It's not unusual for a single woman in Manhattan to shell out $45 at a boutique hotel for a few cocktails and paltry appetizer. It's a little less common to leave said hotel with a $1,000 coupon to freeze her eggs.
On Tuesday, Aug. 12, a startup called Eggbanxx hosted an informational event called "Let's Chill" at the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan. The audience of 100, a mix of women in their early 30s and a few male partners, listened to a series of presentations from patients and doctors, all about egg freezing.
In a way, the event signifies the rapid shift of egg freezing from a woman's surrender to her biological clock, to being recognized a proactive preventative health decision. Until October 2012, egg freezing was considered an "experimental" procedure by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Since then, centers have seen two-fold growth annually, according to Eggbanxx.
"The event signifies the rapid shift of egg freezing from a woman's surrender to her biological clock, to being recognized a proactive preventative health decision."
The costs, however, have stayed at around $10,000 per cycle, plus additional expenses like medication and annual storage fees. Few women in their most fertile years (from around 19 to 26) have the cash for such investments. Or at least we can't fathom paying for it all in one chunk. For most women in their 20s, paying per month is preferable. So why not pay rent on our eggs?
Launched in February of this year, Eggbanxx negotiates a flat cost-per-cycle with physicians, connects patients with loan partners and pays the upfront costs of the procedure in exchange for a reasonable down payment from the patient. After that, women will pay an average of $200 per month over a 48-month period, according to Eggbanxx.
Employees are often ambassadors for the services their company provides. But for Leahjane Lavin, the sales and marketing manager for Eggbanxx, the professional gets pretty personal.
Earlier this year, at 34, the North Carolina-native froze her eggs through the Eggbanxx program after a particularly jarring reality check. "I'm 34, and my brother says to me, 'Do you want to just be a really awesome aunt?'" she told me.
At the NoMad Hotel, Lavin shared the steps of her egg freezing process. "It was 12 days. It was nothing," she said. "And now I don't have to think about it anymore."
She also described just how much freezing her eggs allowed her to stop letting her "Will I be able to have kids" anxiety get in the way of her life. "I don't have to stay out at that bar on a Tuesday wondering if tonight maybe I'll find the one," she said to roomful of appreciative nods. "I don't want to feel that pressure. I'm over that," she told me later over the phone. "Honestly, it has changed me so much. I walk around differently, I feel lighter."
"I don't have to stay out at that bar on a Tuesday wondering if tonight maybe I'll find the one."
That feeling of lightness is precisely what Jennifer Palumbo, director of patient care at Fertility Authority (Eggbanxx's parent company), wishes she'd had. Palumbo founded a fertility support blog after experiencing fertility issues in her mid-30s, ultimately getting pregnant with her son through IVF. She hopes the Eggbanxx philosophy will help other women catch potential fertility issues sooner than she did.
"I didn't think I got married that late, I got married when I was 34. That doesn't seem that crazy to me," she told me. "I really had no idea I would have any issues, and to be told in your mid-30s that it's going to be a factor when you're trying to get pregnant and you really didn't think you were doing it that old, was surprising."
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the average age at which a woman freezes her eggs is 37.4. When Eggbanxx's panel of doctors agreed most women come into their clinics after 38, the audience was visibly surprised.
As a reasonably ambitious, socially liberal 25-year-old brought up as pop culture cues equating "motherhood" with "womanhood" took on a vintage sheen, egg freezing never seemed particularly radical to me. Dr. Serena Chen, director of the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas in New Jersey, reminded me just how new this perspective is.
"Your generation, more of the millennials, are embracing this type of thing. They're more in the mindset of 'Yeah whatever, maybe I'll freeze my eggs, maybe I won't,'" she told me. "For older women it's a bit more, 'Oh, you weren't good enough to get married young.' It's so negative."
The tone of the "egg freezing party" was decidedly positive. Doctors had to speak up over the hum of enthusiastic chatter, and dozens of attendees ended up standing by the bar (of gimmick-free cocktails), since the 40 guests Eggbanxx anticipated swelled to closer to 100. As a group of lady friends standing near me considered post-party bar options, I overheard one woman joke: "Why should we have to go to a bar when there's a room full of desperate single women here?"
It is hard to resist mentioning the attendees' impeccable wardrobes and admiring the master's degrees among them. But it also became clear to me that many women at the Eggbanxx event didn't want to be seen as the "career woman at the expense of her personal life" stereotype.
"I wanted to wait to get married," Palumbo told me, "And it's not because I wanted to put my career first -- I hate when people say that: 'She's not married because she put her career first.' Sometimes you really just want to wait for somebody who's worth it."
As irritating as the "single and fabulous career girl" trope can be, it's a progressive antonym to the desperate singleton admitting defeat. "We've been doing egg freezing for a long time and up until now, the conversation about it hasn't really been a positive one. It's been: 'Oops, I forgot to have a baby,'" Dr. Chen told me.
The Eggbanxx event was not filled with women waiting around to be inseminated, but women who had serious questions about the opportunity costs and rate of return on a potential investment. The tone was less "I can't find a husband," and closer to, "I can't be bothered to look for one."
Or maybe you do have a husband. Or you don't have one anymore. Or you don't want one. Or you have a wife. It's not just single women who are exploring egg freezing. Gay and straight couples are also utilizing the technology. Several attendees at Eggbanxx already had children, but were investigating the option of freezing embryos -- an egg fertilized by sperm outside the body -- to relieve the urgency of having more kids right away.
Lavin told me that egg freezing is also increasingly popular among women in their mid-30s, for whom divorce happens to sneak between marriage and a baby carriage.
Another attendee, who asked to remain anonymous, decided to freeze her eggs and cashed in on the spontaneity it allowed her by moving to Miami. "I met someone at the airport when I landed; fell in love. Now we're discussing a future, and I have to decide: Eggs or embryos?" Frozen embryos have a greater chance at resulting a live birth, but she indulges me when I tell her she'd be putting all her eggs in one basket.
For women going at it alone, fertility seems to be highest around the same time disposable income is lowest. If Palumbo and Chen hope to give women the knowledge and wherewithal to consider egg freezing a viable option, Eggbanxx hopes to offer younger (and highly fertile) women with a reasonable payment option.
"My running joke is, if any woman watches any romantic comedy ever, you would think they would know that age is a factor," Palumbo told me. "When Marissa Tomei was in 'My Cousin Vinny' and she says 'My biological clock is keeping me up at night,' she was in her late 20s, for crying out loud."
"As irritating as the 'single and fabulous career girl' trope can be, it's a progressive antonym to the desperate singleton admitting defeat."
That was in 1992. Most women born in the decade before that have faced persistent (often comedic) reminders that our biological clocks are ticking. Still, even millennial women have misconceptions about fertility, age, and the success of technologies like egg freezing.
A 2012 study found that young women were aware that conception becomes more difficult with age, but they overestimated the likelihood of getting pregnant later in life and the success rates of technologies like egg freezing. A similar study in 2013 determined that overall health literacy was a better indicator of reproductive health knowledge than a woman's age.
But why read the reviews of products you can't afford? Perhaps reducing the financial barriers to assisted reproductive technologies could encourage women to educate themselves about their options. For a generation of women with unprecedented access to new technologies and the information to learn about them, Eggbanxx hopes to close the gaps between the knowledge, the will and the way.
"We want people to come in earlier. Come in, ask about it," Chen said. "Maybe you don't do it until you're 28, but then it's a positive decision you've had time to make."
I'll have to see when my $1,000 coupon expires.
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