Women in Singapore will soon be allowed to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons to preserve their fertility. Women aged between 21 and 35 can undergo elective or social egg freezing, which is done for non-medical reasons, with the introduction of the Assisted Reproduction Services Regulations under the Healthcare Services Act early next year (2023).
Melissa Yambao, now aged 38, is delighted with the news. Back in 2015, she froze her eggs when she was diagnosed with Stage 1A breast cancer. At the time, childbirth hadn’t even crossed her mind. She was aged 31, and living life in the fast lane, enjoying her soaring career in banking.
Back in 2015 medical reasons were the only way you could freeze your eggs in Singapore. Says Melissa, “Cancer treatments can affect fertility. When my oncologist, Dr Steven Tucker, raised the issue of fertility preservation whilst discussing my cancer treatment options, I shuddered at the thought of not having my own children.” She immediately began investigating how to freeze her eggs, working with a leading local gynecologist and obstetrician (who has since retired).
Several months of ultrasound scans and blood tests followed, to determine where Melissa was in her monthly cycle. She also had to undergo daily hormone injections for ovary stimulation and take oral pills for hormone management as she was a cancer patient. Though the initial steps seemed daunting, Melissa says she found the actual egg harvesting procedure quite easy.
“The whole process took about half an hour after which I was able to go home. I felt tender after the procedure and this was understandable. My doctor explained that our ovaries are usually the size of a nut, but mine blew up to the size of an orange, due to the number of eggs. The doctors were able to harvest and freeze around 10 eggs,” says Melissa.
Melissa went through two rounds of egg harvesting and freezing before undergoing chemotherapy, so she has 20 eggs frozen. She hopes this will increase her chances of having at least two babies if she is unable to bear children naturally.
Currently cancer-free, and still enjoying her career in banking, Melissa feels that she has bounced back from cancer stronger than ever. She makes time for regular health checkups and has taken up yoga, breathwork, meditation, ice baths, and pole dancing to keep her body healthy.
She hasn’t used her frozen eggs yet but says, “Knowing I have that option in the future has made going through the process worth it. For me, it was one of the best things I have done for myself. I want an option to have my own family in the future, and having frozen eggs gives me a chance to have my own biological children. Will that really happen for me? Only time will tell.”
She admits that she’s heard comments from people that science shouldn’t interfere with the miraculous process of producing life, but she counters, “Medical procedures like egg freezing and IVF (in-vitro fertilization) do not make the process of birth any less miraculous. What these procedures aim to do is to give women the chance of experiencing motherhood.”
To other women contemplating egg freezing, Melissa has this advice, “Make sure you understand why you want to do it. I was clear on why – I wanted to have more chances in my future to bear my own biological children.”
But she admits the process can be emotionally difficult. “It helps to have support. I remember anticipating how many eggs would mature every cycle, and hoping we could harvest a lot of good ones. I can see how this can be a source of anxiety. “
She also suggests researching the procedure to understand what it entails, “The process can take weeks and it can include daily medication and injections, frequent blood tests, clinic visits and ultrasound scans. Then there’s the procedure to harvest the eggs. I think it’s important to understand it all, so you can be prepared mentally to go through the whole process.”
Melissa says frankly, ” I know having frozen eggs does not guarantee I get to bear children in the future – but nothing in life is certain. Freezing my eggs gives me a better chance to be a mother. For me, this was a good enough reason for me to through it.”
Here’s what you need to know now about egg freezing in Singapore: