvard Business School, believed too. And I think that's why she started her company.

LORRAINE: And I think it's a valuable option. But I also think as a country and a government, we need to start valuing mothering and allowing women to be home with their kids and have a healthy safe pregnancy with the government support. I have…

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: I…

LORRAINE: Go ahead.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: I absolutely believe that. I actually believe that, you know, there is a balance. And you know, because of the number of women that are having children older now, I mean there should be some government support. I mean it would be really nice if the government support it somehow, making insurance be able to cover in-fertility treatments under the, you know, of the auspices of preventative medicine.

CONAN: Lorraine, we take it, you did not have your eggs frozen at that time?

No. I had my first child six weeks after I finished my residency. So I was pregnant all through that - those last (unintelligible) of months.

CONAN: Talk about exhausting.

LORRAINE: Two miscarriages. Later I had twins, naturally, at 36. And they're all doing great. But I think that, you know, the older you are, the more high risk your pregnancy is, and it's, you know, this technology is not without its dark side.

CONAN: Lorraine…

LORRAINE: Thank you for your program.

CONAN: Thank you very much for the call. And that dark side, you talk about it is a revolution, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt. But there is also that dark side.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Of course, there's a dark side to everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It could be a revolution. It could - you know, I have eight eggs on ice now. I could never see a child from them. I could end up having a child totally naturally. I mean there is a point where, you know, as women, I mean - and I write about this in my book - we're used to being in control our lives, you know, the post-boomer generation women.

And, you know, one thing that we are not in control of our lives are - is Mother Nature, and when, you know, she decides to get us pregnant.

CONAN: Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, thank you very much for your time today. And good luck with the book.

Ms. LEHMANN-HAUPT: Thank you very much. Thank you.

CONAN: Her new book is "In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood." She joined us from NPR's bureau in New York.

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