Now that a national organization on reproductive medicine has formally allowed unmarried women to do so, women are increasingly becoming interested in freezing and preserving their eggs for future pregnancies.
Since November last year, women have been allowed to freeze their eggs without any medical reasons attached.
The Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine adopted guidelines allowing women to preserve their eggs cryogenically if they are concerned about a decline in reproductive function due to age or other reasons, while discouraging those aged 40 or older from preserving eggs and the use of frozen eggs in women aged 45 or older.
“I want to prioritize my career right now, so egg freezing is like taking out insurance for the future,” a woman in her 30s said.
Previously in Japan, cryogenic preservation of ova was generally restricted to women who ran the risk of losing the functions of their ovaries because of radiation therapy for cancer and other diseases.
The society adopted the new guidelines because more people are getting married later in life, making it harder for many women to become pregnant after marriage.
Repro Self Bank, a Tokyo-based private institution, launched an egg-freezing program in May 2013 and has since received inquiries from more than 500 people. So far, about 70 women with an average age of 37 have had their eggs frozen.
It costs about ¥700,000 to preserve 10 frozen eggs for one year, including the cost of collecting the eggs for cryopreservation at an affiliated hospital. An additional fee of around ¥10,000 per egg is required to extend cryopreservation by one year.
At a seminar held by the institute in mid-July in Tokyo, women in their 20s and 30s listened closely as its head, Noriko Kagawa, 37, explained the low fertility rate for late births.
A 32-year-old married businesswoman who attended the seminar said she has prioritized her career over raising a family as she thought “getting pregnant would be a handicap” at her male-dominated company.
But since her husband wants a baby, she thought about preserving her eggs “as insurance in case I can’t get pregnant naturally in the future.”
Participants in such seminars also include unmarried women and those concerned about growing old.
At Kyono Art Clinic facilities in Sendai and Tokyo, more than 10 healthy women have preserved their eggs cryogenically since last fall.
“Many women have a sense of urgency, wanting to freeze their eggs right away,” said Koichi Kyono, the clinic’s head.
Suggesting that many women do not have sufficient knowledge of the decline in egg quality and fertility rates that accompany aging, Kyono said, “Considering the physical strength needed to give birth and raise a child, it is better to become pregnant by natural means before around 34 years of age.”
Experts also warn that cryogenic preservation can lead women to procrastinate over giving birth and point out that the risks associated with becoming pregnant increase with age.
“Women may feel relieved by freezing their eggs, but they need to be aware that not only eggs but also the womb and veins get old,” said Ran Kawai, 54, a journalist well-versed in childbearing issues. “I want them to have a clear understanding of the risks involved in having their baby later in life.”