Kara Egber hates needles. But when she was 36, she went to the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Washington, DC, where a doctor inserted one into her vagina.
Getting your eggs frozen involves two weeks of hormonal injections twice a day. These injections are painful, but the actual harvesting is typically done under light sedation and takes less than 20 minutes. The doctor sucks out some eggs with a syringe, drops them into test tubes, and a nurse carries them away to figure out which are viable. The good ones go into a freezer for possible future fertilization.
The cost of retrieval ranges from $10,000 to $17,000. That’s not counting storage, which one estimate put at up to $600 a year (or the actual fertilization, which can cost $3,000 to $5,000). Women often put off pregnancy because they want to focus on their careers, but that doesn't mean they can afford to bank their eggs. Because egg freezing is considered an elective procedure by most insurance companies, it’s rarely covered by insurance plans beyond an initial consultation.
That was Egber's situation. She wanted a family, but it "just hadn't panned out yet." She needed more time on the clock. So, like many young women worried about missing their fertile years, she hit up her parents for the cash: $18,000 in total.
The first baby was born from a frozen egg in 1986. The procedure was considered experimental until the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) officially endorsed it in 2012. Yet the ASRM has cautioned against what is referred to as "elective egg freezing," or egg freezing for women who are not struggling with medical issues that might compromise their fertility, such as cancer.
The process is still far from perfect. One meta-analysis of studies showed that for women under 40, the procedure has a 77 percent failure rate. The failure rate climbs as women age. There are also unpleasant side effects associated with the hormonal injections and the procedure itself, including nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Even so, elective egg freezing is becoming more common. Scientific American called the trend "a boomlet." Companies like Apple and Facebook now offer it as a perk for their employees. One episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians featured Kris Jenner injecting daughter Kim with ovary-stimulating hormones.
Kim probably didn't need her mom's help to cover the procedure, but many can't pay the bill on their own. One New York City study found that workers ages 19 to 31 earn 20 percent less than the generation before them. Women who came into the workforce during the Great Recession may never reach income parity with their parents, which explains why adult children are still falling back on their parental safety net. Nearly 15 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds live at home, according to the Census, which is a record high.
I couldn't find official numbers on how women are paying for this procedure, so I called some clinics to ask them if they had seen the parent contribution trend anecdotally. They had.
Women often put off pregnancy because they want to focus on their careers, but that doesn't mean they can afford to bank their eggs
Michele Purcell, RN, the director of the egg-freezing program at Shady Grove Fertility Center, said she estimates that a "pretty large percentage" of younger patients under 35 are receiving financial assistance from parents, who she refers to as “hopeful grandparents.”
Gina Bartasi, the CEO of the fertility technology firm Progyny, said it's common to see young women with "parents or siblings who are prepared to help subsidize the egg-freezing cycle."
Dr. Kristin Bendikson, a fertility doctor at the University of Southern California’s IVF clinic, said she’s seen patients come in with their parents for the initial consultation, as well as patients who say their parents are either helping them fund the procedure or bankrolling the entire process.
"I have had several patients come in saying, ‘Well, my mom told me I needed to,’" she said.
It's a family investment, after all. Egber said talking to her parents about paying for egg freezing was easy. "They would love to be grandparents one day," she said. “They were onboard immediately, wanting to help ensure the continuation of our family bloodline.”
The conversation isn't always so smooth. When 34-year-old clothing designer and social media marketer Christine Quigless told her father she wanted to freeze her eggs, he refused to chip in for religious reasons and because he was concerned that the procedure wouldn’t work.
"He said, ‘If it’s broken, it’s broken,’" she said. “He did not want me to have any help.”
Her mom and sister stepped up, saying, "‘Let’s get the money together and start pricing things out so you can get your eggs,'" Quigless said. They shelled out $10,300, with Quigless sending them detailed financial reports for her expenditures, including the egg retrieval cycles and the hormonal medications. She does not have to pay them back. "They knew having a family was more important to me than anything else,” Quigless said.
Of course, many families don't have the resources to pay for egg freezing even if they pool their resources. Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. As long as elective egg freezing isn't covered by insurance, it's out of reach for many women who would like to have more flexibility around when to start a family.
Bartasi said she is increasingly in talks with companies who are interested in having their insurance plans cover egg freezing. "They say, ‘Of course we would add an egg freezing benefit,’" she said. “It’s moved from speculation, and now it’s mainstream.” Until then, options for women from cash-poor families are limited. Some clinics offer financing, although the interest rates can be high. Some employers will allow a loan to be taken out against a 401(k), although it must be repaid within five years. Otherwise, anyone who wants to freeze her eggs had better start planning young.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Shady Grove patients must do hormonal injections three times a day; in fact it is two times a day.