Kochi: A small but perceptibly growing trend of women in Kerala opting for freezing their eggs to have babies at some convenient time in future is likely to contract the state’s already slowing population growth, experts say.
Among Indian states, Kerala already has the lowest fertility rate of 1.8. Fertility rate is the number of children a woman will have during her lifetime.
The replacement fertility level is 2.1, meaning when a hundred women and a hundred men marry, the couples must together have at least 210 children to sustain the population, assuming roughly 10 lives will be lost to disease or accidents.
India itself has a fertility rate of 2, lower than replacement level, and Kerala’s is distinctly lower at 1.8, which is close to those of developed countries like the US and UK, which both have a fertility rate of 1.6.
Shrinking baby count
It is in this context that a growing trend among Kerala women to freeze eggs to have babies later casts a shadow on the demographics of the state.
Already, the composition of children in Kerala’s population is shrinking fast. While the 0-14 year category in the state comprised 43 per cent of the population in 1961, by 2011 it had crashed to only 23 per cent of the population. India’s 2021 census was affected by the COVID-19 crisis and therefore latest data are not available.
The effects of fewer babies are already impacting multiple sectors, primarily the education field where schools and colleges are competing to fill seats, in sharp contrast to some three decades ago when there was fierce competition for admissions.
In Kerala’s quick changing social scenario marked by large scale migration of adults, fewer jobs at home, and presently large-scale migration of youth for studies abroad, the newest metric is that of women taking to egg-freezing in a small but significant way.
“Over the past few years alone, there is a five-fold increase in the number of women wanting to freeze their eggs and have babies later,” Dr Fessy Louis T, professor and head of the department of reproductive medicine at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi told Gulf News.
The rise in number of IVF (In vitro fertilization) centres is a pointer. In 2002, there were seven centres in the state, now there are 73 – a more than ten-fold increase in two decades. As many as 55 of these centres have egg-freezing facility.
2. Awaiting transfer to desired location
3. Impending promotion
4. Stage/theatre commitments
5. Career planning v/s kids planning
“A ticking biological clock is no more a reason for women to rush into having a child when they are not ready to embrace parenthood,” says Dr Arunima Haldar of the Manipal Hospital Whitefield and Varathur, adding that the trend is catching up in the rest of India, too.
The egg-freezing trend is gaining ground in Kerala, riding on multiple reasons. One key reason is financial. It cost Rs120,000 for the initial processes of harvesting and freezing the eggs in 2002, and thanks to technology advancement it costs the same even today. That has made it affordable for many more women.
Dr Sneha Ann Abraham of KIMS Health in Kerala says, “Egg freezing is mainly chosen by people who are career-driven and want to excel and settle down in their professions before focusing on childbearing”.
Some of the reasons that doctors hear from egg freezing clients include going offshore on work, awaiting transfer to a desired location, other professional reasons like an impending promotion, stage and theatre personalities wanting to put off delivery owing to some role they are playing, career planning taking precedence over kids planning, and indecisiveness about marriage.
In the past, egg-freezing was primarily done on medical grounds, like saving healthy eggs and preserving them ahead of a chemotherapy or such other medical reasons. In contrast, social egg freezing is catching up in Kerala.
The trend is feared to complete a triple whammy for the state – an already low fertility rate of 1.8, thousands of youth leaving the state for study or work, and now those in the state opting to freeze eggs to have babies at a later date.