Laura*, 44, from London, underwent egg freezing seven-and-a-half years ago at the age of 36. She decided to preserve her fertility because she was single and knew she wanted children in the future. But now, her time is running out again.
In the UK the law stipulates eggs frozen for “social reasons” can be stored for a maximum of 10 years – something campaigners are trying to change.
“As it happens I am in a relationship with someone now, but it’s too early on to think about children so I’m in a real dilemma about what to do,” Laura tells HuffPost UK.
“That’s the reason this whole thing’s so silly, because it’s supposed to take away the panic and the rush, yet if there’s only a 10-year limit, you start to panic after about five years, because you know that the clock is ticking.”
Egg freezing is growing in popularity and more widely available today than it was 10 years ago, meaning it will only become more common for women to face the same problem as Laura.
On Monday, campaigners met with junior health minister Jackie Doyle-Price to call for a change in law. Currently, women who’ve elected to undergo “social egg freezing” are only permitted to store eggs for 10 years. In contrast, when a woman freezes eggs following cancer treatment, they can be stored for up to 55 years.
The campaigners, including a group of academics working with the Progress Educational Trust (PET), plus Baroness Deech, the former chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, argue the 10-year limit places unfair restrictions on women.
The younger a woman is, the better the survival rate and quality of her eggs when they’re frozen. Dr Kylie Baldwin, from De Montfort University, who has worked with PET, previously told HuffPost UK that the law currently dissuades women from freezing their eggs at the biologically optimal time.
“Should a 28-year-old woman freeze her eggs, those eggs will need to be used or destroyed by the time she is 38, which is potentially right when she may need them the most,” she explained.
“Women can currently use donor eggs to conceive with no legal age limit in the UK on this procedure (although many clinics will not provide the treatment to women over 50). It therefore is unsound for women to be denied use of their own eggs to conceive, effectively being their own donor, especially as the donor egg pool remains low.”
Dr Emily Grossman, 40, is an expert in molecular biology and genetics who underwent egg freezing two years ago. She says the 10-year rule is based on an arbitrary figure and would like to see it changed.
“There is no good medical reason to dispose of frozen eggs after 10 years, and it should be up to a woman to decide at what age she feels ready and able to start a family,” says Grossman.
“If I decide I want to do this when I am 48, I would be devastated to find that my eggs had been destroyed, simply because an arbitrary time limit had been placed on them.”
Sarah Bagg, 42, from Brighton, had her eggs frozen at the age of 38 after the breakdown of a longterm relationship and would like the law changed to make the process simpler for women in the future.
“Although the procedure didn’t exist for me at 30, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for future 30-year-olds to freeze their eggs and have the option to have a child at 40,” she says.
For women like Carolyn, 47, from London, the only way to currently save their eggs is to move them to another country with different laws. This summer will mark 10 years since Carolyn froze her eggs and in summer 2018, she received a letter of the one-year notice period for their destruction.
After suffering four miscarriages in her early 40s, Carolyn had a child naturally. But she’s not ready to give up her eggs yet, saying having a “plan B” was comforting during her fertility struggles. She recently paid £1,500 to move her frozen eggs to Spain where she can store them until she’s 51.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’m going to use them because I have a child. But I can’t actually bear to have them destroyed yet,” she says. “I want to have the option, so that’s what I’ve decided to do, even though it feels kind of nuts.”
When Carolyn first froze her eggs she hoped this day wouldn’t come: “Doctors said: ‘By the time your 10 years comes around, the law will probably have been changed, because there’s no rationale behind it.’”
Despite the meeting with campaigners, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is considered a matter of conscience and therefore a free vote. The Government has no plans to reconsider this legislation at this time.”
But without change on the cards, women like Laura face frustrating uncertainty.
“I just don’t know what I’ll do if I hit the 10-year limit,” she says. ”I’m very much hoping that I’ll use them before then, but if I don’t, I would even consider taking it to the courts.”
*Laura’s name is a pseudonym and has been given to provide anonymity at the interviewee’s request.