A stunning 80 percent of divorces in the U.S. involve women who are under the age of thirty. Many of them have not had children and the end of their marriage means facing the possibility that divorce means never having children. You could be scared divorce means not being a mother.
In my experience, men have the same desire to be a parent but their biological clocks are not ticking as fast as women’s so this makes this much more of a concern for women. I’ve met women who’ve admitted to staying in a troubled relationship so they could have children as otherwise they feared they wouldn’t meet someone else before the clock stopped.
Becoming a mother is a biological instinct for many women – our thinking is less about if and more about when. Actress Elizabeth Higgins-Clark said, “I can’t remember a time that I didn’t see children as part of my future.”
At 29, Elizabeth’s was not married, her career was building and she wasn’t ready to commit to having children either with a partner or as a single mother by choice but she wanted to keep her options open for the future. That lead Elizabeth to freeze her own eggs as an insurance policy for the future and it’s a procedure that some larger corporations such as Facebook and Apple, are now including in their employee benefits.
Elizabeth is sharing her story publicly to help women recognize that they do now have more choices. The following are highlights from my interview with Elizabeth:
Elizabeth: I know for a lot of women it’s about timing and about meeting someone. For me, I just knew that I wasn’t ready and I didn’t see myself as being ready in the next two, three years, so I really wanted to do what I could to keep my options open so that I can make these decisions at a later time.
Mandy: Can you take tell me a little bit about the process and what it entails?
Elizabeth: I gave myself 20 shots over the course of nine nights. The month before I started the shots I cut back on exercise and I cut back on alcohol, and I ate really well. One doctor even suggested taking pre-natal vitamins. I had a consultation with two different doctors, and I ended up going with the one that said taking pre-natal vitamins wasn’t necessary.
It’s basically like you’re preparing your body as you would if you were trying to get pregnant. And then I gave myself the shots over nine nights. Then you give yourself the last shot which is called the trigger shot, and you have to give it exactly 36 hours before the procedure. It’s crazy. If you don’t give yourself the shot at the precise moment, the whole cycle is ruined. I was awake, but I had like four alarms set.
While you’re having the shots you go in for blood work and ultrasound, and they monitor how the follicles are progressing, which ones are becoming big enough to extract and stuff like that.
Mandy: What’s in the shots?
Elizabeth: Different hormones. They’re basically drugs that make you overproduce over the month. Most months you only produce one sometimes two eggs. These drugs help your ovaries hyper-produce for that month.
And on the day of the procedure they put you under and then they go in vaginally with an aspirating needle. They basically poke holes at your ovaries and extract the eggs that are there.
Mandy: And then afterwards? What are the side effects?
Elizabeth: I really had a pretty mild time with the whole thing. It was more emotionally kind of taxing, but it was very uncomfortable by the end because you’re really bloated and you just don’t feel that great.
When I woke up from the procedure it was very painful. I remember waking up and thinking, “Oh, my God. Please let me go back to sleep.” I don’t know how to describe it because it’s not like cramps. It’s like cramps in another land. It’s just really, really painful.
But that varies from woman to woman. A lot of women have a much harder time than I did during the shots, and then some women have a really easy time after the procedure and go back to work the next day. I was in a lot of pain for two or three days after the procedure.
You still aren’t supposed to do any exercise for like two weeks after the procedure so it’s a long time of feeling sedentary. That was a challenge.
Mandy: Although in the big picture it sounds like it’s about five to six weeks?
Elizabeth: Yeah. It really kind of is.
The other reason why I wanted to do this young is that I had read that the younger you are the more you can produce in a cycle. So I’d read about women doing this at age 36, 37, 38, sometimes even older than that, and they just weren’t getting a great harvest. So they did it more than once to build the reserve that they felt comfortable with.
I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to spend my time, energy, and dollars on it just once. So that also made me feel like, “Okay, I want to do this right now.”
Mandy: And so how many eggs were they able to harvest?
Elizabeth: They got 24.
Elizabeth: 16 of the 24 were mature enough to freeze.
Mandy: I’m thinking you’re never going to have 16 children. What happens?
Elizabeth: Right. My doctors feel that of those 16 eggs, two is probably the number of healthy pregnancies I could get.
Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s another reason why you need a good size harvest to make this something that’s worthwhile.
Mandy: What happens if you get married and you conceive naturally, what would happen to those eggs?
Elizabeth: There are several options. Sometimes the eggs are destroyed. There are cases where people have decided to donate them to other couples that are struggling with fertility.
Mandy: But it’s really up to you to decide.
Elizabeth: It’s really up to me. I have given some thought on that, but I’m nowhere near a decision on what I would do with something like that.
I thought about this for months before I decided to do it, and I had the procedure done exactly one week before my 30th birthday. I decided that I wasn’t even going to think about it for a year after that, that I was going to give myself a year of making no decisions.
Mandy: It sounds like you don’t even have to make a decision then.
Elizabeth: No, I don’t. I’m really glad that I made this decision. It was the right one for me, and the reason that I’m talking to people about it is, when I was researching all of it I couldn’t find anyone like me. I mean I Googled, Twitter, Instagram, everything. I searched everything, and I couldn’t find a woman who was public about freezing her eggs before 30.
