At 34 years old, Cheryl Heykoop knew she wanted to be a mother one day, but her circumstances weren’t promising.
“It was kind of a confluence of factors,” Heykoop said. “I knew I wanted to have children but I wasn’t ready to have them yet, so I wanted to have the opportunity to do so later.”
In October 2014, five months after her diagnosis, Heykoop decided to freeze her eggs in order to preserve her chances of becoming a mother later in life.
More and more women in western Canada are making the same decision.
Dr. Caitlin Dunne works at the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine (PCRM) in Vancouver. She says in 2015, she would see about two patients per month inquiring about social egg freezing. Now, she sees five or more per week.
“The typical patient I would see for egg freezing is a woman in her early 30s or mid-30s who tells me that having a family is important to her but her circumstances haven’t allowed for that yet.”
Dunne says patients may not have met the right partner or their priority has been pursuing an education or career. While she believes lifestyle choices are behind the surge of women interested in social egg freezing, other factors have made the process more accessible.
“The way we used to freeze the eggs was called slow-freezing and because of the high water content of eggs, ice crystals could form within the eggs and that meant that they didn’t work very well,” Dunne said. “The new way of freezing eggs is much more efficient and much safer. It’s commonly referred to as flash freezing so that’s one of the big advancements.”
Dunne also says in 2013, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine changed the designation of egg freezing to an elective process for women who chose to delay getting pregnant. That has influenced access in North America.
“We’ll never achieve the reproductive longevity that men have but for now, this is the best that we’ve got.”
The PCRM is bringing social egg freezing to northern Alberta with the arrival of a new clinic in downtown Edmonton. According to Alberta Health Services, the city’s lone public clinic only offers egg freezing to patients who seek the fertility treatment for medical reasons.
For Heykoop, freezing her eggs has given her comfort and allowed her to dream about a family in the future. If she hasn’t met anyone in the next couple years, she may choose to have a child on her own.
“It just gives me the comfort of knowing it could be possible and I could be in my early 40s and still have children,” she said.”This enables you to be able to do it all.”