For women or those assigned female at birth, society ensures that as we age, we’re hyper-aware of our declining fertility.
Historically, social narratives for women have painted starting a family and having a successful career as mutually exclusive. Though modern-day maternity policies have improved significantly, there is still a huge way to go—with many of us still feeling like we need to choose between embarking on motherhood or continuing to forward our careers.
Fortunately, alternative pathways to parenthood have also evolved significantly in recent years. However, a lack of education, cultural awareness and funding for women’s reproductive health research are still leaving many women in the dark about their options.
We spoke to Natalie Getreu, Ovarian Biologist and Co-founder of Hertility, a women’s health company, supporting women all the way from menstruation through menopause with comprehensive at-home testing, telemedicine and treatment, about her personal fertility journey with egg freezing and being on both sides of the coin—as a scientific fertility practitioner and patient.
Science was not the obvious career choice for me, coming from three generations of fashion manufacturers and designers. Although I dipped my toe in briefly, founding a ‘Rent the Runway’ venture, ultimately, I knew my passion lay with medicine—specifically driving research into creating more equitable and accessible healthcare for women.
Before founding Hertility, my research at UCL focused on fertility preservation in cancer patients, in addition to establishing ventures that sought to bring scientific discovery out of the lab and into tangible clinical practice, including into public health programmes.
After four years of working in the National Health Service (NHS), I was in awe of the amount of brilliant research, but shocked and frustrated that it was going nowhere—not reaching the people who needed it. This was one of my first drivers to Co-found Hertility, to create accessible, equitable reproductive health services that are actively making a real change in people’s lives.
Probably because of my career, I’ve always been hyper-aware of my own fertility and the timelines, as a woman, I was working with. But founding a business, especially as an all-female founding team, takes up an incredible amount of time, energy and resilience. I found myself facing a question that is so common to so many women at my stage in life—was I ready to start a family, right now?
For many people there isn’t an easy answer to this question, it’s nuanced. But I’m grateful that I was in a position to explore different options and after a lot of careful deliberation, I decided to undergo egg freezing.
Egg freezing is a fertility preservation method that involves one or more unfertilized, mature eggs being extracted from the ovaries, frozen and stored for future use. It’s increasingly used by people to preserve their fertility and whilst it’s not a guaranteed solution, it can provide reassurance and a sense of reproductive autonomy over your future. You can read more about egg freezing on Hertility’s website.
Scientifically speaking, I thought I knew just about everything you could know about egg freezing.
I knew about the physical toll it can take—I’d carried out procedures as a practitioner and supervised them. I knew it was expensive, and there were lots of financial considerations to think about. I also knew that the moderate success rates mean it can be a huge rollercoaster emotionally.
But as soon as I started the process as a patient, I quickly realised that knowing the scientific facts is very different from the lived experience.
The Physical Impact
I didn’t fully appreciate how physically exhausting the process would be. Everything felt like it was out of my control, right from the get-go. That element of it, I found really hard. Relinquishing control and accepting that I had to just let my body take over and really listen to what it needed—something we are definitely not attuned to doing normally.
An egg-freezing cycle basically accelerates everything your body goes through naturally during your menstrual cycle. Normally, you only produce one egg a month, but with each cycle I underwent, we were trying to get 8 to 10 eggs to develop on each side! I could actually feel my ovaries growing—a weird sensation I did not expect.
From the moment your menstrual cycle starts, you’re on a ticking clock, with a very strict schedule of appointments and medication. But you can’t control how fast or slow that clock will move and how your body will react. You really have to surrender to that and understand you cannot control the outcome, which can be mentally challenging.
The Emotional Impact
Emotionally, as with any fertility journey, the process was full of ups and downs. The hardest part was probably the uncertainty, not knowing if any of the cycles were going to be successful.
I had waited for a time when I knew both my professional and personal life would be a bit quieter, but I didn’t appreciate how much the process would force me to completely slow down—something that, as a founder and as a woman, we are rarely afforded the space to do.
As women there is this pervading social pressure to be seen to be ‘doing it all’, and perfectly. This is only exacerbated as a female founder, with expectations that you need to be available 24/7 and always running a million miles a minute.
But as soon as I started the egg-freezing process, it suddenly became the most important thing. I knew I had to devote my energy to the things my body needed during this time.
Luckily, I had so much overwhelmingly positive support and that is something that’s truly so special about working somewhere like Hertility and having a team like ours.
The whole process made me have a much deeper appreciation for the need for rigorous workplace fertility policies—something that at Hertility we are now proud to be striving towards with our Hertility for Employers.
The Financial Impact
There are huge financial barriers to accessing fertility treatments privately. For those who are not undergoing egg freezing for medical reasons and are seeking treatment privately, it can cost up to £8000.
From the moment I decided this was something I wanted to do, I became conscious of what I would need financially to make this happen. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to access treatment and to be in a position where I can give people the information they need to make decisions about their fertility future.
Unfortunately, so many people only start to think about their fertility later on in life, which means often they end up delaying treatment because of financial constraints. This is valuable lost time when we know that age has a big impact on fertility—especially the quality and quantity of eggs that may be collected.
In the same way we talk about financial literacy, we need to speak about fertility literacy, to ensure everyone can plan for their future and understand what opportunities are available to them.
My Fertility Future
Luckily, I was able to successfully freeze some of my eggs. Despite the ups and downs, it was 100% worth it. I wasn’t at a place in my life where I was ready to have children, but I wanted to have options—and now I do.
There is definitely a huge sense of empowerment. I’m in control of my own narrative, it’s my choice when and if I decide to start a family.
A big part of me definitely feels an immense relief, but at the same time, I know this journey is far from over yet. Egg freezing is not a guarantee. We still don’t have all the longitudinal scientific evidence to fully understand the success of the procedure and I will have no idea if any of my eggs are viable until I try to use them.
When we speak about egg freezing (for non-medical reasons), it’s called ‘social egg freezing, but I prefer to call it ‘non-medical’ or ‘planned’ egg freezing.
Referring to it as ‘social’ doesn’t quite match up to my experience, or that of many of the women who’ve undergone egg freezing with Hertility’s pathway. It trivialises the experience. In reality, it’s one of the biggest decisions many people will make in a lifetime.
The first thing I say to anyone considering egg freezing is to get more information about it and start exploring the different options you have available. This process can take longer than you think.
Chat with people who have gone through it, family, friends or even colleagues, and take a look at clinic websites. We have a whole host of resources at Hertility to help you on your journey, such as our knowledge centre articles or webinars with Cryopreservation Specialists.
And finally, be kind to yourself. Freezing your eggs is a huge decision, but in my experience, something that has been incredibly rewarding. Don’t feel like you need to put it off, the information and support are out there, whatever your fertility journey looks like.
In partnership with Hertility, our community can get £10 off a Hertility at-home hormone & fertility test. To access this enter the code VIOLETSIMON10 at checkout.
About Dr Natalie Getreu, COO and Co-Founder Hertility Health
Dr Natalie Getreu is a global expert in ovarian biology with expertise in bringing scientific discovery to clinical practice. She has a Masters in Reproductive Science and Women’s Health and a PhD in Fertility Preservation from UCL. Her research focuses on ovarian tissue freezing, which allows women facing cancer treatment to be able to preserve their fertility.
About Hertility Health
Founded by scientists and powered by an all-female research team, Hertility is a women’s health company bringing the latest reproductive science out of the lab directly to your home. With at-home hormone and fertility testing, telemedicine and treatment (we can spot 18 conditions related to reproductive health like PCOS in just 10 days and streamline you to in-house female health experts and vetted partner clinics), Hertility has you covered all the way from menstruation through menopause.