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I’m in a relationship – but that’s not stopped me freezing my eggs

When Kate Leahy wrote about freezing her eggs at the age of 39, she didn't expect a backlash – but that's exactly what happened

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By Kate Leahy on

When I wrote a piece about freezing my eggs in The Times last week, I expected a few inquisitive remarks, the odd dividing of opinion, and even a token chicken and egg joke. I mean, it’s hard for anyone to resist cracking a few of those, right? But what I didn’t expect were the disparaging comments about the circumstances under which I’ve done it – I’m 39 and I have a boyfriend, only we aren’t ready to have a baby. One reader kindly suggested I must be lazy and should cryogenically freeze myself to put everything off. But, the real “did they actually just say that” comments came from those who implied that because I’m in a relationship I should just get on with having a baby. I mean, sage advice if you’re from the dark ages. But, alas, even in the modern world there isn’t some speedy relationship queue for latecomers like me and we do still have to make sure things are working out nicely before procreating. Well, this latecomer does.

To give you some background, I froze my eggs in March. I’d already made the decision to do so when I met my boyfriend, Jonjo, 34, two-and-a-half years ago. I was saving up and I saw no reason to stop doing so, to suddenly put all my eggs in his basket, so to speak. In fact, it was that very scenario with an ex that led me to finally make the decision to freeze them in the first place. I was 35 when he dumped me after a year, stating my desire to someday have children as the problem. There had been no chats or imminent pressure so it was a bitter pill to swallow. It left me feeling that, because of my age, I was seen as some ticking time-bomb. In fact, I might even have had a neon sign over my head that read “Woman in her thirties with no children – men beware.”

I, of course, felt the natural panic anyone who hopes to have a family one day would, wondering what would happen if I didn’t meet someone in time, and also, if I did, how could I be sure they wanted the same as me without scaring them off. Taking matters into my own hands seemed to cover all those bases. Once my eggs were on ice, I knew it would remove much of that pressure from myself and any partner. And it did.

I might even have had a neon sign over my head that read "Woman in her thirties with no children – men beware"

Don’t get me wrong, egg-freezing as a way of safeguarding your fertility is still in it’s infancy and, just as with IVF, it comes with absolutely no guarantees. It’s invasive, isolating at times, and an expensive procedure. In total it cost me £4,500. I have polycystic ovaries which means you have a higher chance of overstimulating and I ended up with 27 on ice, although the average is said to be between 8-10. Yet more and more women like me are beginning to see it as some sort of personal insurance, or rather, an assurance that whatever happens we’ve done everything we could. The latest figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment, show that 59 women froze their eggs in 2004, as opposed to 819 in 2014. That’s a 1,288% increase, with the most popular time to do so between 37 and 39 years old. A recent survey from the Office For National Statistics further emphasises a change in fertility trends, revealing that women are having children later in life. They found that those over 45 have fewer children now than our parents generation did at the same age. It’s always comforting to hear you’re not alone.

So why aren’t we having a baby? Well, in simple terms neither of us are ready right now. I know this can be the elephant in the room. I’ve been whacked by its trunk before myself. But from the onset for us it’s been an open discussion. We weren’t going to rush because society has stuck some best-before label on me, but I needed my boyfriend to know I’d want to use my eggs at some point in the future. We discussed the difference in our age and that I would most likely want children before him and we sort of came to an unwritten compromise. I had an age cap I didn’t want to wait beyond (I mean I don’t want to be confused for Grandma at the school gates), he was respectful of that, and so we both knew the deal and when our “ready” might come. There is of course the possibility that by the time we get there it will be too late, but that could have happened if we’d been together 10 years ago and tried then so I don’t worry about that.

It’s not been an easy place to get to. I’ve had times in my late twenties and early thirties when my friends were all getting married and having baby one, followed by baby two, and sometimes three and four, where I craved the same as if some possessed internal switch had been flicked. At times, it was hard to see them all with something I wanted too, secretly stashing my pain away inside. And then there’s been my dad’s disappointed looks when another relationship has failed and he’s spotted Bridget Jones walking down the drive looking like she’s seen better days. And there was the confused face when I mentioned the eggs. But as well as giving you your very own internal Big Ben chime, age also brings with it the confidence to, as the prayer says, accept the things you cannot change, and have the courage to change the things you can. Or at least put them on ice.

@jumbojetsetter

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