Tennis star Sloane Stephens wants pro athletes to be able to freeze their eggs without impacts on their rankings

Sloane Stephens opens up about freezing her eggs
Courtesy of Kindbody

When you’re a professional athlete, “your body is your vehicle to do your job,” American pro tennis player Sloane Stephens says. And having climbed the rankings faster than any other athlete in tennis history, she understands this reality intimately. On the court, in 2018, Stephens was ranked No. 3 in the world after Wimbledon. She was the 2017 US Open champion—and has won seven Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour singles titles and one doubles title. She won an ESPY for best female tennis player and recently competed in the French Open. But when your body is fundamental to your job, it’s challenging to take a break—and even harder to take a longer leave of absence to freeze your eggs.

As an athlete, doing so can mean you’ll lose your ranking spot—unless you’re eligible for a protected ranking, which allows players who have missed significant time (typically due to injury or recently, pregnancy) to use their previous ranking to enter tournaments, rather than having their ranking drop due to inactivity.

Now, as the only pro-level tennis player who has been open about freezing her eggs, Stephens has been advocating to implement egg freezing as a protected activity. Under this, top players can take a brief leave of absence while having their rankings protected for three months.

Stephens is a stepmom and hopes to expand her family one day, but a grueling competition schedule and career priorities made it challenging to commit, she tells Motherly. “Like many women who are focused on building their careers, I was always moving onto the immediate next thing to succeed. When I was approaching 30, newly married, and navigating some health challenges, I assessed every aspect of my life and how I wanted to enter the new decade,” she says. “I kept going back to the Oprah quote that you can have it all, but not all at once.”

She always had her eyes set on freezing her eggs, she explains, recognizing that the journey to family building can take many different forms. “While more and more female athletes are having babies and returning to the tour, which is incredible, that’s not the path I saw for myself, especially as I’d already had a long absence in 2016-2017 after a foot injury that threatened to end my career,” Stephens says.

She booked an appointment at Kindbody to start exploring the process of egg freezing. “I loved how transparent and welcoming the process was and how they were able to manage the various appointments at different locations based on my whereabouts. I felt fully supported and like I found a partner for the long term,” Stephens says.

In a partnership with Kindbody, Stephens is sharing her egg-freezing journey publicly for the first time, with the aim of empowering women to take control of their future by making informed decisions about their fertility and reproductive health.

But the road isn’t easy, as anyone who has gone through egg freezing knows: there’s lab work, appointments, injections, anesthesia and recovery involved. Stephens only gets one window per year in her off-season when she could make the long retrieval timeline happen. As a pro tennis player, she has extra requirements to ensure compliance with WTA rules. “I’m required to provide my daily whereabouts for drug testing and also to submit any potential substances entering my body for pre-approval,” she says. “There is no more important task—and the entire Kindbody team took this very seriously, which will hopefully make it easier for the next player to go through this process!”

Stephens hopes that every WTA athlete can have the career security to plan for their future while being supported in their current career, in the same way that many corporate workplaces and industries are promoting today. “I think it’s even of heightened importance for athletes,” she shares, given the physical nature of their work. Having served on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Council for five years, Stephens is ready to use her platform to open doors for others.

“The WTA’s founding legacy is as pioneers for women’s equality in sport and society, and I think with advances in technology and accessibility, fertility is that next frontier, and I hope other leagues and sports follow our lead,” she shares. 

With another off-season approaching, Stephens is planning another retrieval cycle to maximize her chances. “I’ve already started discussing this with my team and my Kindbody medical team so we can learn from the last process and make sure my off-season and training blocks are timed well,” she says.

And Stephens hopes more female athletes across different sports will have the same opportunity. It’s just about having options, she says. “It is really important to me that the women on tour feel that they are supported as whole individuals and not just athletes. I want to ensure we all have ample information to make decisions about our bodies, careers, and feel supported in whatever that decision is.”