Understanding the basics of egg freezing
The ticking “biological clock” is a stressor that has likely crossed your mind if you’re planning to get pregnant in the future. The amount of contradictory information about age-related infertility doesn’t help. From people (both well-intentioned and not) saying that women are only fertile until 30 to all the anecdotes of people getting pregnant well into their 40s, it’s so easy to get confused. Despite a growing percentage of women choosing to delay having children, many —regardless of what they learned in school — feel that they don’t know enough about fertility or family planning to make the best decisions for themselves. After all, it was rarely a problem in the past, where many women started their families in their twenties.
Egg freezing (A.K.A. oocyte cryopreservation, where eggs are retrieved and frozen for future use) is an increasingly popular option for people looking to preserve their fertility. Previously, it was mostly used to support patients diagnosed with fertility-threatening diseases such as cancer, and was considered “experimental” until the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted that label in 2013. But is “elective egg freezing” (egg freezing for “non-medical” reasons) the right option for every person concerned about their future fertility?
Why do people freeze their eggs?
In decades past, many started their families in their 20s, but with society’s shift towards more women in the workplace, there’s been a corresponding move for pregnancy to come later in life. That’s part of the reason we now see large companies like Facebook and Google now offering egg freezing as a benefit to female employees. But most people who pursue egg freezing do so because they have not yet found a suitable and ready partner. What the decision to freeze your eggs comes down to, ultimately, is the desire to combat future infertility. Egg freezing allows you to hit pause on egg aging and use your younger, healthier eggs later to conceive.
What is the optimal age for egg freezing?
The “ideal age” for egg freezing doesn’t look the same for everyone. But in general, the earlier you can consult a fertility specialist to discuss your options, the better. If you don’t have any health conditions that may lead to infertility, there’s some flexibility when it comes to timing of the procedure, depending on your priorities. If your highest priority is securing your best chances of successful pregnancy, you’ll want to consider freezing your eggs before the age of 34, ideally between 25 and 30. That said, it’s an expensive procedure and maybe you’d like more time to see how life plays out before committing to the cost. In that case, you may prefer waiting until you’re 35 to 37 to freeze your eggs. But there is a limit on how far out to push it: one study indicated that 39 years may be the “last call” to freeze your eggs before it’s no longer worth the investment.(1) Egg freezing past this age will likely lead to especially disappointing outcomes.
What does the egg freezing process entail?
Egg freezing requires a time commitment of about two weeks. This period will involve frequent visits to the clinic for monitoring as well as self-administered injections with medications to promote egg production. The latter is called ovarian stimulation and it can be stressful and uncomfortable. Your mood might be all over the place, due to hormonal changes (sex hormones will skyrocket above normal levels during this time!). Once your eggs are ready, a minor surgical procedure requiring anesthesia is performed to retrieve eggs from both ovaries. The laboratory will then assess the eggs and the ones determined to be mature will then be frozen. At several points during this process, you’ll need assistance or accompaniment, so it’s important to have a solid support system in place.
Egg freezing does involve some potential risks (though they’re rare). The ovarian stimulation protocol carries the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (resulting in swollen, painful ovaries that can leak fluid into the body) and ovarian torsion (where the ovary twists around the structure holding it in place). With egg retrieval being a surgical procedure, risks include bleeding, infection, and reactions to the anesthesia. If you’re worried about any of these risks, you should talk them through with your doctor before you get started.
How much does egg freezing cost?
Unfortunately, the egg freezing process isn’t cheap. Prices vary by clinic and often wind up exceeding the advertised price, but you’ll likely pay at least $10,000 USD for a single cycle. Depending on your ovarian reserve, you may need multiple cycles to get enough mature eggs. There’s also the annual storage fee, which could be $500 to $1,000. Later, you’ll need to go through IVF to make use of your eggs (they’ll be fertilized with sperm to make embryos that can then be transferred to your uterus). IVF can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 per cycle, depending on where you live and what your needs are.
Is egg freezing right for you?
Egg freezing is a solid option if you’re looking for more reproductive freedom. It grants you time to build a life that you believe is suitable for raising children, which may lead to healthier and happier families in the long run. However, it’s not the best option for everyone and above all, it’s one that demands careful planning. It’s important that you go into it fully informed and with a realistic understanding about your chances of success, based on thorough consultation with your doctor.
Whether you see egg freezing as a form of empowerment or as more of an insurance policy, ultimately, it’s a medical procedure that comes with its share of advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to you as the patient to decide whether it’s worth it. Being as informed as possible can help you choose what’s right for you.
Read Next: Will I regret my decision to freeze my eggs?
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