If you’re considering egg freezing, you should know exactly what egg freezing can and can’t do for you, what the egg freezing process entails, your options if you choose to freeze (or not) and the risks, success rates, and costs of the procedure. Egg freezing can be a promising option for some, but it’s not a decision to take lightly.
Social & Elective Egg Freezing
To understand social or elective egg freezing, you need to understand normal ovarian aging. A person with ovaries is born with all the eggs they will ever have. With age, the number of eggs in the ovary naturally decreases.
The process of ovarian aging begins before birth. A 20-week old female fetus has between 6 and 7 million eggs in her ovaries. When that baby is born, the number has already decreased to just over 1 million. This is very different from males, whose reproductive systems post-puberty create an estimated 250 million new sperm cells daily. The ovaries cannot produce new eggs! As you get older, eggs decrease not only in quantity but also in quality. This is why there is a higher risk of miscarriage for a 37-year-old compared to a 27-year-old.
YOU DON’T NEED TO WANT TO HAVE KIDS TO FREEZE YOUR EGGS – CLICK HERE
Ideally, from a purely biological perspective, if a person with ovaries wants to have genetically related children, they should start trying to have those kids before age 35. Before age 30 is even better. But many people are not ready, able, or prepared to have kids by 30. This is where elective egg freezing comes in. If, for example, a 30-year-old knows they don’t want to or can’t start having kids for another ten years, they can choose to have some eggs cryopreserved.
Later, they can try to get pregnant the regular way. If they conceive on their own, great! However, if they struggle to get pregnant, a fertility specialist can take those frozen eggs and use them to hopefully help them conceive via IVF treatment.
The cryopreserved eggs will be of higher quality than any eggs retrieved 10 or more years later. Those frozen “younger” eggs will be more likely to become fertilised, more likely to produce healthier embryos, and more likely to lead to clinical pregnancy and live birth. In some ways, it’s like becoming an egg donor to your future self.
Elective Egg Freezing Is A New Thing!
Elective “fertility preservation” is new, but egg freezing is not. Egg freezing for medical reasons has been around for decades. The first live birth resulting from a formerly cryopreserved egg occurred in 1986. Until recently, egg freezing was restricted to medical indications only.
Medical reasons including:
- During conventional IVF treatment, if for whatever reason sperm is not available on the day of retrieval, eggs may be cryopreserved.
- Family history or genetic condition that may cause premature ovarian failure also known as primary ovarian insufficiency.
- Pre-cancer treatment. Some cancer treatments damage the ovaries.
Earlier egg freezing methods were less successful. They used a “slow-freeze” process that sometimes formed ice crystals in the eggs. The ice crystals damaged the eggs and made them unusable. This was better than nothing for those with medical problems, since the only other option was to have no chance and no eggs.
Then, a new method of egg freezing was developed. Known as vitrification, this super-quick freezing process doesn’t allow ice crystals to form. Eggs cryopreserved with vitrification have a much better survival rate. In other words, they are more likely to get through the freezing, thawing, and fertilisation process than slow-frozen eggs.
At first, vitrification of eggs was considered experimental. Then, in 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the experimental label. While the ASRM doesn’t recommend marketing egg freezing for the purposes of delaying childbearing, the removal of the experimental label led some fertility clinics to start offering elective egg freezing.
Non-Medical Reasons For Why People Freeze Their Eggs
The most common reasons to choose elective egg freezing include:
- Career or educational goals
- Ethical issues with embryo freezing – they have a partner and could freeze embryos, but prefer not to
- Lifestyle or travel plans
- Not having found the right partner (this is the number one reason, according to the research)
6 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU FREEZE YOUR EGGS
1. Freeze Your Eggs When You’re Young – But Not Too Young
The highest live birth rates from previously frozen eggs are shown to come from women who undergo the procedure before they are 30. However, the average age at which women freeze their eggs is around 37, with many women freezing their eggs in their late 30s and early 40s.
For the best chance of success at a live birth in the future, it is best to freeze your eggs before you are 36. By doing so, the eggs stored may still be of a sufficient quality for freezing and you are more likely to use them in the future. Although freezing your eggs in your early 20s may result in a good number of high quality eggs being frozen, you are unlikely to know at this age if you will ever need to use them, and you may, instead, conceive naturally. By freezing your eggs at a slightly older age but before fertility starts to decline, such as in your early 30s, you will be more likely to make use of your frozen reserve and therefore not undergo a costly procedure unnecessarily.
2. Egg Storage Time
Another reason why women may not want to freeze their eggs when they are too young, such as in their 20s is because AUS & UK regulation only permits eggs to remain frozen for ten years. You can obtain an extension to the storage period, allowing the eggs to remain frozen for up to 55 years, but only if you can demonstrate that you have become prematurely infertile.
A word of warning: if you experience normal age-related fertility decline you won’t be considered prematurely infertile and would not be able to extend the storage period of your eggs.
