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Answers to All Your Questions About Egg Freezing and Fertility As You Age

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Photo: Shutterstock / bezikus

Egg freezing has become an empowering way for women to buy time and start a family on their own terms. Over the past few years, the procedure gained popularity with actresses such as Olivia Munn, who has talked about using the fertility option and encouraged other women to consider it, too. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook have even started covering egg freezing in their benefits packages. (Related: What Ob-Gyns Wish Women Knew About Their Fertility)

As more and more women are having families later in life, it makes sense that they're looking for backup options like egg freezing to make sure their baby-making window of opportunity stays open. But the decision is a lot more complicated than just calling up your local fertility clinic. That's why we caught up with Carolyn Givens, M.D., an ob-gyn from the Pacific Fertility Center, to answer some must-know questions about freezing your eggs.

Shape: Who should freeze their eggs?

Dr. Givens: Women, particularly single women, might want to consider egg freezing whenever they've purposefully chosen to delay having children. For instance, women in their mid to late 30s, who are not in a committed relationship, but know they want to have children should look into the option. As well as women who are in a committed relationship but aren't quite ready for kids or sure they want them. Also, younger women who want to have a large family may also consider egg freezing. (Related: Physical Therapy Can Increase Fertility and Help In Getting Pregnant)

A group of women we often forget about while having this conversation are those undergoing medical treatments. Chemotherapy, for example, can do a lot of damage to eggs. The same goes for any other illness that may affect future fertility, including endometriosis, polycystic ovaries or other ovulation disorders, or evidence of a decreased ovarian reserve—aka the number of eggs you have at birth. (P.S. According to a new study, the number of eggs in your ovaries has nothing to do with your chances of getting pregnant.)

Shape: When should I start thinking about freezing my eggs?

Dr. Givens: A woman freezing her eggs by her mid 30s is more likely to have a chance of getting pregnant than a woman approaching her 40s. At the same time, it's important to note that when a woman is 25, already only roughly 50 percent of the eggs in her body will be chromosomally normal, meaning they have a high chance of being fertilized and growing to term without any issues. By 35, that number drops to 25 percent for the same outcome. So in an ideal world, the earlier you make a decision, the better.

(Quick biology recap: The average baby girl is born with about 300,000 egg cells, and that's all she'll ever have, as previously reported in "Is the Extreme Cost of IVF for Women In America Really Necessary?" And by age 30, 95 percent of women will have just 12 percent of egg cells left—and only 3 percent by the time they're 40, according to a British study.)

For most women, egg freezing is less likely to be successful once they hit their 40s. I try to give my patients an estimate of how many eggs she might need to freeze per baby effort, based mainly on her age. Her ovarian reserve hormone levels and a count of follicles seen on an ultrasound in her ovaries helps me estimate how many cycles she may need to do to accomplish that goal. (Related: Fertility Myths: Separating Fact from Fiction)

Shape: How much does it cost to freeze your eggs?

Dr. Givens: Cost can vary significantly based on a lot of factors, including how many cycles someone might need. The fertility clinic you choose and where you live will also have an impact on how much you end up spending. The best thing women can do is to educate themselves and understand what's included with any egg-freezing procedure. Ideally, what you pay up-front should include medications, monitoring, retrieval, laboratory costs, and storage. (On average, the cost of egg freezing typically falls within the price range of $5,000 and $10,000. There are also additional costs associated with pre-procedure medications and annual storage fees.) 

Shape: What does the process look like?

Dr. Givens: The first step in the egg-freezing process is to generate multiple eggs for retrieval. So a physician will prescribe the patient with fertility medication to stimulate follicle growth and produce as many eggs as possible. Once on these medications, patients will come in for a series of ultrasounds and lab tests. A physician will monitor you on a regular basis to assess follicle growth and the number of eggs being produced. When follicles are mature and ready for retrieval, you stop taking the fertility medication and switch to an ovulation trigger—a hormone that brings on the final phase of egg maturation.

Next up is the egg retrieval. During this painless and relatively brief procedure, your doctor uses an ultrasound to help guide a tiny needle into the follicles to gather the eggs. You will be sedated during the process and in the care of an anesthesiologist throughout the procedure. After the eggs are retrieved, they are immediately sent to be preserved, such as through a rapid freezing process called vitrification. Eggs remain frozen until they are ready to be fertilized. 

Shape: Is this the future of family planning?

Dr. Givens: I would say yes. Either way, women should consider their fertility a critical part of their health and educate themselves on their options—whether that's freezing their eggs or something else.

 

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