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a baby conceived from a human egg which has been frozen for a period of time
'Egg freezing breakthrough will create generation of "ice babies" …'The Telegraph 9th October 2005
Though the expression ice baby might conjure up images of the American rapper Vanilla Ice perfoming his best-known single "Ice Ice Baby", it has developed a significant, and rather more serious, meaning in the 21st century. Ice baby is the term now given to a baby born from a frozen human egg.
significantly improved success rates mean that there is now the potential for women to choose conception dates which fit in with their career plans
The number of ice babies arriving in the next few years seems set to significantly increase, with the development of a new procedure which overcomes the difficulties previously associated with egg freezing. Existing methods have run a major risk of damaging the eggs during the freezing process, but a new technique called vitrification, involving the use of a substance which acts as a kind of 'anti-freeze', reduces the potential for damage and thereby substantially increases the rate of successful pregnancies resulting from fertilisation of frozen eggs.
Egg freezing started out as a process intended to assist women with fertility problems, particularly cancer patients wanting to protect their fertility prior to undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy. However, more recent advances have made the ice baby an increasingly controversial concept. Significantly improved success rates mean that there is now the potential for women to choose conception dates which fit in with their career plans. Women in their 20s and 30s could store their eggs for future use, putting their fertility, quite literally, 'on ice', and delaying motherhood until as late as their 50s.
The universal potential of egg freezing is massive, described by some as on a par with the introduction of the contraceptive pill. It is predicted that within as little as a year, we will see the first ice baby born as a matter of lifestyle choice rather than medical necessity.
The term ice baby has appeared in the context of fertility treatment since the mid-1990s. On the model of the term test-tube baby, which first appeared in the 1970s, ice baby is used to refer to babies born as a result of medical intervention which incorporates some kind of freezing process, whether of embryos, eggs or sperm. In 2002, a Manchester couple were the beneficiaries of what was believed to be a world record in fertility treatment, when an ice baby was born 21 years after his father's sperm was frozen prior to cancer treatment as a teenager. In the same year, Britain's first ice baby from a frozen egg was born, conceived after her mother received treatment at the Midland Fertility Services clinic near Birmingham.
With recent medical advances and the potential for egg freezing to be perceived as the ultimate kind of family planning, the term ice baby seems likely to enter mainstream use. We might also expect to see an increasing number of references to ice twins.
This article was first published on 10th April 2006.