Westyn Hinchey has always had a plan. She worked hard to get into Boston College, carved out her niche as a public relations professional in the health care industry and focused her job searches on cities where she wanted to live—Boston, Philadelphia, San Antonio. But there was one dream—motherhood—for which Hinchey had no plan. “Everything in my life I’ve been able to choose,” she says. “But when it came to my fertility, I always knew I wanted to be a mom but it was really out of my control.”
Married in late October of this year, Hinchey, 37, knows her time to start a family is limited, but when news of the Zika virus hit, she wasn’t sure she was willing to take the risk. Though no infected mosquitos have been found in San Antonio yet, the potential for an outbreak like occurred in Florida has her and others worried. “It’s terrifying,” Hinchey says. “I’ve waited a long time to find the right guy and start a family. I could potentially get pregnant, eat well, take care of myself and do everything right and still get bitten by a mosquito.” So she turned to Dr. Joseph R. Garza at the Institute for Women’s Health, where she’s the digital marketing and public relations manager, and asked about freezing her eggs and delaying pregnancy.
She’s not alone. Michelle Castilleja, fertility coordinator for Garza, says they’re hearing weekly from women interested in freezing their eggs. Some are Mexican nationals who travel between Texas and Zika-infested areas of Mexico or have spouses who do. Others are San Antonians like Hinchey who don’t want to have to worry about mosquitoes throughout a pregnancy and others are interested for more common reasons related to careers or not having found the right partner.
Garza, who has been a fertility specialist for over 30 years, first began freezing eggs for patients who wanted to have kids after undergoing chemotherapy. When it comes to Zika, he says, it’s not a step that’s necessary at this point, but it is one that’s available for women. Those who’d rather wait until more is known about the virus can freeze their eggs and have them implanted years later through in vitro fertilization. Once the egg is removed, Garza says, it remains at the same age as it was, meaning a woman in her 40s could carry a baby created with an egg removed when she was in her early 30s—an age when the risk for things like Down syndrome is much lower. “It allows you to keep your options open,” he says.
Dr. Patrick Ramsey, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, agrees that freezing eggs is unnecessary. Many of his patients are scared of Zika, he says, but his advice for those wanting to conceive soon is to use an approved bug spray containing Deet, which tests have shown is safe during pregnancy, and avoid travel to Zika-infested areas—or wait eight weeks for women and six months for men after returning from a high-risk area before trying to conceive, regardless of whether symptoms are present. “We’re not advocating for women to store their eggs at this point,” he says.
But for Hinchey and other women, living in nine months of fear while coated with bug spray isn’t the picture of an ideal pregnancy. So they’re choosing to wait. “By freezing those eggs right now it allows me to stop the clock,” Hinchey says. “Being able to do that is just so empowering.