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Freezing eggs: Why today’s women are doing it

By BEA TRINIDAD, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 11, 2021 6:00 am

I  have a confession: “the paradox of choice” in modern dating makes me anxious. We just have to look at the dating apps to see that one can swipe right or left mindlessly for hours. Even real-life encounters are tricky due to the pandemic. At times, family and friends express worry by playing matchmaker. It’s downright exhausting for a 30-something-year-old woman like myself.

I’ve gone through five heartbreaks in my lifetime, whether puppy love, real love, or infatuation. Every time a romance ends, it’s a reminder of what life could’ve been. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ticking biological clock all women have and if a happy ending could be in my future.

A friend advised me on heartbreak, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket,” as she told me to practice dating. All I could think about were the eggs I had in my body. Would freezing my eggs give me peace of mind as I continued to date intentionally?

In her 20s, Divine Lee-Go didn’t even think twice about having her eggs frozen. The decision gave her the freedom to do her Master’s in Business at Durham University in London and marry later at age 35.

I spoke to three different women about their thoughts on egg freezing: Divine Lee-Go, Ethel Cristine Valdez, and Tisha Riingen. Their sentiments reveal that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to egg freezing.

 “I always wanted a big family,” says Divine Lee-Go, here pictured with husband Blake Go and children Baz and Blanca.

“At that time, wala pang Scarlet Snow Belo,” Divine Lee-Go said. “Wala pa si Pepe at Pilar.” So, their idea was the Octomom or making a baby in the factory.

Divine was one of the first public faces that advocated for egg freezing. She shared, “It was a good accident. I was very close to Korina Sanchez. So, you know naman that there’s an age gap between us. So, at that time, she was undergoing the process. And then, she saw that I was so high on life. I was doing 20,000 things. But, at the same time, I was not planning to settle down anytime soon. So, she suggested it.”

In her 20s then, Divine didn’t even think twice about it. She explained, “At that time, bumibili nga tayo ng bags and I thought, why can’t I invest in myself?” This decision gave her the freedom to do her Master’s in Business at Durham University in London and marry later at age 35 to her husband, Blake Go.

She said, “Our timetable is different from our mom’s or lola’s time. I have friends who are having a hard time having kids. Ako na nga ang nahihiya sabihin na buntis ako every year. It’s so easy for me because I froze my eggs young.”

According to Dr. Aubrey Señeris, the optimal time to freeze your eggs is in your 20s and early 30s for healthier eggs. Egg count and quality decrease as you age, accelerating at around age 35.

When asked if she experienced pain, she replied, “Yung pain, kaya natin ’yan. Kinaya nga natin ang pain ng pag-ibig, diba?”  She continued, “The harder part for me was emotional. When you are fertilizing your eggs, you see each egg or embryo na nawawala sa listahan.”

Despite this anxiety, she still believes that freezing her eggs was the best decision she ever made in life. She said, “Sometimes, our biological clock does not always align with our life clock.”

Divine mentioned that egg freezing was taboo before. The conversation only opened up lately because of local and international personalities speaking up about it: Gretchen Fullido, Iza Calzado, Ice Seguerra, Emma Watson, Rebel Wilson, Chrissy Teigen, Kourtney Kardashian, Amy Schumer, and Olivia Munn are just a few.

Fertility centers are also sprouting all over the Philippines:

Social freezing vs. medical freezing

Egg freezing started as an option for cancer patients who underwent chemotherapy and radiology. In the past, women would opt for medical reasons, which is called “medical freezing.”

 “I will really advocate for egg freezing,” says Ethel Cristine Valdez. “It’s an option for women. You don’t have to be shy about it.”

Ethel Cristine Valdez, a lawyer and med student in her 30s, started her egg-harvesting journey in 2019. She had two ovarian surgeries that pushed her to harvest whatever eggs she had left for egg freezing or cryopreservation.

She said, “I had to pray about it. Because at that time, it felt like if I decided on my own to freeze my eggs, pinangungunahan ko yung blessings that God should give me. It’s not that I don’t want to get married. But I have a condition right now. If I don’t do this now, I may not be able to have a baby in the future.” She explained, “It’s not a race. The technology is there to help you, not do it for you. Help your future have a future.”

 “When I mentioned to my friends that I’m trying to do this, they asked me, ‘Won’t it hurt so much?’ recalls Tisha Riingen. “That shocks me that it’s even a factor here. Won’t it hurt more if you’re not able to give birth?”

