Rabbis Urge Single, Orthodox Women to Freeze Eggs at 38

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More women delay pregnancy for careers, but by their mid-30s their fertility dramatically drops and miscarriage rates rise. Harvesting a woman's eggs literally freezes them in time.

The first "frozen egg" baby was born in 1986, but success rates were so low that it was considered experimental. Unlike sperm, which had been successfully frozen for years, unfertilized eggs contain a lot of water and slow freezing causes ice crystals to form, destroying cell structure. But a specialized fast-freezing technique called vitrification changed all that.

Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the NYU Fertility Center in New York City, has done 1,100 frozen egg cycles since 2005, and recommends the earlier the eggs are harvested the better.

"Ideally, the best results are under 35, optimally in their early 30s," he said.

In his studies of live birth rates from 2003 to 2009, the pregnancy rate among 30-year-olds is 61 percent, but at age 44 it drops to 5 percent.

Grifo is also able to cater to Orthodox patients and has a rabbinical observer in his labs to oversee labeling and storing of eggs.

In accordance with halacha, eggs must be placed in new Petri dishes, even if they have been sterilized.

Rebecca is now in counseling with Rabbi Gideon Weitzman of Jerusalem, who is director of the Puah Institute, which for 20 years has been a "central authority" on infertility procedures performed in accordance with Jewish law.

"There is a very, very huge interface through the millennia between Judaism and medicine and technology," he said. "We've learned to go hand in hand with science."

Weitzman said freezing the eggs of single women is a real "boon" for Orthodox women who are taught at a young age that marriage and children are important.

"We get calls on this question every single week, if not every single day," he said.

Most of the time, women who freeze their eggs do not end up using them after they have found a husband and conceive the usual way.

Jewish law is "permissive" on destruction of unused eggs or embryos.

"Everybody agrees life in a Petri dish isn't life," said Weitzman.

Rebecca, who is of Moroccan Jewish descent, did not grow up in a religious family, but became modern orthodox when she was 27. She observes Shabbat (the Sabbath), prays each morning and dresses modestly in skirts below the knee -- except at the hospital, where she wore scrubs to work.

After his initial hesitation, her fiance later asked her to marry once again, but she refused.

"That wasn't an option for me after the way he behaved in my recovery," she said. "I wanted someone to be there for me the Orthodox way -- to be there for you regardless, someone who is more nurturing."

She wears a neck collar and has multiple therapies for her brain injury, which makes her processing slower.

"As an OR manager and director, I was, all the time, very active," she said. "But now, it's sometimes hard to read a book. I get fatigued easily."

She has been told she can never do nursing again. But with a helping husband, she said being a mother one day is possible.

"I know that I have a long road to recovery and my self-esteem went down," she said of her broken engagement.

Still, she eventually wants to go back to dating and find a husband.

"I feel hopeful," she said. "I am a very positive person. Thank God, I never got depressed and my religion has helped me a lot."

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