A week after restaurants opened for dine-in last month, I met up with a friend I had not seen in a while. What was supposed to be a breezy brunch at a charming cafe suddenly turned glum when she began crying while talking about her family.
Having tied the knot four years ago, my friend and her husband - both in their mid-30s - have been trying for a baby, only to be met with a roadblock many young couples face: infertility.
In between sobs, she told me about the multiple visits to the doctor and discussions about fertility treatments like intra-uterine insemination and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
As the waiter arrived and she collected herself, my friend rued: "I should have frozen my eggs to improve my chances a long time ago, but I didn't know better."
Her comment stuck with me long after we met, as I mulled over how little I knew or had thought about egg freezing.
The issue resurfaced in Parliament last October and was raised again in the House in February, with calls to allow more Singaporean women to freeze their eggs for future use.
In Singapore, only women with medical needs, such as cancer patients who have to undergo chemotherapy that will adversely affect their fertility, are allowed to freeze their eggs.
Social egg freezing, an elective medical procedure for women who may want to "bank" their eggs for personal reasons like finding the right partner or having children later, is not permitted here, leading some single women to travel to neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Australia for this process.
One cycle of egg freezing costs about $10,000 at fertility clinics here.
On the surface, social egg freezing seems like a good solution to avoid the mental toll that infertility treatments can take on couples trying to grow their family, and address Singapore's population growth woes.
The sixth Census report released last month showed that Singapore's population growth for the decade 2010 to 2020 was at its slowest since independence, with more Singaporeans staying single and even those who marry having fewer babies.
At the same time, the population is ageing, with those aged 65 and older forming 15.2 per cent of the resident population last year, a marked rise from 9 per cent in 2010.
Despite the Government's consistent efforts to incentivise couples to have children, this has not been helped by lingering issues that many find daunting, such as work-life balance and the cost of raising a child.
In a poll by voluntary welfare organisation I Love Children last year, couples cited long working hours and work stress as the top obstacles they faced in having a baby.
In my mid-20s and with no firm plans to wed or raise a family yet, I would like to have as many options as possible to increases my chances of parenthood, if I could.
Many Singaporean women share this view.
An ongoing petition on Change.org calling for the Government to reconsider the ban on social egg freezing has amassed more than 6,000 signatures.
The petition cites, among other things, the preference of Singaporean women to "freeze their eggs in the safety and comfort of their home country, surrounded by their community".
RISKS OF EGG FREEZING
The process of egg freezing, which involves multiple steps and takes about two weeks, is not an easy one. The patient receives a round of hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, which are then retrieved by a doctor.
It would make sense then that women undergoing egg freezing would want to do so with their friends or family close by for support, rather than spending two weeks in a hotel room or Airbnb accommodation in another city.
But for all the well-argued benefits of egg freezing, what does science say about it boosting women's chances to conceive?
A 2019 article on the pros and cons of egg freezing, by non-profit medical institution Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, noted that the biggest determinant of successful conception was the age at which a woman chooses to freeze her eggs.
Not all the eggs can survive the thawing process, while others may not fertilise or may fertilise abnormally. Still, others may not successfully attach or survive in the uterus.
Citing studies, the article said each egg that a woman freezes has about a 4.5 per cent to 12 per cent chance of growing into a baby some day. Beyond the scientific considerations, there are ethical and social concerns as well.
In response to a parliamentary question last October, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said the Government is carefully reviewing social egg freezing with these considerations in mind.
The ministry also noted that social egg freezing could lead more Singaporeans to delay marriage or parenthood based on a misperception that they can have a child whenever they wish to.
"The risks of developing complications during pregnancy also increase with age, even if the child is conceived through a frozen egg," the ministry cautioned.
Speaking in Parliament in February, Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui suggested that laws could be introduced to address these considerations, including capping the age limit at 40 for social egg freezing, and making counselling mandatory for women who wish to go through the procedure so that they are fully informed of the financial costs and risks associated with it.
In a Facebook post last month, women's rights group Aware laid out its responses to some of the arguments that were in favour of the ban.
On ethical issues like whether social egg freezing erodes Asian family values and commodifies the experience of pregnancy, Aware questioned if the process was any different from other paths to parenthood such as IVF or adoption.
It also acknowledged that class bias can affect social egg freezing, since only women who can afford it would be able to tap this procedure, and that it was an individual solution to a social problem that women face of juggling primary caregiving obligations while trying to develop their careers.
Aware suggested an inclusive approach to make social egg freezing available to women from different walks of life with the support of subsidies, tackling structural issues at the workplace, and individual solutions like permitting the procedure.
Any future legislation on this procedure will have to balance and address these different views. While social egg freezing may not be a magic bullet that guarantees children, it does merit a closer look.
In my view, it gives young couples in Singapore more incentive to embrace parenthood and also offers women some reprieve from feeling like they have to take a zero-sum approach in having to decide between having a child and other milestones in their prime.