Careers vs babies
Hundreds of clinics have sprung up across India in recent years, catering to women who wish to have their eggs frozen. The treatment is gaining popularity as more and more of them choose to pursue careers and delay pregnancy by having their eggs frozen.
The technique, known as "oocyte freezing," involves removing multiple eggs from a healthy woman and storing them for future use.
Smriti Kashyap is one of many young Indian women who have opted to delay pregnancy to focus on their careers. The 32-year-old, who has been in a stable relationship for five years, earns $75,000 as a legal consultant with a multinational company in Delhi.
Taking the pressure off
Kashyap has literally frozen her dream of having a family in three years. "My partner and I are very settled in our professional lives," she told DW. "We've persuaded our families not to pressure us into marrying just yet."
Aware of the difficulties that women already her age can have conceiving, Kashyap admits to concerns she had about delaying her family plans. “We were worried about starting late and whether I would have a normal or less complicated pregnancy in a few years," she said. "Luckily, I came across an advertisement for egg freezing in a women's magazine."
This option could usher in some huge changes in India, Kashyap admits. In the past, when women got married, they planned their families first and careers later, she said. Now they can have a dream come true and do it the other way around.
In Kashyap's case, however, that dream has meant convincing her sceptical mother of her decision to undergo the procedure. She has yet to tell her father. "He's very traditional and doesn't really understand the choices I make," she said. "So, for now, I've decided to keep it a secret from him but I'll tell him eventually.”
Young women in India are under significant family pressure to have children, according to Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research in Delhi. “It is extremely important for Indian women to have a child," she told DW. "Even today in the rural areas and small towns, if you don't have a child from the natural marriage, then the men are forced by their parents to choose another wife because you can't produce a child.”
A safe bet
Dr. Shivani Gour, head of the Surrogacy Centre in Delhi, has been offering the egg-freezing treatment since 2009. "Lately, we've had more inquiries and are currently awaiting two pregnancies from frozen eggs,” she said
The treatment generally attracts women between 30 and 40 years old, according to Gour. She points to studies showing the average Indian woman entering menopause around the age of 47, compared with 51 in Western countries.
A normal woman's body usually releases one egg per month. As part of the egg-freezing treatment, patients are injected with hormones to stimulate their ovaries into releasing as many as 10 eggs, which are then frozen.
The one-time treatment for the drugs and injections costs around about $1,600, according to Gour. On top of that is an annual charge of $550 for maintaining the frozen eggs.
Securing the future
Women like Smriti can now have their cake and eat it too, admits Kumari. "It is a viable option that gives women the time, the liberty and the freedom to choose and decide about their life and career,” she told DW.
In the same breadth, however, Kumari questions the effects it could have on the mother-child relationship when the child comes from a frozen egg.
“We have not studied the social consequences of this trend," she said, pointing to a need to further examine the medical and psychological effects of in-vitro children
Add to that changes women undergo as they age. Studies show them having less patience for children around the age of 40.
Dr. Aruna Broota, a psychiatrist based in Delhi, believes women become far less flexible as they age.
“They develop more rigidity in their habits," she said. And their lack of patience, she adds, can often lead to snapping at the children, which can kill creativity and even cause depression.
In the end, much boils down to the support a woman receives, Broota concedes. And many working women in India, she agrees, are in the fortunate position to be able to afford nannies or rely on their extended families for help.