Women freeze biological clock

In an era when many women postpone motherhood into their late 30s, or beyond, a growing number of women are using a new technology to freeze their eggs.

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Actress Elizabeth Higgins Clark CBS News

One week before her thirtieth birthday, actress Elizabeth Higgins Clark is taking the dramatic step to freeze her eggs to preserve her fertility.

"I knew that I wanted more time, for my career," Clark told me. "I thought it would be really nice if I could just make it so that I had a baby when my life was ready instead of just because my body was ready."

Dr. Michael Drews, Clark's doctor at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, says there's a gradually growing population of women who are choosing to do this electively.

"Probably when this comes into its own, it will be more liberating to women than the oral contraceptives were back in the 1960's," Dr. Drews told me.

Fertility clinic hosts egg freezing party

The success of fertility procedures declines as eggs age. Research shows eggs frozen at age 30 are twice as likely to result in a pregnancy as eggs frozen at 40. Yet one study found over 80 percent of women freezing their eggs were older than 35.

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Dr. Michael Drews CBS News

"The light goes off for most women when they begin to reach their later 30s, early 40s," Dr. Drews said. "And that's when they say, 'Gee, I'm running out of time.' Unfortunately, in most cases, they've largely already run out of time."

There are no national figures on how many women have frozen their eggs or returned to use them.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine does not endorse elective egg freezing, saying: "it may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing."

Clark disagrees.

"I don't think my hope is false," she told me. "I think it gives me a better chance and I wouldn't tell any woman that she should do this. I think it's a really personal decision that a woman makes with her doctor and her bank account."

The procedure costs between $10,000 and $15,000 and another thousand dollars a year to keep the eggs frozen. Still, Clark says it is money well spent.

"Is there a part of this for you that's slowing down that biological clock that's been ticking?" I asked her.

"Yes, it's stopped," she said. "And I'll get older, but my eggs will stay the same age, 29 forever."

Apple, Facebook offer to pay for workers to freeze eggs

Though egg freezing is still an uncommon procedure, there are signs it may be increasing in popularity. Apple and Facebook recently announced their health insurance plans will now cover elective egg freezing, a move that could spur other companies to follow suit.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook