Modern day science and technology has significantly changed one of the world’s most natural processes – pregnancy. Many couples are able to overcome fertility issues with in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy and a myriad of medications. It’s also easier to diagnose fertility issues to target the treatment.
Another growing trend is women waiting to have children until well into their 30s and even 40s. One thing that’s helping more women have children at an older age is egg freezing.
There are many reasons why women are choosing to delay motherhood. It’s easy to lose yourself in motherhood, and some women want to focus solely on their career before they start a family. Some women want to be financially secure before they add to their family. Others just haven’t found the right person to be a parent with yet.
Regardless of the reason for waiting, more and more women are deciding to freeze their eggs. If you’re curious about the process and how it can benefit you later down the road, this overview provides all of the essential information you need to know.
Process of Freezing Eggs
Put simply, egg freezing involves extracting eggs from a woman’s ovaries and storing them. Of course, it isn’t a simple one-stop shop kind of process. The specialists at Pacific BioStorage often remind women even the biorepository that’s used for storage needs to take steps to meet regulatory standards. The procedure itself isn’t complex, but there is a number of moving pieces throughout the process.
Here’s a rundown of how egg freezing works:
Egg Stimulation – Women must have hormones injections for 1-2 weeks to stimulate egg production so that several eggs can be retrieved at once. During this time your ovaries will also be monitored via ultrasound.
Egg Extraction – Egg retrieval is often compared to the first phase of IVF. The woman is given a mild anesthesia, and a long needle is used to puncture the vaginal wall. Once the needle is through a suction device on the end will remove eggs from the ovarian follicles. In total, the procedure usually takes about 10 minutes.
Egg Storage – In order to preserve the eggs, they have to be properly stored at subzero temperatures.
The Benefits of Freezing Eggs
The biggest benefit of freezing your eggs is you can basically stop the biological clock – at least one key component of it. The quality of a woman’s eggs declines with age. Quality refers to the egg’s ability to be fertilized, it’s ability to implant in the uterus and the likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities. This decline isn’t too bad until women reach their early 30s, but it becomes much more pronounced after age 35.
Women who decide to freeze their eggs at a younger age, in theory, should have more high quality eggs to use compared to waiting and getting pregnant naturally. This means there’s a lower risk of birth defects and miscarriage.
It can also increase your odds of having a baby. Doctors have found an egg that’s been frozen for years is more likely to lead to conception and birth than a fresh egg produced at an older age.
Some women are choosing to freeze their eggs out of necessity after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Women that are within their childbearing years and want to have children are usually advised to freeze their eggs in case the cancer treatments damage their ovaries.
The director of fertility preservation at New York University School of Medicine recently told PBS that three quarters of women choose to freeze their eggs because they haven’t found a partner yet. Some argue that egg freezing takes pressure off women to find a mate ASAP or settle on a partner because they hear their biological clock ticking.
However, more women are seeing egg freezing as a way to focus on their career or education whether or not they already have a partner. They see it as a way to establish both a high demand career and family rather than having to choose one or the other.
The Drawbacks of Freezing Eggs
Freezing your eggs gives you more control over your fertility and family life. However, some women are not good candidates for egg freezing. Just like any other fertilization procedure, it’s not right for everyone.
Even if you are a good candidate there are no guarantees that everything will go as planned and end in a successful pregnancy. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that a previously frozen egg has a 2-12% chance of resulting in a live birth. That’s why it’s highly recommended to freeze two dozen or more eggs.
Cost is another drawback for most people. Here’s a quick breakdown of typical costs:
- Egg Retrieval – $10,000
- Hormones for Ovary Simulation – $3,000-5,000
- Egg Storage – $500-$1,000 year
- Thawing, Fertilization and IVF – $3,500-5,000 per round
Time is also not completely on your side. Because the technology is so new, doctors aren’t sure how long eggs can be frozen and still result in a live birth. Studies have shown success up to four years after freezing, but only time will tell if that can be extended.
As with any medical procedure, there are a few risks involved. It’s rare, but infections can occur from the needle puncture. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is also possible while taking the hormones. OHSS causes the ovaries to swell, which leads to pain, nausea and vomiting. In some cases fluid has to be removed from the ovaries using a needle.
Egg freezing gives women one more option for how and when they start a family. But you need to seriously weight the benefits and drawbacks before deciding if putting your eggs on ice is the best decision.