An embryo, frozen in time for 16 years, came into the world this February 2017 as a healthy baby boy. Earlier this month, Yang, a 46-year old woman in Guangzhou Province, gave birth to her second son using an embryo that had been frozen 16 years prior. The son is reported to be healthy, weighing nearly 4kg upon birth. Reports have stated that Yang was one of nearly 1,000 women to apply for the in vitro program at Sun Yat-sen University in 2016. While the boy was successfully delivered, healthy and kicking, Yang did experience health complications during her pregnancy including mild thalassemia (a decrease in red blood cells that can lead to anemia) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
This is not the first time an older woman in China has given birth to a child using a years-old embryo. In February 2016, a woman in Shaanxi Province was inseminated with a 12-year old embryo and gave birth to a baby girl. Later in July 2016, another mother in Jiangsu Province gave birth to a 3.3kg baby girl using an embryo that had first been frozen for 18 years. The mother in Jiangsu Province first began using IVF treatments in 1998 to help her conceive a child. After a few failed attempts, she decided to wait and successfully underwent IVF treatment in 2015. Both of the latter two women suffered from blocked fallopian tubes while the Yang, the mother in Guangdong Province, was said to be infertile. All three women were at least 40-years old at the time that they gave birth.
China’s revised family planning policy in 2015 put an end to its One Child Policy, a 35-year old policy that has resulted in an imbalance in both youth to elder populations as well as greater numbers of men compared to women. As a result, effective as of January 1, 2016, all married couples are now permitted to have two children total. The universal two-child policy does not apply to to single women or couples that do not fit China’s family planning policies.
China’s new two-child policy has also resulted in an increase in the average age of women applying for IVF in China. According to Xu Yanwen, the director of the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, in 2016 the average age of women who requested to have their stored eggs unfrozen for use rose from 32.7 to 33.7. That same year, there were almost 1,000 women over the age of 40 that applied for the hospital’s IVF service.
The demand for IVF has grown rapidly in China over the past few years, leading to an up to two-year long waitlist for Chinese IVF clinics. Demand has risen to such a high level that companies outside of China have begun to take notice. Monash IVF, an IVF clinic based in Melbourne, Australia, signed an agreement with AC International Medical Tourism for up to 100 Chinese women in the first year of the program to receive IVF treatment in Australia. Monash also says they have hired Chinese staff to assist in helping Chinese patients under this new arrangement.
China’s new family planning policy and the increase in IVF treatment, among other factors, may lead to an increase in the number of births, but researchers say it may not be enough to change the overall birth rate. China’s economic growth has meant a natural decline in the desire for larger families. Additionally, the price of IVF treatment means that families with lower incomes often cannot afford to pay for the service while poorer provinces may have very few clinics providing IVF treatment at all.
While the increase in IVF treatment may not lead to the population boom the government might hope for, the option gives older couples the chance to fulfill their dreams of having a larger family. A dream that, for some, has been decades in the making.