For Kate Davidson, the pandemic has been a time for reflection. It led her to freeze her eggs. Davidson, 35, from Cheltenham, is keeping half her eggs for the future and giving half away, cutting the cost of a process for which there has been a surge in demand since lockdown. “A big part of me wanted to do it because I wanted to share my eggs,” said the commercial director of a crematoria company, who is single. “But I also like the fact that I’ve got some put away for me now. I was quite reflective about work, life — all those things. I think that’s what prompted me to make the move.”
Fertility clinics have seen a surge of interest in egg freezing as women assess the effect of the pandemic on their chances of meeting the right partner. Inquiries have jumped by 50% at some centers over the summer compared with the same period last year. The London Women’s Clinic, which has centers in the capital, Darlington and Cardiff, among other places, said interest was 25%-30% higher than expected. Create Fertility, which has nine UK sites, noted a jump in inquiries of 24% compared with last summer.
King’s Fertility and the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, both in London, reported a rise in inquiries and consultations of 15% and 20% respectively. A smaller clinic, IVF London, said the number of women freezing their eggs had doubled in recent months. The rises are partly accounted for by clinics being closed for six weeks during the pandemic.
Katharine, 33, who works for a technology company, decided to freeze her eggs this summer. The process, at the Lister Fertility Clinic in southwest London, will cost about $5,900, much of which will be paid for by her employer. “The whole way in which we socialize and date has changed so drastically that I started thinking about an insurance policy. If I don’t meet the man of my dreams until I’m 39, then at least I know I’ve got the eggs of a 33-year-old,” she said. “I just haven’t met that person, and with the coronavirus, I felt that it was becoming harder. That was the trigger.”
Dr Kamal Ahuja, owner of the London Women’s Clinic, said his patients were saying: “‘I don’t want to delay.’ Uncertainty creates anxiety — and also, thinking, ‘If I have time now, who knows what’ll happen next year, so I might as well do it now’,” he said. Professor Geeta Nargund, head of Create, said some clients were in relationships with partners overseas. Not being able to date was a factor, as was extra thinking time. “Women are reflecting. There is so much more time to read about this and listen to expert talks and all that.”
Social egg freezing, done for lifestyle reasons rather than due to a medical condition, is not available on the NHS. The only option to preserve eggs is by paying privately, at an average cost of about $4,400. Medication to stimulate production can add $1,960 to the bill. The most common age for egg freezing is 38, which for some is too late.
“If I don’t meet the man of my dreams until I’m 39, then at least I know I’ve got the eggs of a 33-year-old.”
Popularity has boomed in recent years with a 240% increase in freezing cycles between 2013 and 2018, figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show. Eggs can stay frozen for only 10 years under the law, but a Nuffield Council on Bioethics report released last month said the time limit should be revisited. Sarah Williams, a fertility lawyer at Payne Hicks Beach, said the 10-year limit was “completely arbitrary” and “disadvantages women by putting them under unnecessary pressure”.
One woman, 33, who works for a pharmaceutical company will spend $5,880 on treatment that started in August. She said: “Over six or eight months I’ve had a bit more time to think about these things and realized that life doesn’t always go exactly as you want it. The longer this uncertainty goes on, the longer this [having a baby] gets pushed into the future,” she added.
Anya Sizer, spokeswoman for the charity Fertility Network UK, said: “The whole uncertainty within the pandemic plays into the uncertainty felt by people experiencing infertility. With egg freezing that plays into: ‘What’s life about? What’s my purpose? What do I want?’ Life is ticking by — all of those emotions. The pandemic has exacerbated that.” Joyce Harper, a professor of reproductive science at University College London, said: “The majority of women who freeze their eggs, on all the studies done so far, are single. When they’ve been asked, most of them want to have children now, they just haven’t met Mr Right or haven’t got a partner who is happy to have children.”
Coronavirus had meant that the chance of meeting someone “really goes out the window”, she added.