Egg freezing (also known as oocyte cryopreservation) gives ladies who will undergo cancer treatments or who’d like to devote more time to their career (or who just haven’t found suitable baby daddy material) the opportunity to put fertility on ice, so to speak. Like many new medical trends, this treatment option is controversial. After reading this blog, tell us your thoughts!
Why would you think about it?
You’ve probably heard that fertility begins to decrease in your late 20s and early 30s. The main reason for this is that your eggs’ quality and quantity start to go down as you age. But you may not want to start a family until later. Egg freezing is a fairly reliable – but pricey – alternative to worrying about that biological clock until you’re in a situation where you’re ready to have a baby. So, if you freeze your eggs at age 32, but you decide to get pregnant at 42, you’re using a 32 year old’s eggs, which have less chance of chromosomal abnormalities and a higher chance of fertility than your 42 year old self’s eggs. This means less chance of birth defects or miscarriage.
When should you do it?
If freezing your eggs is a choice, rather than due to medical necessity, that’s a very personal decision. Here are some things to consider:
- GENETICS: Your best reproductive years are in your early twenties. The younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the better quality those eggs will be when they are thawed in the future. Generally, fertility begins to drop in your late 20s or early 30s and falls more rapidly after the age of 35.
- MONEY: Egg freezing is not cheap. The younger a woman is when she freezes her eggs, the less likely she will ever need to thaw and use them in the future.
- GENETICS + MONEY: For women who are cost conscious but who want to freeze eggs in order to attempt to extend their fertility, some infertility specialists feel that the maximum cost-effectiveness for egg freezing is at about age 34-37. Other fertility doctors feel that women should freeze their eggs before their late 30s.
If egg freezing sounds like something you might be interested in, what are your next steps?
- Be aware of the cost. Costs will vary by facility, and some facilities have payment plans. Some insurance companies will assist with costs, and some companies now offer egg freezing as a part of their benefits package.
- Egg freezing/ medication: $10,000- $12,000
- Annual storage fee: $500- $1000
- Fee to thaw/ fertilize with IVF/ transfer the fertilized egg into the uterus: $6,000
(Of note, this is the cost for one cycle…you might need more than one cycle.)
- Schedule an appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist to discuss the process. The process itself is quite similar to routine IVF, and one cycle usually takes about 4-6 weeks to complete. Here is a very basic description of the typical process:
- Your doctor performs blood tests and an ultrasound to make sure that you and your eggs are good candidates.
- If those tests look ok, your doctor will let you know whether you can start treatment that month. Sometimes, you are instructed to take birth control pills for a short period of time before starting treatment.
- (Let’s assume you plan to start treatment the next month.) On the first day of your next menstrual cycle, you call the fertility nurse; she will ask you to come in for more blood work and an ultrasound on day three of that menstrual cycle.
- You will start a 10-12 day course of fertility drug injections, with frequent (but short) office visits and ultrasounds/ blood tests to determine if you need adjustments to your medication doses. (The injection needles are super small!)
- Once your ultrasound shows a good number of mature eggs, your egg retrieval will be scheduled.
- The procedure, which is often done under light sedation, is not painful. Your eggs are removed with a needle placed through the vagina under ultrasound guidance. The eggs are then immediately frozen. The procedure takes about 20-30 minutes, and you are usually discharged 1-3 hours after the procedure is completed.
- When you are ready to attempt pregnancy (this can be several years later), your eggs are thawed, injected with a single sperm to achieve fertilization, and transferred into your uterus as an embryo. It is believed that long-term storage of frozen eggs does not result in any decrease in quality.
You and your doctor will determine how many eggs you should freeze.
- Eggs might not survive freezing and thawing.
- There’s no guarantee. You can do everything right, and you still won’t necessarily walk away with a baby when you decide to thaw and fertilize your eggs.
- Rarely, injectable fertility drugs can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which the ovaries can be swollen or painful after ovulation or egg retrieval.
- Egg retrieval procedure complications are rare, but they can happen when the needle causes bleeding or infection by piercing the bowel, bladder, or blood vessel. Some procedures require general anesthesia, which is always an added risk.
Do your research before deciding to freeze your eggs. It can give you the flexibility to devote more time to your career or studies and less to finding mate material, but it is a major investment and not without risks. If you want more information, ask your OB/GYN to recommend a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist. Don’t forget to tell us your thoughts in the comments section! #DrNita