Many women dream of having a family from the time they are children themselves. But sometimes life’s circumstances disrupt the timetable to start a family when you are young and fertile. Medical conditions, career demands or just not meeting the right partner can delay childbearing. And the biological clock keeps ticking.
Some women have started turning to oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, for fertility preservation. It’s increasing in popularity among urban women in their 30s who can afford the treatment. More employers are offering egg freezing as an employee benefit, so women employees don’t have to choose between a high-powered career and having children. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests more women freeze their eggs because they haven’t met “Mr. Right” yet than out of career motivation. Why consider egg freezing? Does it work to preserve your fertility?
Age and Your Eggs
The major reason most women become infertile is age. Female fertility begins declining slowly from its peak in your 20s. The decline sharply accelerates in your mid-30s, until the chance of becoming pregnant with your own eggs is minimal at around age 45. This decline is driven by your eggs. As you grow older, the quantity and quality of your eggs, known as your ovarian reserve, declines.
Women who are in their early to mid-30s and still have good egg quality but are not ready or able to have a child can consider egg freezing and storage to “stop the clock” on the aging of their eggs. When a woman uses her frozen eggs, even years later, both the pregnancy rate and the chances of miscarriage are based on the age she was when the eggs were frozen.
How Does Egg Freezing Work?
Egg freezing begins with stimulating your ovaries to produce eggs, called ovulation. This fertility treatment involves using hormone injections to make your ovaries produce many more mature eggs than the one that would be released in a natural cycle. The reproductive endocrinologist at your fertility clinic will extract the eggs from your ovaries to harvest them. The eggs can then be frozen and thawed when needed, and mixed with sperm to produce embryos in the lab.
Vitrification is a recent technique which has increased the success of freezing eggs. It’s an ultra-rapid freezing method which results in better survival, fertilization and embryonic growth than earlier methods. Some fertility clinics have seen an increase in the rate of survival of frozen eggs, as high as 80 percent, and in fertilization rates of these eggs, also as high as 80 percent, since using vitrification.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recently lifted the “experimental” label from egg freezing for women with medically indicated needs. For cancer patients ASRM concluded that the pregnancy rates were similar with fresh eggs and with eggs frozen by vitrification.
Is Egg Freezing Right for You?
There is little comprehensive data available on success rates for using frozen eggs, largely because the procedure is so new here in the U.S. ASRM does not yet recommend using egg freezing to delay childbearing. It’s important to remember, too, that you must have at least one IVF treatment to use your frozen eggs down the road, and possibly will need multiple cycles in order to have enough viable eggs.
ASRM recommends that anyone considering egg freezing should be counseled about the clinic’s history and success rates, as well as the risks, costs and other alternatives. Egg freezing fees vary greatly from clinic to clinic, ranging from $7,000 to $15,000, plus the cost of the fertility drugs required to stimulate ovulation. Storage fees of about $500 per year are another expense. If you’re looking to freeze your eggs because you have to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, costs may be lower, and assistance programs are available.
Egg freezing may help you keep your options open longer to have a child of your own, but there’s no guarantee that it will work for you. Only you can determine if this is the right choice for you.