“Seizing” anything was not my first impulse when I heard about Trellis in September. That weekend, I floated the subject of egg-freezing by a pregnant friend. “I can’t stand the fearmongering,” she said, with a feminist not in my house tenor. (Or in my Instagram feed, where cheerily intrusive ads from fertility clinics urge young women to “freeze time.”) It’s too easy to envision a Black Mirror scenario whenever aspirational marketing bleeds into medicine: Could successfully banked eggs become the new dystopian dowry? Still, the plain differences in our life particulars—my friend, days shy of her due date; me, meandering solo into my mid-30s—weren’t lost on me. Is it mongering, I thought, if the fear is backed by data?
“Before the advent of in vitro fertilization, we had an inkling that age affected fertility,” says Esther Eisenberg, M.D., director of the program on reproductive medicine and infertility at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The research just painted a more telling picture, she tells me, describing graphs that show “a huge dip that happens in the mid-30s, and really low levels into the 40s.”
Six years ago, when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted the experimental label for egg-freezing, the once-niche procedure—relegated to egg donors as well as cancer patients looking to preserve fertility before treatment—suddenly found a much larger audience: women confronting time. The following year, nearly 5,000 egg-freezing cycles were performed in the U.S., according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology; the most recent data, for 2016, puts the annual tally near 9,000. Surely now, amid an influx of fertility-calculator apps, hormone-testing kits, and pop-up clinics, that number is ticking higher. I think of the way that Botox, moving from derm offices to emoji-filled storefronts, is pitched to twentysomethings: Early adopters get a smoother ride.