Egg freezing is banned in Singapore, but Freedom Edge is empowering women with options

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There’s little doubt that egg freezing can profoundly empower modern women today. A few decades ago, women who wanted children were at the mercy of their biological clocks, ticking down on their declining fertility past 30.

Through egg freezing – which preserves a woman’s fertility by extracting and storing her healthy eggs – women who just haven’t found the right partner , or opt to focus on career-building in their 20s, can still hope to have children when older.

At least, that’s the theory. Despite Singapore’s plunging birth rates, egg freezing remains banned outside of medical exceptions. Unlike many other Asian nations – Malaysia , Taiwan , and South Korea among them – this reproductive right to choose is barred to women here. This leaves many women unaware of their options, or – should they plan to do egg freezing abroad – lacking support and advice from medical professionals here.

“It’s about time we acknowledge that it’s about women’s choice,” declares Juhee An, founder of Singapore-based egg freezing concierge Freedom Edge

Her concierge service helps women travel overseas to freeze their eggs, supporting them through the arduous process from fertility testing to arranging hospital appointments. More than that, she strives to empower women with unbiased information on the paths open to them. “I do not want any woman,” she says, “to regret like I did.”

Waiting for Mr Right

Juhee An, founder of Freedom Edge
PHOTO: Freedom Edge

Like many women, Juhee knew exactly how many children she dreamt of having: two. “I want to have a balanced portfolio – a girl and a boy!” she laughs. “Yes, I’m a former banker.”

Despite her high-flying career in wealth management, Juhee made time to date diligently. Yet her 30s flew by without the right match, and in 2016, her sister brought up the idea of egg freezing during her visit to Seoul.

Juhee took the fertility tests, but hesitated to commit to the expensive, time-consuming process. There was no reason to doubt, after all, that the right man might be just round the corner. “I secretly believed the universe was on my side, and I’d be lucky in the end as I’d always been,” she admits.

When she hit 40, she decided to take the plunge. “Leaving my future in the hands of a man I hadn’t found thus far felt as though I had no control over my life,” she explains.

“The idea of waiting for Mr. Right with an option made sense to me, finally.” But when she returned to Seoul again, her doctors had bad news. Though previously optimal, her fertility had now declined to levels that made egg freezing inadvisable.

“I wish someone with knowledge and empathy had convinced me to take control of my future then,” Juhee says. But though she couldn’t turn back the clock, she could prevent others from suffering the same regrets. Leaving her banking career, she set out to become that guiding light she wished for her younger self with Freedom Edge.

An empowering journey

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Freedom Edge currently has tie-ups with major clinics in South Korea, including renowned names like Maria Fertility Hospital, CHA Fertility Centre, and Mizmedi Fertility Centre. Juhee personally visited their facilities and met with doctors, selecting these clinics for their cutting-edge technology and stellar IVF track records. “We plan to add more clinics in Taiwan and Malaysia, once pandemic restrictions end,” she reveals.

The Freedom Edge journey starts off with a free consultation, where Juhee spends time understanding her clients’ situations and needs. In turn, she educates her clients on the procedures involved, challenges, and other factors to consider. “People think the hardest part is going through egg freezing itself, but in fact for most, it’s making a decision. So we focus on helping clients understand the procedure with the help of scientific data, as well as implications for their future fertility planning.”

Should a client decide to take the leap, Freedom Edge will help make arrangements with a clinic of her choice – at no extra cost. “We do not take service fees from our clients, but from clinics,” Juhee stresses. Even before the flight, however, there’s plenty of preparation to be done: AMH tests for fertility, monitoring of period cycle, and boosting of fertility through diet and supplements. Freedom Edge offers guidance and reassurance throughout this month-long process.

Since Freedom Edge was launched in late 2019, Juhee has helped three clients – before the pandemic caused borders to close. So far, all of them have been “single professionals in their late 30s, with promising careers at sizable international firms. Occasionally,” she adds, “we get enquiries from women in their early 30s as well, who want to be equipped with the right information first before deciding.”

Cracking the stigma

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There’s no doubt that local demand for elective egg freezing is on the rise. While no official figures exist, Malaysia-based fertility centre Sunfert International has stated that it’s seen a 15 per cent increase in patients from Singapore each year prior to the pandemic. Given that Singapore’s birth rate fell to a record-setting low of 1.1 in 2020, banning social egg freezing – a clear sign of women’s interest in childbearing – seems an inexplicable stance.

In response to queries on social egg freezing in 2020, the Ministry of Social and Family Development released a statement on the basis behind the ban. “[We] have to take into account the ethical and social concerns over legalising social egg freezing, including inadvertently causing more to delay marriage or parenthood based on a misperception that they can have a child whenever they wish to,” the ministry said.

Unsurprisingly, religious critics have jumped into the fray as well. In 2019, the National Council of Churches of Singapore kicked off a furore when it condemned elective egg freezing as a “profoundly selfish act” – all because it supposedly “sees career as more important than the interests and welfare of the child”.

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Yet such conservative mindsets overlook the tough realities faced by women today, who have to balance family planning with achieving economic stability in one of the world’s most expensive cities. “In our competitive modern society, women juggle with building an independent life of their own and the conventional role of bearing a child,” Juhee points out.

Given the mental and physical toll of egg freezing, this path can hardly be seen as an easy way out. “Egg freezing is an expensive, troublesome, and mentally draining journey. Not many women muster up the courage to do it, unless they absolutely want to have an option when needed,” she says. “It’s odd for the government to not support such women. Shouldn’t we respect them in a time of low birth rates?”

All the single ladies

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If women planning to bear children later in life face a lack of choices, single women contend with even tighter reproductive restrictions. Unmarried women cannot undergo IVF treatment in Singapore, and have no access to donated sperm. And should they have children, they find themselves at a disadvantage in public housing access as compared to traditional family units.

For Juhee, these restrictions make little sense. “Why not share the benefits of modern medical technology with not only married women, but with the unmarried who are equally eager to carry the next generation forward?” she questions. “Just because she is single, should she be discriminated against?”

She believes that allowing single women to freeze their eggs –an option already available in many countries like South Korea – would hardly open the floodgates to a rush of hasty signups. “Instead,” she explains, “it would give women a chance to look into their fertility health and examine their life priorities, which they might feel like reshuffling before it’s too late.”

As for Juhee herself, she hasn’t lost hope of having children the natural way. “At my age, there’s a lower possibility of retrieving eggs that survive for IVF – but natural birth might be a better chance for me,” she says.

For now, she’s finding meaning through sharing her insights with other women. “It’s not a simple matter, so anyone can knock on our door anytime to have a casual chat. Freedom Edge has your back no matter what!”

Start your Freedom Edge journey here.

This article was first published in City Nomads.