When Covid-19 reached U.S. soil in early 2020, many wondered if the pandemic might result in a baby boom, as couples found more time for intimacy during lockdown.
But more than a year into the pandemic, studies indicate Covid may have actually set off a “birth dearth” — and fertility experts say if anything’s been “heating” up in recent months, it’s egg freezing.
“We quadrupled our revenue in the past year and tripled our number of clinics,” said Dr. Fahimeh Sasan, founding physician at Kindbody, a national chain of egg freezing clinics.
Sasan is among the fertility experts NBC News spoke with who say the pandemic has created something of a boom when it comes to fertility preservation procedures.
She said the number of monthly egg retrievals in New York alone has tripled in the past year.
“The pandemic was a pause that gave patients time to think,” Sasan said. “Some patients thought they’d wanted to freeze their eggs for a while, and the pandemic has made them realize this is something much more important to them than they thought.”
The uptick Kindbody and other fertility clinics are seeing in the demand for egg freezing services stands in contrast to the interest other women are expressing in giving birth in the near future. A 2020 report from the Brookings Institute concluded the Covid-19 pandemic, and the associated recession, could result in as many as 500,000 fewer births in the U.S. in 2021. And a study published by the Gutmacher Institute found more than one-third of American women surveyed said the pandemic has prompted them to delay plans to get pregnant or reduced the number of children they plan to have.
“I’m not surprised by a decline in births, since I think everyone was terrified of getting Covid,” said Dr. Drew Tortoriello, medical director of Sher Fertility Solutions in New York, in response to the Brookings report.
“But just as I think a lot of people were deciding the pandemic may not be the time to get pregnant, a lot of people also realized that as time goes by, fertility diminishes. So I think the number of eggs frozen went up in many cases while the conception rates went down.”
That’s been the case at Tortoriello’s practice, where he said egg freezing rates have climbed 20 percent during the pandemic.
“In the pandemic, people have come to realize that life is short and that life is precious. It caused people to change their priorities a little bit.”
“Women simply felt like they had more time to freeze their eggs during the pandemic,” said Tortoriello. “In the pandemic people have come to realize that life is short and that life is precious. It caused people to ruminate about what they want in life and change their priorities a little bit.”
Kelli Wheeler, a 34-year-old producer based in Los Angeles, said the pandemic prompted her to freeze her eggs.
“The pandemic was what did it,” she said. “Before the pandemic, I was traveling and focused on my work. But when the pandemic happened, I knew I couldn’t push aside my desires any more. I realized I want to be a mom and I’m getting older and, ‘Hey, what are my options?’”
Wheeler said she and her boyfriend broke up at the beginning of the pandemic.
“He went to go find himself on a journey and I was by myself,” she said.
Faced with the challenge of meeting someone new in the age of Covid, Wheeler said egg freezing made sense.
“I want to be a mom but I don’t want to rush into a relationship,” Wheeler told NBC News.
“I wanted time bought and I thought a good way of buying time was getting my eggs frozen. It was a big decision.”
Sasan said a number of patients are turning to Kindbody because of the challenges of being single during a pandemic.
“For a lot of patients, dating has changed and they’re saying, ‘I thought I would have a lot of opportunities to date and I can’t date right now.’
“Being single during the pandemic felt very different from being single pre-pandemic — you’re not going to parties and networking or even meeting people at work. You’re working from home, eating at home — doing everything from home.”
Sasan said the postponement in weddings has also contributed to an uptick in patients.
“We had a lot of couples who thought they were going to get married in 2020 and wanting to get pregnant in 2021. Now everything’s delayed. They’ve lost a year so fertility preservation has become more important.”
In a pre-pandemic world, Kindbody introduced women to egg freezing through in-person information sessions. Now, Sasan said, the sessions are conducted by Zoom, which has enabled the clinics to expand their reach.
“A lot of couples thought they were going to get married in 2020. They’ve lost a year, so fertility preservation has become more important.”
“We switched the sessions to virtual and as a result we’re able to reach a much broader audience,” she said. “Before it was only people in New York who were able to attend.”
Dr. Joshua Klein, the chief clinical officer of Extend Fertility, said the pandemic has created more focused and determined patients.
“We’re seeing people interested in doing this are seriously interested — whereas I think it was a diluted population in the past,” Klein said. “In general, a lot more people were just dipping their toes in the water and not taking it seriously.”
Klein said at the beginning of the pandemic, Extend cut down considerably on its advertising budget. To his surprise, the patients still came, actively seeking out egg freezing services. And instead of thinking about egg freezing options for a period of months, he said patients have been motivated during the pandemic to act quickly.
“We’re seeing a higher conversion rate — from the patients who call us up and come through our doors actually going through the procedure,” Klein said.
Wheeler said that, for her, the pandemic has been a challenging time that has come with a silver lining.
“I was realizing I want to be a mom. The pandemic taught us to slow down, to ask ourselves what’s important. I would have kept going if none of this happened — and sadly I maybe would not have set myself up for success later. Life can pass you by if you don’t think about what’s important to you.”