The Shidduch Crisis. Love or hate the term, it’s come to define a generation and the growing population of older singles in our midst who have not yet found their mates. There’s been lots of ink spilled over the years as to the possible causes, and many heartfelt and well-meant suggestions as to what we as a community can do to help—from setting aside time in our week to work on making shidduchim, to reaching out to the older singles and making them feel welcome in a community that tends to be very family-centric.
I’d like to talk about a different way we can help the older singles in our lives.
PUAH, the international fertility organization that specializes in fertility and halacha, has recently been spearheading a campaign to raise awareness among both older singles and the community at large about fertility preservation. For a single woman, the most dreaded part of feeling the years pass by is the knowledge that her biological clock is ticking steadily towards the end of her fertility. It’s an unavoidable fact of nature that a woman’s fertility begins to decline at about age 32, with the decline steepening dramatically as she gets older.
In other words, as a woman progresses from 32 to 35, 38 and 40 with no husband on the horizon, she begins to confront the very real fear that she may never have her own biological children. What often results, says PUAH rabbinic counselor Rabbi Elan Segelman, is a panic that may cause her to make a poor decision in choosing a spouse.
In the last few years, scientific advances have made a third option possible: preserving her fertility by means of oocyte cryopreservation, or, as it’s more commonly known, egg freezing.
You’ve probably heard of egg freezing. You might even know that it’s become quite the trendy thing among certain circles in secular society, with Apple and Facebook offering to cover the steep cost of the procedure as an employment perk, and certain fertility clinics around the country throwing “egg freezing parties” for women.
It’s also accumulated its own share of controversy. Clinics pushing egg freezing have been accused of peddling false hope to women, giving them the impression that they can have it all—use their best childbearing years to build up their careers and then, at whatever age they’re ready to settle down, unfreeze their eggs and, poof! Here comes their baby.
But if statistics and success rates don’t bear out these magical fantasies, neither do they warrant the pushback that has resulted. No responsible doctor would guarantee 100% success, or even any number close to that. Yet what the statistics have shown is that freezing her eggs gives a woman a reasonable shot at having a baby using her own genetic material, at an age where otherwise her chances would be pretty slim. Dr. Joshua Klein, chief medical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at the Manhattan-based Extend Fertility says that he sits with each woman at her initial consultation and discusses her options and her realistic chances of success.
This success depends greatly on the age when she freezes her eggs. For this reason, PUAH has been promoting awareness of this option among the older singles of our community. If a woman freezes her eggs at age 34, she has a much higher chance of successfully becoming pregnant with these eggs than if the freezing takes place when she’s 39.
Is it a guarantee? Certainly not. Only Hashem can guarantee childbirth. But can it give an older single hope and the feeling that she’s done her part to help secure her fertility, to give herself better odds at having a child even if she gets married later in life? Unquestionably.
PUAH: World experts in Jewish Fertility: devoted to providing counseling, advocacy, halachic and medical expertise, supervision, research and education worldwide.
By Gila Arnold