Egg-freezing is experiencing a pandemic boost – with soaring numbers of women putting motherhood on ice during the Covid crisis.
One clinic saw inquiries about the procedure almost triple last year compared with 2019.
Experts suggest the difficulties of dating in person during lockdowns have made women more concerned about running out of time to settle down and start a family.
For women in their thirties, egg-freezing certainly seems to be a hot topic towards the front of their minds (Pictured, Ondine Cowley and Nicky Clarke)
Celebrity hairstylist Ondine Cowley (pictured) froze her eggs at the start of the second lockdown in England
Care Fertility, one of the UK’s largest fertility groups, reports an 11 per cent rise in the monthly average number of women freezing their eggs in London last year compared with 2019.
Dr Alison Campbell, director of embryology, said: ‘Anxiety levels are running high at the moment, and it is possible that women are contemplating having less time to go out and meet a potential partner.
Celebrity hairstylist Ondine Cowley froze her eggs at the start of the second lockdown in England.
She had already been considering the procedure after her now ex-partner said he had changed his mind about having children.
Then the pandemic hit and made it difficult to date and get to know someone properly, which made egg-freezingseem even more sensible.
Covid also provided time off from work, during which the 36-year-old was able to prepare and recover from the procedure. Miss Cowley, who has worked for stylist Nicky Clarke for 21 years, said: ‘It is not realistic to date during lockdowns.
‘You can’t tell how a man really is in the real world – for example, you don’t see how someone speaks to people in restaurants or at the airport.
‘I was with someone for eight months during the pandemic and only when we finally got to go on holiday did I fully realise that we weren’t right for each other. You need experiences like that to really get to know someone.’
Miss Cowley, who has worked at the Bafta awards and travelled to countries including Dubai, Kuwait and India to style people’s hair for weddings, was in no particular rush to have children in her early thirties.
But during a long relationship with someone who said he wanted children, she assumed it would happen. When he then changed his mind, she was left struggling to pick up the pieces.
She says she froze her eggs, at the Fertility Partnership’s Boston Place clinic in London, to feel ‘empowered’ and take control over her future.
However, she hopes to start a family without the frozen eggs. The stylist, from north-west London, said: ‘I was with someone older who said all the way through our relationship that he wanted children, and it was a lie.
‘I also feel as if Covid has taken a year away, and removed that from my biological clock, as do many of my friends.
‘It is frustrating that women have to pay to freeze their eggs, but I feel very positive that I have done it and think it should be seen as much more normal.’
For women in their thirties, egg-freezing certainly seems to be a hot topic towards the front of their minds.
In terms for planning having a family, the pandemic could be a spanner in the works, which may lead women to want control over their future and an insurance policy.
‘But clinics have a responsibility to explain the procedure and the likely
success rates so women have all the right information and are fully informed before doing this.’
Create Fertility has seen almost three times the number of inquiries about egg-freezing in the first three months of this year.
Some 116 women got in touch between January and March, against
just 41 in the first three months of 2020.
Meanwhile London Women’s Clinic said it saw a 30 per cent rise in women seeking and undergoing egg-freezing cycles between June and August last year, compared with the same period in 2019.
The process involves taking drugs to stimulate the ovaries so that they produce more than the usual one egg a month.
The average woman produces 15 eggs, which are removed under general anaesthetic or sedation.
These are then frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen.
There is currently a ten-year limit for women to keep their eggs, after which they must be used for fertility treatment or destroyed, but the Department of Health and Social Care is considering whether to
Experts have raised concerns that some women see egg freezing as an ‘insurance policy’, without properly understanding the success rates of using the eggs.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says there is only a 27 per cent chance of a baby being born through IVF when a woman freezes her eggs under the age of 35, but that falls to a 13 per cent chance for eggs frozen over the age of 35.
The average cost of having eggs collected and frozen is £3,350, with medication costing up to £1,500 extra, and storing the eggs costing up to £350 extra a year.
Sarah Norcross, of fertility charity Progress Educational Trust, said: ‘For some women, egg-freezing will be a positive reproductive choice giving them a feeling of control at a time of great uncertainty, but it must be made clear by the clinic that egg-freezing is not a guarantee of a baby, and women should go armed with questions about the success rates and the overall cost.’