Egg Freezing and You

photo by Dawen Allyn

Karen is 33 and just not ready to have a child right now, but she is convinced she wants to have a biological child in the next five to ten years. Cori has cancer and at 24, is expected to make a full recovery. She may well lose ovarian function either surgically, through chemotherapy or radiation exposure. There is hope for both women: Karen and Cori may be able to have their eggs retrieved and frozen for later use.

Freeze my what?

It's basic biology. Unlike sperm, which men keep making for years, women start out with a finite number of eggs. And the older they get, the more quality of their eggs decline, making childbearing after age 35 more difficult and risky. For the past twenty years, researchers have been trying to get around the issue and prolong a woman's ability to conceive. How? By taking out her eggs when she's younger so they can be fertilized and implanted when the woman is ready to have children. Egg freezing is also known as oocyte cryopreservation.

Come and Get Them

Egg freezing is not as easy as making an outpatient doctor's visit to have your eggs removed. Preparing for egg freezing is a major commitment of time, money and energy.

First, you will have to undergo testing to determine if you are a good candidate for egg freezing. Clinics are generally looking for women to be able to produce sixteen eggs in a given cycle. Of course, no one produces that many eggs a month naturally, so you'll be pumping yourself full of hormones and going to the doctor every other day for weeks for ultrasounds, blood work and, ultimately, egg retrieval.

But there's a lot that researchers don't know about the process and there are risks involved with egg freezing. Doctors don't know how many eggs is ideal. They don't know the long-term risks of putting your body through such a rigorous process.

Paying the Price

Egg freezing is not cheap. Christy Jones, CEO of Extend Fertility, a company that links women who want to freeze their eggs with clinics that provide the service, cites the cost at about $13,000 per cycle. Don't expect insurance to foot the bill, either. Once eggs are removed, the clinic will need to store them until ready for use. Somebody's gotta pay to keep the power on, and that means you. Plus, you'll need to pay to have them thrown back in when you're ready.

Watching Over Your Eggs

The Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine recommends asking these questions of clinics you are considering for egg freezing:

  • How many live births has the program had?
  • What is the average number of eggs cryopreserved to produce a live birth?
  • What is the cost of the procedure including medications and annual ongoing cryopreservation storage fees?
  • Are there any means to recoup some of the costs of the procedure should I choose not to use my eggs?

No Money-Back Guarantee

Don't put all your eggs in this basket. (Bad pun, I know) The American Society of Reproductive Medicine agrees, stating in its latest paper on the subject: "There is not yet sufficient data to recommend oocyte cryopreservation for the sole purpose of circumventing reproductive aging in healthy women."

Their main concern? Doctors fear the practice of egg freezing may lead to exploitation by giving women false hope, because there is insufficient evidence to prove they will have a successful pregnancy afterwards.

The egg is a large cell with high water content, and is therefore prone to ice crystal damage. It is the prevention of this ice crystal formation that is critical for a successful egg freezing. During the egg-collecting procedure, doctors typically retrieve 10 to 12 eggs, but some of these will not survive the freezing, storage and thawing process. At best, the chance of a woman having a live birth from a single thawed out egg is just 2%.

Is egg freezing right for me?

Should a college graduate intent on medical school and then ten more years or post-doctorate training consider egg freezing? Maybe. It's not right for everyone. It's not without risks and there is no promise of a take-home baby at the end of this rainbow.

Do your homework, find excellent physicians and pay for the best advice you can get before you inject the first shot of hormones into your hip. But for some women, egg freezing might just be the best decision they ever make.

Dive Deeper

Related Articles

Egg Freezing References

Ethical issues surrounding the cryopreservation of human oocytes . Fertility and Sterility , Volume 88 , Issue 4 , Pages 1016–1016 J . Barritt , M . Luna , M . Duke , A . Copperman

Oocyte freezing: here to stay? Josiane Van der Elst, Infertility Centre, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185/2P3, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium


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