For 30-something career women who are single, but want to have families, an entrepreneur hopes new technology could help them hit the snooze button on their biological clocks.
It's a near-constant debate in the press — and among women themselves: career, children, or both, and the tough choices that occur as women get older. What makes these decisions even more difficult is that, even with the help of fertility specialists, women who are beyond a certain age often have no choices and no options when it comes to having a child.
After hearing fertility concerns of single 30-something friends, Christy Jones, then 32, decided to do something about it. Two years later the computer software executive has founded Extend Fertility, a potentially revolutionary business that would let women take control of their fertility by freezing their eggs. The procedure was not really viable until about five years ago, and until now, this practice was mainly limited to cancer patients. Jones wants to make this available to any woman.
"We became inundated with information about age and infertility and many women of my generation were very frustrated by that. For so long, we had been told you can do it all and then all of a sudden we're getting news that the biological clock actually has its limitations and it has to do with the eggs," Jones said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
Jones' first two clinics open this May in California, partnering with existing fertility clinics near Los Angeles and Stanford, Calif. Jones, who is single, plans on being the first patient.
In a best-case scenario, freezing a woman's eggs would allow her to have children when she wants to, not when her chances of conceiving are best, which is at about age 27.
"This would let women be proactive to safeguard their fertility," Jones said. "This gives people the opportunity to have children later in life."
Many fertility experts believe this technology is still not ready for the marketplace. To date, fewer than 100 babies have been born in the U.S. from frozen eggs.
But Jones says that freezing eggs gives older women, especially, options that they did not have before, and that rates have improved in the last several years.
"As more and more women do this, those rates will only get better," she said.
The procedure is pretty straightforward. After a woman goes through an evaluation, she would have a series of fertility injections to stimulate her ovaries. Next, after an ultrasound confirms the eggs are ready, doctors would use a long needle to remove them in a 15-minute procedure that takes place while the patient is in a twilight sleep. The eggs are put in a special solution, then frozen and put in liquid nitrate.
Dr. Lynn Westphal, the director of Stanford Medical Center's egg donor program, says women who choose the procedure can depend on the frozen eggs for years to come.
"We know with embryos that they can be frozen for over a decade and we assume the same can happen with eggs," Westphal said. "We assume that it should be similar to embryo freezing and we do have many years of experience with that," she said.
A Pricey Procedure
The current success rate with frozen eggs is better than the initial success rate of in-vitro fertilization, a procedure that is no longer considered experimental, Jones said.
But freezing your eggs isn't cheap. The procedure costs $15,000, a price that is out of reach for many of the women who would be the ideal candidates, those in their late 20s.
Jones says that as more women begin thinking pro-actively about reproduction, they are more likely to consider the procedure. Currently, most women who are freezing their eggs are those with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy.
"This is something we can do to have more options, and so I think this has broad appeal to many different communities, both couples, single women, as well as the cancer patient where there is are a medical necessity," Jones said.
Westphal says she believes that professional young women will consider the procedure as time goes on. She says it will appeal to those women who want to preserve their options with very little medical risk.
"This is a common procedure. There are many, many thousands of egg retrievals done in the country and across the world every year," Westphal said. "Every procedure does have a small amount of risk, but we think that overall this is a relatively safe procedure to go through," she said.
While Jones says this won't be a magic fix for women who face various other fertility issues, she says it could give many women a sense of security.