When you were younger, you may have had a vision of what your life would be like when you were older. You’d finish your schooling, land your dream job, find a loving partner and maybe have children.
But life doesn’t always go according to plan. Things change, and people change. Maybe you’re not ready yet to have kids. Maybe you’re still on the hunt for a partner. Maybe you and your partner got an unexpected medical diagnosis, putting having a family in flux.
Then suddenly in your 20s and 30s you find yourself on the receiving end of targeted social media ads about fertility and egg freezing (Were “they” listening?!). These ads urge you to freeze your eggs while you’re still young rather than waiting until those eggs are near or past their expiration date.
Or maybe some of your friends are discussing freezing their eggs, and you’re surprised. You may not have ever thought that you would need, or want, to freeze your eggs.
Though egg freezing isn’t a new procedure, social egg freezing, a term used to describe a practice of freezing your eggs for non-medical reasons, is on the rise.
Which begs the question: Is it time to chill … your eggs?
“There are many reasons someone in their 20s or 30s might be thinking about egg freezing (mature oocyte cryopreservation), whether for medical or elective reasons,” said Christopher Danielson, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center. “Egg freezing can help preserve fertility but making the decision to freeze your eggs can be a bit more complicated than it might initially sound.”
While choosing whether or not to freeze your eggs is an incredibly personal decision (and a financial one), there is a lot of confusion about the process. To help set it straight, Dr. Danielson discussed how egg freezing works and what to consider in deciding if this is the way to go.
First, how does egg freezing work?
Egg freezing is a process of harvesting your eggs and freezing them so you can attempt pregnancy at a later date through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Once you decide on egg freezing, you go through some of the same initial steps as those who undergo an IVF cycle:
- Step one: You will be given fertility medicines that boost egg production. The hormones injected help your ovaries mature several eggs at once, instead of just one. This is called ovary stimulation.
- Step two: When your eggs are mature, the eggs will be extracted from the ovaries. This is normally done on an outpatient basis through a painless procedure performed while you are sedated.
- Step three: After the eggs have been retrieved, the eggs are frozen until you’re ready to try to get pregnant (in the future).
- Step four: When you’re ready to try for pregnancy, the eggs are thawed and combined with sperm. Any embryos that develop are then transferred to the uterus for implantation.
When should I consider freezing my eggs?
Egg freezing was once reserved for women with serious illnesses, but today it has become a way for healthy women to extend their own fertility. Egg freezing also allows you not to rush into finding a partner, or worse, stay in an unhealthy one because you think it’s your only chance for a baby.
But you’ll want to freeze them sooner than later. The younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the better your chances of pregnancy through this process.
“When you’re born, you have millions of oocytes, or immature eggs,” Dr. Danielson said. “By the onset of puberty this drops to 200,000 and by age 37 there is an accelerated rate of egg loss. There is also an increased risk for chromosomal abnormalities that prevent conception, increase miscarriage rates or increase the risk that the baby will be born with congenital disabilities.”
The best way to know if egg freezing might be a good fit for you is to have a chat with your health care provider or a reproductive endocrinologist/fertility specialist.
“If you’re concerned about your fertility, a reproductive endocrinologist can perform imaging and blood work to determine your egg quantity and quality, in addition to predicting how well you might respond to hormone injection therapy and how your ovaries are functioning,” Dr. Danielson said.
[Also read “Common Fertility Tests on the Road to Pregnancy.”]
How many eggs are frozen?
The number of eggs frozen will depend on the person and the number of viable eggs developed during ovarian stimulation.
“Some patients may require only one cycle while others may require more than one cycle,” Dr. Danielson said. “This depends on their ovarian reserve (the number of immature eggs their ovary has) and the body’s reaction to ovarian stimulation. The mother’s age and the quality of the eggs also play a role.”
What should I consider before egg freezing?
If you’re considering egg freezing here are four important things to know before you decide to freeze your eggs.
1. Egg freezing can be expensive or cost-prohibitive
If you’re considering egg freezing, it’s good to get a better understanding of the costs of the procedure (and storage) and what your insurance may or may not cover.
Currently, fewer than half of U.S. states require insurance companies to supply coverage for infertility treatments. And even for those that do, it doesn’t mean coverage is free. You also have to qualify for coverage.
Without insurance, egg freezing can range from $10,000 to $20,000 per cycle, which includes medication, visits and the procedure to remove the eggs. It doesn’t, however, include the yearly storage fee for your frozen eggs, which can run between $400 to $800. In addition, you’ll also want to factor in the cost of IVF if you decide to use the eggs down the road.
2. You may experience some side effects
Everyone’s body is different, but you may experience some bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, moodiness and other symptoms you might normally experience during your period.
Another rare but potentially serious side effect you might experience is something called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a reaction to the fertility medication that promotes ovulation. This can cause nausea, vomiting, pain and a buildup of fluid.
3. There’s no guarantee of successful pregnancy
Like with other fertility treatments, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have success getting pregnant later on. “Success rates vary from approximately 25% to a little over 50%,” Dr. Danielson said.
While this can be disheartening news, this would also be the case if you hadn’t frozen them and waited. But giving yourself options can give you a bit more peace of mind.
“It’s important to understand both the benefits and limitations of this process and be prepared to handle the emotional toll this can potentially have on you,” Dr. Danielson said.
4. Have a plan for your frozen eggs
As more people postpone childbearing for social reasons and freeze their eggs, new research reveals that most eggs don’t end up being used later on.
If you choose not to use your frozen eggs, you have several options to consider in addition to disposing of them. You can:
- Donate to an infertile couple
- Donate to science
- Keep the eggs frozen in case you change your mind
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when making decisions about your fertility. While having a baby isn’t in your current plan today, your health care provider can help you take concrete steps now so you can get an idea of whether or not egg freezing is something you might want to consider.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.