Family planning

Fertility grants can help more women pursue family planning on their terms

When Megan Christenson turned 32, she knew it was time to make a major investment in her career and personal life. She dipped into her savings and spent nearly $10,000 to freeze her eggs, a choice that would benefit her present and future self.

“I feel very lucky to have been able to bear this cost, and I also considered it a health care expense,” she says. “It’s an investment in my future health. If someone was like, you have to have this operation to make sure you can walk in 10 years, you would. I also considered freezing eggs a necessary expense.

Egg freezing – a process by which women’s eggs are extracted and frozen, or then fertilized to create embryos – has seen strong rise in popularity during the last years. With COVID as the catalyst, there was a 33% increase in the number of women starting their egg freezing cycles between June and November 2020, according to data from NYU Langone Health.

Read more: 3 Trends in Fertility and Family Planning Benefits for 2022

“The average childbearing age has moved from mid-twenties to late twenties, and in high-cost living areas, usually even much later than that,” says Christine Peter, a digital health coach who specializes in fertility for Ovia Health. “Unfortunately, biology and bank accounts don’t necessarily line up in their fertile early years, and by the time people are ready to pursue a family, it’s sometimes a bit too late.”

Although egg freezing does not guarantee that a woman will be able to use her eggs when she is ready, it can serve as a security blanket, albeit an expensive one. Christenson is a small business owner and paid for the procedure out of pocket; the typical cost of egg freezing is between $6,000 and $20,000 to retrieve the eggs, with additional costs for medication and egg storage.

Read more: 3 Trends in Fertility and Family Planning Benefits for 2022

While Christenson has shouldered this financial burden alone, many employers are increasing their fertility benefit offerings to cover some of the costs and provide a stronger education. The investment could go a long way in attracting more female employees, a lesson that more and more employers are taking seriously.

“I see the benefit of providing a stipend or contribution to this department as a really compassionate strategy for retaining female employees,” says Christenson. “When I think about employee retention and engagement and companies investing meaningfully in their talent, that’s right up my alley.

Currently, only 19% of employers offer benefits for egg freezing, according to Mercer, while about 24% offer coverage for other fertility services, such as IVF. In addition to financial support, education should be at the heart of these benefits, says Peter.

“We are taught in high school and college how not to have a family, how not to get pregnant. There’s very little education on how to get pregnant, so people don’t necessarily realize how urgent it is,” says Peter. “So freezing eggs gives them the choice to put that aside for a little while and lean into their careers a bit, and that’s something that can be mutually beneficial.”

Read more: ‘Families are built differently today’: How this CEO is taking a new approach to fertility benefits

At Ovia Health, users benefit from coaching services to guide them through their options, while also having access to digital tools like an ovulation tracker. When women are ready to pursue fertility treatments like egg freezing, coaches guide users through their options, partner with health care plans, and work with employers on their reimbursement strategies.

“The technology behind egg vitrification has really come a long way and we’re seeing better results with egg freezing, but that’s not a guarantee,” says Peter. “Consider egg freezing or fertility preservation as one more option, and something you may or may not need. It just gives you an extra layer of security.

Christenson has not worked with Ovia, but says the experience with her clinic and doctor has helped her fight the stigma associated with egg freezing and left her confident that she would choose to go this route.

“I feel more confident about making certain choices in my personal life and my professional life because it’s not as much of a factor in my decision-making,” she says. “I think a lot of people think about the first pregnancy, but it just gave me more options for when and for how long to have kids.”

Read more: 12 working moms talk about the benefits they expect from employers

While Christenson wasn’t in a serious relationship when she froze her eggs, she has since met her partner and the two have talked about starting a family in the future. Although no firm plans have been laid down, freezing the eggs has given him both peace of mind and a sense of control over what comes next.

“The fact that my eggs were frozen didn’t really come into the conversation at the time, which is interesting. But we both know they’re there,” she said. “We can be really proactive about our family planning because the first step is already taken care of.”