On the other hand, there is a growing number of women who have chosen to go for “social freezing,” which means focusing on career or, more often enough, fear of not finding the right partner.

Tisha Riingen is one of them. She is a 20-something woman who works for a tech company that will sponsor her procedure. Her primary motivation is her gloomy outlook on dating during the pandemic: “I think it was really rough. I’m not kidding. I think with all the apps popping up, no one really wants to bother meeting organically.” She continued, “With the experience I’ve had, I’m losing hope.”

What every woman needs to know before storing her eggs

I  interviewed two doctors to understand the fundamentals of egg freezing: Dr. Aubrey Señeris, obstetrician-gynecologist from KonsultaMD, a subscription-based tele-health mobile app; and Dr. Gia Pastorfide, a fertility specialist at Victory ART Laboratory in Makati.

Roughly how much does it cost? The amount would be P250,000 to P300,000 for the procedure and P10,000 to P12,000 for annual storage.

When is the right time to undergo egg freezing? 

Dr. Aubrey Señeris shared, “The optimal time to freeze your eggs is in your 20s and early 30s for healthier eggs.” Egg count and quality decrease as you age, accelerating at around age 35.

 Dr. Aubrey Señeris is an obstetrician-gynecologist, gynecologic oncologist, and certified colposcopist.

Roughly how much does it cost?

The amount would be P250,000 to P300,000 for the procedure and P10,000 to P12,000 for annual storage. Dr. Gia Pastorfide said, “Sometimes, women would postpone the egg freezing because they’re saying, ‘I’m trying to save up for it.’ But when they are finally ready, mas nagiging mahal as they need a higher dose of medicine to produce a healthy number of eggs.”

What’s the difference between doing the procedure in the Philippines versus overseas?

In the Philippines, a woman can fertilize her egg only with her husband’s sperm.

Dr. Pastorfide shared, “When the first IVF facility was opened in the Philippines, my dad (Dr. Greg Pastorfide) was part of that. The Church is very important in the Philippines. My dad and some other doctors were in a meeting with (the late Jaime) Cardinal Sin. Sabi niya they will only allow an IVF center here in the Philippines if procedures would be done only for married people. That’s because the objective of marriage is to produce offspring.”

She continued, “As much as we would like to say the church and government are separate entities, for me, it’s really impossible that it will be completely separate. The Church has a very big say with how things go.”

If a woman wants to have a child without a husband, she can choose to send her eggs abroad, which the laboratory can arrange.

What does the procedure entail?

First, women will have to undergo daily injections of stimulating follicle hormone for 10 to 12 days to encourage eggs to develop in the ovaries.

Then, a woman undertakes a 30-minute egg extraction process. These eggs are cryopreserved and only thawed when the woman is ready to use them. Again, there is no pain during the procedure due to the anesthesia.

 Dr. Gia Pastorfide, a fertility specialist at Victory ART Laboratory in Makati, trained at National University Hospital in Singapore and the University of Tokyo Hospital on Reproductive Medicine.

What are the side effects?

Side effects from the hormones are minor and temporary, such as hormonal fluctuations, headaches, mood swings, insomnia, hot or cold flashes, bloating, breast tenderness, mild fluid retention, and bruising. On the day of the procedure, there will just be some grogginess from the anesthesia.

What is the ideal harvest? 

Dr. Gia Pastorfide said, “We would want to have 20 eggs. I would say at least 10.  But 15 to 20 eggs should be the goal.” This harvest may not happen in the first round.

I  asked Dr. Gia Pastorfide if she thinks more women would freeze their eggs after the pandemic. She said, “Yes. I attribute that to the fact that people are more social media-savvy. So the spread of information, especially through social media, is passed on now, and more people are aware.”

But the flip side of social media is that we tend to compare our lives to others. In the flood of pictures of pandemic weddings and newborn babies, it’s easy to compare our life timelines to others. At times, we may even think that there are those luckier in love and life. But keep in mind that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. And, in the consideration of freezing eggs, women have a choice to be more prepared.

You can listen to more conversations about egg freezing on the “Thirsty and Thirty” Spotify and YouTube channels. You can also avail yourself of one month free of the KonsultaMD mobile app with the code KMDTANDT. This code is valid until July 31, 2021.