Thinking about egg freezing? Here are seven important things to know about the fertility option
Now that Facebook and Apple are paying for female employees to freeze their eggs, it's possible they're at the forefront of a medical coverage trend. And as more companies cough up the dough for this pricey fertility-preserving procedure, more women may consider having their now-healthy eggs frozen for a future when they're ready to have children. Egg freezing, (officially known as oocyte cryopreservation) theoretically freezes the eggs in time by flash-freezing them, has been around since 2006, but it's no sure thing. We asked reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, Shahin Ghadir, M.D., of the Southern California Reproductive Center to share the most important things to know if you’re considering the process.
It should come as no shock that the younger your eggs, the better your chances of pregnancy success. Waiting until age 40 to have your eggs frozen is comparable to trying to get pregnant at 40, Ghadir says. (In other words, it's kind of a long shot.) The optimal age? Your 20s. But 20-somethings aren't lining up for the process: Ghadir can count on one hand the number of women who've actually had this procedure before reaching 30. The good news is, your age alone may not be a deal breaker. Initial testing determines if egg freezing is a viable option for you—one 42-year-old may very well be a better candidate than another 35-year-old, Ghadir says. To find out what really impacts your chances of pregnancy, check out these fertility myths.
Perhaps the largest obstacle for most women is the hefty price tag. Ghadir estimates the total price to be about $10,000, plus $500 per year for storage, so it’s no surprise that single women in their 20s aren’t lining up to invest in their future fertility as much as (the presumably more established) 30 and 40 somethings.
There’s also the time commitment to consider. The entire process—from the first visit to the time the eggs are retrieved—takes roughly two weeks. You’ll need to make about four visits to the clinic for ultrasounds to check your ovaries, and blood tests to check estrogen levels to ensure your eggs are healthy. You can save some money (and time) by having the preliminary ultrasound and blood tests done by your normal gynecologist before visiting a fertility specialist.
As with the old-fashioned way, there’s no guarantee that egg freezing will lead to a pregnancy when all is said and done. While all mature eggs that are retrieved get frozen, you won't know which, if any, are viable until you go to use the eggs. However, it’s important to note that egg freezing can't hurt your odds either: It won't decrease your fertility or impact your chances of conceiving naturally down the road, Ghadir says.
Leading up to the egg retrieval, self-administered hormone injections are required daily, in order to stimulate the ovaries and allow you to produce more eggs. According to Ghadir, the injection is delivered via a very small needle, which most women can’t even feel. The actual egg-retrieval procedure is done under intravenous sedation (so you really won’t feel a thing) and requires no incisions—a special hollow needle with a suction device goes through the vaginal wall and sucks the egg into a test tube—and virtually no recovery, although Ghadir recommends taking it easy on the cardio for the next week, since your ovaries will be enlarged.
Good news: No one will get their hands on your eggs before you do (don't believe everything you see on Law & Order: SVU). Your eggs are kept in special freezers in a secured area of the medical facility with back-up generators and an alarm system, so even the docs can’t get at your eggs if they wanted to, Ghadir says.
All fertility clinics are not created equal. Before choosing which to go to for the procedure, check out the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) website, which provides success rates and establishes and maintains standards for fertility clinics. An important question to ask: Has the clinic ever had a successful pregnancy by someone who has used a frozen egg? All reputable clinics should answer yes, Ghadir says.