Baby making on ice: Egg freezing for busy women

egg-freezing

Geraldine Cary, Negosentro |  The proverbial biological clock is encouraging more and more women to preserve their reproductive potential and consider egg freezing as they live through their 30s either without a man they feel sure about, or so busy in their professional careers that having a baby is not viable yet.

Once considered an option only for those with serious medical conditions, egg freezing is now being offered as ‘fertility insurance’ for women who want to delay child bearing for any reason.

Often discussed in talks about motherhood, professional careers, and work-life balance, egg freezing is a tempting option for many women, who dream of becoming a mother but are worried that by the time they are ready for it, their eggs may not be viable.

Who is egg freezing for?

Also known as oocyte cryopreservation, egg freezing is considered by:

  • Women who want to preserve their good quality eggs to have children later because they haven’t yet found a suitable partner or for other personal reasons
  • Women who have been diagnosed with cancer and have been recommended  chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • Women who are already undergoing IVF treatment but do not want to consider embryo freezing due to moral or ethical reasons.

If you fall in any of the above categories, you might want to consult an infertility doctor now.

A friend of mine decided to freeze her eggs after she broke up with her long-time partner at the age of 33; she felt as if a weight was lifted off her shoulders.

How much does egg freezing cost?

Egg freezing, like all artificial reproductive methods, is an expensive process. It can cost up to $12,000 in the US and about £6,000 in the U.K., in addition to the yearly cost of storing the eggs at the clinic.

Companies like Apple and Facebook even offer egg freezing benefits to female employees to allow them to pursue professional goals without having to worry about the ageing eggs.

Savvy consumers, who find these costs exorbitant, travel across borders to work with renowned infertility experts at clinics in Asia and Europe. You can also opt for egg freezing in Mexico, Spain, India, or Thailand, and save thousands of dollars. But you have to bear in mind that if you freeze your eggs in, say India, you will also have to be prepared to get your IVF in India, as shipping of gametes is not always allowed and when it is, it can be a costly affair.

Countries like India and Thailand are able to offer these treatments at lower costs because the cost of living is low in these countries, and so are the medical expenses. But you must carefully select a reliable clinic before planning your infertility treatments overseas.

Fertility treatments are often emotional, expensive, and sometimes frustrating. You must take your time to find a doctor and clinic that supports you and delivers the right treatment while being within your financial means.

At what age should you freeze your eggs?

Any doctor will tell you that the earlier in life you freeze your eggs, the better it is. However, most women in their late 20s are not so worried about child bearing because egg quality is said to start declining in the mid-30s and they realize they still have a couple of years to have a baby naturally.

Experts believe that eggs collected in early 30s are likely to be much better quality than those collected after around 36 years of age, for most women.

There hasn’t been an official consensus on this but doctors mostly believe that 31-33 years is good time to freeze your eggs.

What happens in egg freezing?

Egg freezing involves the same stimulation process as in the IVF procedure (read: steps of IVF procedure). You may or may not be given birth control pills to suppress your natural hormones for about 3 weeks. Then you will be given hormonal injections for about 10 days. These will stimulate your ovaries to procedure more eggs.

Once matured adequately, the eggs will be retrieved with an ultrasound guided needle, inserted through your vagina. This procedure is done under anesthesia and is almost painless, although some women face mild discomfort.

The eggs are immediately frozen and kept in liquid nitrogen until the time you are ready for pregnancy. The frozen eggs will be thawed and mixed with sperm to fertilize them, and the resultant embryos will then be transferred to the uterus.

Risks

The most significant medical risks associated with egg freezing are generally related with the over stimulation of the ovaries—ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

In mild to moderate cases, the woman may feel nausea, headaches, stomach pain, breast tenderness, irritability and fatigue, which can all be controlled with proper care. However, in very rare instances (0.1%–2% of patients), the OHSS may be severe, resulting in uneasiness, shortness of breath, dehydration and vomiting that requires hospital admission. 

The risk of birth defects with the use of frozen eggs is no more than the same risks in natural conception, various studies have shown.

How many women actually opt for egg freezing?

Exact figures are not available, but according to a Daily Mail report, egg freezing went up 400% from 2014 to 2015 as more women chose their careers over motherhood.  

Eric Widra, MD, Chair of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) Practice Committee, also declared: “Oocyte cryopreservation is an exciting and improving technology, and should no longer be considered experimental. Pregnancy rates and health outcomes of the resulting children are now comparable to those of IVF with fresh eggs.”