So all the women that I was reading it about they were older than me, like late 30s, and sometimes they seem to be choosing the steps for different reasons than I was choosing to take it. That’s why I wanted to talk about this. I think that there are other women who would consider doing this younger. And if they’re going to do it there are a lot of benefits to doing it at a younger age.
Mandy: Can you give me any idea of the cost of this?
Elizabeth: It varies woman to woman because it depends on the drugs that you end up needing, but it’s anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 per harvest.
There are efforts being made to reduce the cost because obviously that puts it out of reach for a lot of women, and that’s another reason why I’m very interested in talking about this. I think the more widespread this becomes the cost will go down. I don’t think it’s ever going to be cheap. But even if it could get down to like $5,000 a cycle it becomes much more accessible for a lot more women, especially younger women.
There are some clinics that are offering payment plans. So efforts are underway to make it more cost-effective and easier thing for women to access.
Mandy: Then presumably there is an annual charge for wherever your eggs are stored?
Elizabeth: That varies. I think it can be anywhere from $500 – $1,500 a year to store them. The eggs can be frozen indefinitely, but most women aren’t going to store them for that long. It’s not like it’s a lifetime of storage. It’s probably years or less than that before you would go back to them or let them go, or donate them. It’s not usually that long of a time.
Mandy: But are the places that store the eggs, are they licensed or regulated?
Elizabeth: I know mine is. Mine are frozen at the place where I had the procedure.
That’s something that if you’re going to do something like this these are questions that you ask your doctor about. My poor doctor I grilled him about it. I was like what if there’s a fire? What if there’s a hurricane? What if you lose power like in your backup generator? What do you do?
Remember when Hurricane Sandy came and NYU Hospital the power all went out, and it was a nightmare? Apparently they didn’t lose any of their frozen eggs or embryos. They worked around the clock to get them out to another facility. These are good questions to ask. But a lot of these facilities have incredible disaster precautions in place.
Mandy: Well, that’s important.
Elizabeth: Incredibly important. It’s very strange. I have an emotional attachment to the eggs, like I think about them. I wonder how they are. It’s truly bizarre.
Mandy: I’m sure you do.
Elizabeth: I think about how I’m already nine months older than they are. It’s so strange. It would ruin my mind probably if something happened to them.
Mandy: Absolutely! You had mentioned that your parents were helping you remember to take your last shot at the correct time. So talk to me a little bit about the support that you got from your parents.
Elizabeth: I mean my parents were very, very supportive. I was nervous to tell them that I was thinking about doing this. But I remember when I called my dad and I said, “You know, I’m thinking about freezing my eggs.” And the first words out of his mouth were, “I’ll pay for half.”
Mandy: That’s great!
Elizabeth: I was surprised he said that. I’m not an only child, but I have a brother who is mentally disabled. So I’m my parents’ only chance for grandchildren. I think that they felt like anything that was going to help that process along they were on board for.
Mandy: That’s interesting. Some employers are now covering this for their employees? So that would help to reduce the cost, but also presumably increase the visibility of doing something like this.
Elizabeth: When Facebook and Apple announced that they’re going to offer egg freezing as a benefit, I think it’s a little bit of a tricky situation, but I think it has the potential to be a wonderful thing for women. I think it just has to be something where they have to live up to the fact that it’s a benefit. For a woman who chooses to utilize the service, then I think it’s fantastic. But I don’t think it should ever be a situation where women should feel pressured into freezing their eggs.
It’s a really individual decision and a personal decision. And, I, for one, am happy that Facebook and Apple started offering it as a benefit because I think that they’re trendsetters, and other companies take their lead. I think it’s a way to help it become more widely available to younger women. I just wouldn’t want any woman to ever feel pressured into doing something like that.
Mandy: There are some statistics that almost 80 percent of the divorces that happened are with women are under the age of 30. I think that a lot of them when they get divorced and they haven’t had children, there’s a feeling like, “I’ll never have children. How am I going to meet somebody else and get pregnant while I can?” And there’s a lot of pressure there and conflict between wanting to be mom and feeling that time is running out. I felt this is really a great option for them to think about.
Elizabeth: I’m helping raise awareness about egg freezing, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I love that you’re presenting it as an option, because I do think everyone should know about it.
I also think that the pressure for women who do want to have children becomes very overwhelming as they get deeper into their 30s and perhaps they get into relationships that they shouldn’t be in.
When you’re jumping into something where you feel like time is running out it’s not necessarily the most stable foundation for a relationship. I think that women could do themselves a favor and take the pressure out of the equation.
We’ve been misled because we see on the cover of magazines different celebrities having children in their 40s. Does that happen all the time? The truth is it doesn’t, and it certainly doesn’t happen naturally all the time.
I think young women have an unrealistic idea of how long they are fertile, and so we’ve all heard about women who have given birth naturally in their 40s. Two of my paternal great-grandmothers both had children after 40, and obviously that’s long before IVF. But we know about those women. We don’t hear about all the women that are struggling on this because they don’t talk about it, because it’s very upsetting and it’s very painful. There are a lot more women who struggle than women who give birth at a later age.
Actress Elizabeth Higgins Clark has had roles on television shows including NBC’s “The Mindy Project,” CBS’ “Criminal Minds,” ABC’s “General Hospital” and “All My Children.” The New Jersey native, like many young actresses took the leap and moved to LA to pursue her dreams of the silver screen. She found herself curious about preserving fertility as she was developing her ever-growing acting career.