3. Clinics Aren’t All The Same
If you are thinking about freezing your eggs, find a clinic that has plenty of experience with the procedure. You should also ask the clinic if they are able to provide you with success rates with egg freezing from their own data. Some clinics provide average figures based on published data from other clinics. You should also ask to see success rates by age, as the likelihood of achieving a live birth with eggs taken from a 32-year-old is likely to be very different to achieving a live birth with eggs taken from a 39-year-old.
4. It’s Likely To Lose Eggs Along The Way
The more eggs you freeze, the more likely you are to have a live birth in the future – as long as the eggs are a good quality. Recent data suggests that to have a 75% chance of having one live birth, a 34-year-old would need to freeze ten eggs. But a woman undergoing the procedure at 37 would need to freeze 20 eggs, and a woman aged 42 would need to freeze 61 eggs to have the same chance of success.
Eggs are lost throughout the process of egg freezing. For example, a 36-year-old woman could produce 15 eggs following stimulation, but some of these eggs may be immature and therefore unsuitable for freezing. Some of these eggs might also not freeze or thaw correctly, may not fertilise, or may not reach blastocyst stage (the stage suitable for implantation). At the end of the process, there may be just four embryos with which to attempt conception.
The birth rate with previously frozen eggs per embryo transfer is around 19%, which means that it is possible, even with four embryos, that the procedure might not result in a live birth.
5. You May need To Have The Procedure Many Times
Egg collection and freezing costs around $5,000 in AUS. Storage costs are extra, around $500 annually. And medication costs are about $1,500.
Research suggests that women should seek to freeze around 15 eggs to have a reasonable chance of future pregnancy. However, the number of eggs collected during one cycle of stimulation and retrieval depends on the woman’s age at the time of undergoing the procedure, her remaining ovarian reserve, and how she responds to the stimulation. As such, some women may produce 15 eggs for storage after one round of treatment whereas others may need to undergo multiple rounds of stimulation and retrieval – with the associated costs – to collect and freeze the same number of eggs.
As well as being expensive, the process of egg freezing and IVF can often be emotionally and physically challenging. It is important to bear this in mind when considering freezing your eggs.
6. There’s No Guarantee It Will Work
The cumulative live birth rate of egg freezing, which assumes several attempts at IVF with previously frozen eggs – is still only around 20% for women who froze eggs when they were 36 years of age. And even when using young, previously frozen eggs to conceive, as seen in donor cycles, older women are still at a higher risk of complications during pregnancy and birth than women attempting motherhood at a younger age.
Is Egg Freezing Safe?
There are some known and unknown risks to egg freezing. The risks are similar to those that infertile couples face when they go through IVF treatment and people who become egg donors. We can’t know all the long-term risks to egg freezing because it just hasn’t been studied. The technology hasn’t been around long enough. There are few to no studies on people with good fertility who have chosen to freeze their eggs long term and few studies on children who were conceived via previously frozen eggs.
This is what we do know:
Egg freezing does not seem to increase the risk of congenital birth diseases.
In a study of 936 children who were conceived from previously cryopreserved eggs, the rate of genetic birth defects was found to be similar to the general population risk. This study included children conceived both via eggs cryopreserved with the slower, older methods of egg freezing and the newer, vitrification technology. In the short term, people who decide to freeze their eggs may experience side effects of the fertility drugs. Depending on which fertility drugs are used, side effects may include hot flashes, headaches, mood swings, bloating, nausea, weight gain, breast tenderness, spotting, and injection site soreness.
People taking fertility drugs are at risk of developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This occurs in one in 10 people taking injectable fertility drugs. For most people, OHSS is merely uncomfortable. However, left untreated, it can become very serious.
The egg retrieval, which involves placing an ultrasound-guided needle through the vaginal wall, up to the ovaries, can cause cramping, spotting, and discomfort. There is a small risk of infection and puncture of nearby organs. Infection would be treated with antibiotics. In very rare cases, the infection may lead to the surgical removal of the ovaries or fallopian tubes.
Elective egg freezing gives people who need to delay childbearing another option. While the technology doesn’t eliminate the realities of time. Nor guarantee a baby in the future. It does improve the odds of conception when compared to taking no action for those looking to have a child in their late 30s or 40s.
Egg freezing is generally safe, but as with all medical procedures, there are risks and some long-term unknowns. Before you decide to freeze your eggs, take your time to fully research your options. Keep in mind that if you don’t freeze your eggs, you do have other possible roads towards parenthood. You may conceive on your own in the future.
If you do face infertility, you can pursue fertility treatments at that time, including IVF. You may need to use an egg donor, or you might consider choosing an embryo donor. This means your child would not be genetically related to you. But may still be biologically related to your male partner if you use an egg donor with his sperm. Adoption, foster care parenting, or remaining childfree are also possibilities!