The title of this post is a bit of a rhetorical question. Or, as some would have it, when referring to headlines in a certain newspaper (“Are immigrants causing cancer?” “Could this £10 pill cure obesity?” “Would YOU wear a dress made from fish guts?” etc etc) QTWTAIN (Questions To Which The Answer Is No). Because no, I don’t think I have been exploited, but undoubtedly some people would.
Front page headline on The Times today “Top clinics exploiting women who freeze eggs”
Women who freeze their eggs in the hope of having children are being exploited by clinics which fail to disclose that the chances of pregnancy are “scarily” small, a leading fertility expert warned yesterday.
The piece went on to talk about people being charged £10,000+ a cycle and hidden charges not disclosed and all that sort of thing. Before going into the stats…
(That graphic is obviously copyright of The Times and if I’m not meant to have stuck it in there without paying someone, do let me know and I’ll obviously rectify)
Now, I totally concede that these do not look like good odds. In fact they look like a 2% chance of a baby from frozen eggs. And when you compare that to 5% which is the average pregnancy rate for a 40-year-old woman trying to conceive naturally, that kind of sucks. But, as I think I’ve argued before about success rates, statistics are only really valuable when you know exactly who is behind those statistics. How old were those women when they froze their eggs? Why did they freeze their eggs in the first place? How old were they when they were trying to get pregnant? How had their eggs been frozen? Because I don’t know exactly when vitrification (the fast freezing of eggs which appears to be more successful than the older slower way) became common practice, but I’m guessing that a fair few of those eggs defrosted in 2013 and before had been frozen the old way.
And there’s not much point comparing birth rates from frozen eggs against birth rates for the average 40 year old, if the women who froze them had below average fertility. And, and, and…And I know, I KNOW it’s in my interests to spin this positively because frankly who wants to think that they’ve spanked 14 grand on nothing? (That’s a QTWTAI “Not me”) And, of course if there are clinics overcharging women for freezing their eggs, or misleading them about success rates then that unquestionably makes me furious.
But let’s forget putting a positive spin on stuff, and think about those being the bald, bleak stats that suggest there’s a less than 2% chance my frozen eggs will end up a baby. And actually I’d have been better off saving the 14 grand, and trying to get pregnant naturally when I was 40 (which actually I don’t believe as I’m not an average woman — in a million different ways but, crucially in this instance from a fertility perspective — as aged 36, I was notably below average, and I assume falling) I still don’t regret doing it. And I’d hazard a guess that none of the women I’ve encountered who have frozen their eggs do either.
Like me, they didn’t, as the article suggests, see it as “a guarantee of children in the future”, we just thought it was a better option than the alternative – which was doing nothing.
I know I’ve written about this before. In April last year I said:
I’m not deluding myself about it. I know it’s not a guarantee of anything. I know there’s every possibility that I’ll go through all this and a combination of my biology and technology could conspire against me and none of these carefully frozen eggs will ever end up being a child of mine.
But then nothing in life comes with guarantees. For me, egg freezing was a way of feeling like I was taking charge of my future, rather than just waiting for my future to happen to me.
So maybe there are some clinics out there lying about success rates to women who are happy to hand over thousands of pounds without doing any research. I’m not saying categorically that that’s not happening anywhere, ever. But, just like the rhetoric around the women (not one of whom I have yet met) who are freezing their eggs “because they want to focus on their careers”, to me it sounds like a media line on what’s going on, rather than what’s actually happening.
And, tellingly, The Times failed to find a single case study who would actually say that they felt they’d been lied to or exploited. The closest they came was one who…
… said the tiny success rate had not been spelt out to her. “I wasn’t quoted a 2 per cent success rate, but I was told in my first consultation that there’s a good chance that frozen eggs won’t survive the thawing process, and that if they do, the embryos won’t grow,” she said.
So, er, no, they didn’t give her a success rate, which frankly is a bit meaningless, but they were honest with her.
And her final line rather echoes what almost every woman I’ve spoken to about this would say:
“The procedure is so new and people are freezing for the future, so reliable figures don’t exist yet. I don’t worry that it might not work — you can quote all the statistics you want, but hope is going to win every time.”
So fine, if you want to criticise me — and all those other women — for buying hope. But, as long as we’re making informed decisions, we’re not being exploited any more than the people who buy a lottery ticket every Saturday are being exploited, or religious types who pay to light candles in church for their relatives are being exploited. Whatever The Times might say…
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