What's Missing From Coverage of Halsey's Egg Freezing Announcement
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Jordan Davidson, The Mighty’s editorial director of news and lifestyle, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
If you are part of the endometriosis community then you likely know there is a lot of pain among those living with the condition regarding how endometriosis is represented. There are a lot of endometriosis advocates working tirelessly to improve the way the disease is diagnosed and treated. And then there are celebrities living with “endo,” who — while much of what they say is controversial or ill-informed — play an important role in raising awareness.
If the only time the general public hears about endometriosis is when it comes from celebrities, then we need to make sure the conversation surrounding their stories is productive. On Thursday, singer Halsey went on “The Doctors” to talk about endometriosis as well as her concerns about her future fertility.
The 23-year-old platinum-selling artist said a lot of really great things. She talked about how doctors tend to dismiss women’s pain, how her symptoms were more than just “bad cramps” and how having a reproductive condition can make you feel like “less of a woman.”
“There’s a lot of times when you’re sitting at home and you just feel so terrible about yourself. You know, you’re sick, you don’t feel sexy. You don’t feel proud. You don’t feel like there is much hope,” she explained, adding that to keep hope alive in her future, she will be freezing her eggs.
It’s great to see Halsey, a young woman and icon to millions of young girls, speak up about taking charge of her health. It’s an empowering message that is important to hear.
But there comes a time when just “getting the word out” isn’t enough. We can spend all day arguing whether or not it’s Halsey’s job to know everything about endometriosis and infertility. However, it’s not Halsey’s job to be the perfect advocate.
What happens after a celebrity offers a juicy soundbite falls on journalists. Not only is it our job to fact check, we need to look for the value-add. Who are your readers? What are they getting from this story? Whether or not you identify as a “service journalist,” all pieces of journalism, at their core, are acts of service.
A little less than two years ago I went to a benefit for a cancer nonprofit. The person being honored that night was a woman who benefited from the services the nonprofit provided. The woman, I’m going to call her Alice for the sake of anonymity, was 35 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Thanks to the organization, Alice, who was uninsured, was able to get treatment without going bankrupt. But, with chemotherapy, doctors warned, would come infertility. If Alice wanted to have biological children, she’d have to freeze her eggs. She had two options: freeze her eggs and not be able to pay for cancer treatment, likely die and never be able to use those eggs, or get the treatment she needed and give up her dreams of having a biological family.
With tears in her eyes, explaining her decision, Alice said something that haunts me to this day:
“I always dreamed of having children. Now, I give myself five minutes every day to cry for the children I will never have.”
Alice’s experience isn’t unique. Egg freezing is cost prohibitive, especially for people who are not prime candidates like those with endometriosis, premature ovarian failure, polycystic ovarian syndrome or women who are older.
Depending on your health and the clinic, egg freezing typically costs between $5,000 to $10,000 a cycle. The more eggs you freeze, the better your chances, so clinics will typically recommend doing more than one cycle. In order for your ovaries to produce a higher quantity of eggs, medication is required. Depending on your insurance coverage — most insurance companies don’t cover fertility preservation — these medications can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost of each cycle. Once you’ve paid all those fees, you have to pay to store your eggs, which can cost anywhere from $600 to upwards of $1,000 per year.
Cost isn’t the only factor we should be talking about. Egg freezing is often presented as a foolproof way of having a baby in the future, but that is far from the reality. Each frozen egg has only a two to 12 percent chance of becoming a child. Frozen embryos have a higher success rate, at 30 percent. However, that requires you to have a sperm donor or a partner you are sure you want to have a child with.
Deciding to freeze your eggs is a huge decision — both emotionally and financially. If we’re praising one woman for doing so, let’s keep up the empowerment by giving women and other people with uteri and ovaries the information they need to make an informed decision.
We can, and should, praise Halsey for taking charge of her health. But as journalists, we need to remember our readers are the Alices of this world — not the Halseys. When we talk about how great Halsey’s decision is, we need to remember it’s impractical for many dealing with fertility concerns who are balancing the costs of their medical care with the cost of family planning.
Halsey knows she’s fortunate to have this option, she said so herself. Let’s remind our readers we know most people can’t afford to freeze their eggs and provide resources and accurate information for those who are actively struggling. That’s how we make celebrities opening the door to these tough conversations worth it.
Image via Creative Commons/jus10h