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Tortured by hope?

Jan 20,2020
HAN AE-RAN
The author is a financial team head of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I’m not sure when I’ll ever get married. So I am thinking about having eggs frozen now.”

I was puzzled when a police lieutenant told me this 13 years ago. It was in 2007, and it was the first time I’d heard of a 20-something woman considering storing eggs.

The police lieutenant said she read an English-language article about career women in the United States freezing their eggs in case they got married later. I thought the idea was worthy of my friend. She had a special passion for her career as an elite police officer.

I was struggling with a lack of ideas as a reporter covering the police on the national news team. I thought this could be a good topic and started investigating it at the CHA Gangnam Medical Center.

I ran into obstacles as soon as I started my research. Single women having their eggs frozen were very rare in Korea. Most of them were cancer patients who had to do it because of cancer treatment. There was only one healthy single woman who had her eggs frozen. She was a Korean-American. When I asked why she came to Korea to freeze her eggs, she said it was cheaper in Korea than in the United States.

Journalists like to say that three cases make a trend. I didn’t have enough cases to write a story in 2007. Single women freezing eggs was a trend that hadn’t come yet.

Lately, I see a lot of unmarried celebrities talking about freezing eggs in the media. Articles report that fertility clinics in Korea increasingly freeze young women’s eggs. A related start-up in the United States even hosts egg-freezing parties for professional women. The whole thing is packaged as a lifestyle trend that allows women to get pregnant when they want to.

The times are changing for sure, but I’m still puzzled. I know the reality because I’ve done in vitro fertilization. I gave myself injections in the abdomen every day for 10 days, and the most serious side effect is death from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a bad reaction to the medications. Do you have to go through this for a pregnancy that you are not even sure you will ever want — or ever go through with?

Egg freezing does not guarantee pregnancy, of course. Thawed eggs have a lower probability of being fertilized when the time comes. Modern medical technology hasn’t conquered pregnancy completely yet. I am worried that the fad of freezing eggs is “a torture by hope” for single women.