Ice, Ice, Baby? A Sociological Exploration of Social Egg Freezing




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Social egg freezing is a fertility preservation strategy which enables women to preserve a number of healthy unfertilised eggs for potential future use when faced with the threat of age-related fertility decline. The overall aim of this thesis was to explore how women understand, construct and experience social egg freezing in the context of debates surrounding reproductive ‘choice’ and ‘delayed motherhood’. The study sought to provide insights into how women perceive the risks and benefits of social egg freezing, how it relates to their discourses of parenthood and their future reproductive intentions as well as how the ‘medical’ encounter in egg freezing is experienced. The thesis draws on Layder’s theory of social domains, selectively focusing on the domains of contextual resources, situated activity, and psychobiography to explore the macro and micro level aspects of social egg freezing (Layder 2006). Consistent with this theoretical framework, the study utilised a multi-method approach: a content and critical discourse analysis of UK newspaper articles on egg freezing, a demographic questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews with 31 users of egg freezing technology. ‘Career reasons’ were presented as the dominant motivation for social egg freezing in newspaper reports. Highly gendered messages interwoven with discourses of blame and failure were identified throughout the newspaper sample alongside moralising discourses calling for women to act responsibly towards their fertility. Emotive language and specific lexical choices were central in constructing discourses about motherhood and reproductive timing which largely excluded a consideration of the structural, relational and ideological factors which influence reproductive timing and reproductive ‘choice’. The demographic profile of interview participants was similar to that found in existing quantitative studies of social egg freezing. Participants were predominantly single, highly educated women in professional careers, with an average age of 37 at the time of undergoing egg freezing. Egg freezing was constructed by participants in relation to a particular biological project and sense of self. Motherhood was something they wanted to experience at the ‘right time’ with the ‘right partner’. The right time for motherhood was related to the feeling of ‘being ready’, which was often linked to the acquisition of certain preconditions for parenthood. The ‘right’ partner was constructed as someone who reflected certain cultural ideals often associated with ‘new fatherhood’. The absence of such a partner indicated that it was the wrong time to pursue motherhood and thus led women to pursue social egg freezing. Many participants reported that a particular issue or event had acted as a critical factor leading them to undergo egg freezing. These included the breakdown of a relationship or the diagnosis of a health or fertility related problem, thus blurring the conceptual distinction between medical and social egg freezing. Through the use of Layder’s theory of social domains and concepts of neoliberalism and biomedicalisation, the thesis argues that women’s engagement with this technology is influenced by both macro and micro sociological factors including ideologies of parenthood, an individual’s social location, relationships with intimate partners and men’s fathering intentions. When faced with the ‘risk knowledge’ of their declining ovarian reserve, the female users of this technology can be seen as enacting ‘reproductive responsibility’ commensurate with neoliberal values of responsibility, self-actualisation and self-determined action in pursuit of a particular construction of motherhood. This theorisation provides a challenge to current understandings around delayed motherhood and suggests that women’s use of social egg freezing should not be seen simply as the outcome of women’s ‘choice’, but as a process involving a complex interrelation of discourses which contextualises decision making in the reproductive realm. This research has implications for practitioners, regulators, users and potential users of this technology, as well as for researchers concerned with questions of reproductive choice, delayed motherhood and reproductive timing



Social egg freezing, (In)fertility, Reproductive timing, Motherhood



Research Institute

Centre for Reproduction Research (CRR)