To become a mother is the earnest desire of a woman. But then again, you may want to delay childbirth because you are yet to find the right partner, need more time to achieve career goals, or are undergoing a medical procedure that could impact your fertility.
Some decades back, there was no answer to these issues but now medical science has a solution: egg freezing.
Egg freezing is the procedure of preserving your young and healthy eggs so that you can utilize them at a later age to become a mother.
Freezing your eggs is an option that may help you realize your dream of motherhood when you’re ready.
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Why Freeze Your Eggs?
In general, egg freezing is a great option for all women who want to or need to delay childbearing. To understand this, we need to discuss women’s reproductive health a little bit.
The egg is one of the key factors in determining female fertility health. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have and keeps releasing mature eggs during her menstruation. As a result, her egg reserve will deplete throughout her life until she reaches menopause. Moreover, these eggs age as the woman ages, and their health and quality decline too.
The quantity and quality of eggs start to decline rapidly when the woman reaches her 30s. This is why it keeps getting harder and harder for a woman to conceive naturally after her 30s.
For women who are pursuing a career goal or want to have babies when they meet the right partner, they are likely to postpone motherhood. At an advanced maternal age, these women are prone to the risk of difficulty getting pregnant and have an increased chance of miscarriage.
Moreover, women who are undergoing cancer treatment face an infertility risk since radiation therapy and surgeries may damage the ovaries.
There are also cases where women need to undergo hysterectomy treatment where they may have to completely remove their ovaries.
Egg freezing ensures that these women have a solution to safeguard their future fertility without having to worry about their decreasing fertility health. Becoming a mother with your own frozen eggs allows you to have biological children when you think the time is right.
How Does Egg Freezing Process Work?
The egg freezing process itself is an assisted medical technique where the healthy, mature eggs of a woman are harvested from the ovaries and frozen to preserve the quality of the eggs. These eggs can be frozen as long as you wish and can be thawed once you are ready to become a parent.
Here’s what a typical egg freezing procedure looks like:
- You will undergo some fertility tests to determine that you do not have any other medical condition that would damage the health of the eggs.
- You will be prescribed some medication courses that encourage mature egg production. These medications include oral pills and self-administered injections. Usually, the courses last 2-4 weeks.
- About 36 hours before the egg retrieval, your doctor will inject a trigger shot (HCG injection) that sends the eggs into the ovulation stage.
- You will be then put under anesthesia and your doctor will use an ultrasound-guided needle to collect the mature eggs from your ovaries. This process is minimally painful.
- The collected eggs are then frozen using the vitrification technique in the lab that ensures the quality of the eggs remains intact.
- Your eggs are now frozen and safe. When you are ready to become a mother, you can thaw the eggs and use them to become a mother through the IVF process.
Women who freeze their eggs before age 40 have a greater likelihood of achieving pregnancy with those eggs in the future. But a reproductive endocrinologist (infertility specialist) can provide testing to see if you’re a good candidate. “Freezing eggs after the age of 40 is not typically recommended but may be considered on a case-by-case basis,” says Cross.
A Few Tips
1. Ovarian reserve testing and infectious diseases screening (such as HIV, and Zika) are a must before undergoing egg freezing. These tests can reveal vital information about the quantity and quality of your eggs and prevent passing down fatal infective conditions to the child.
2. If you are planning to freeze your eggs, then do it as young as possible. As mentioned earlier, your eggs age as you age and the oocyte health declines. Freezing eggs at a younger age, especially before 35, allows these eggs to be healthier and it will increase your chances of getting pregnant.
3. Note that egg freezing improves your chances of pregnancy but does not guarantee a pregnancy. In general, the chances of a successful pregnancy rate is over 70% for women who freeze their eggs before 35 and do not have any other infertility issues.
4. It is best to lead a healthy lifestyle that can improve your egg quality before undergoing egg freezing. Try to eat healthily, stop smoking, minimize alcohol intake, get plenty of sleep, and do regular exercise.
5. Inspect the costs and expenses of egg freezing. The cost can vary between $6,000 to $20,000 depending on the add-on services, state and city, and clinic reputation. Moreover, you should consider the annual freezing charges.
6. Some states require that the insurance company covers the cost of egg freezing, especially if you are doing it due to cancer treatment. Make sure to check with your insurance provider.
7. Today, many corporate organizations are now offering financial assistance for their female employees who are opting for fertility preservation. You should speak to your employer to see if they have a similar plan which can cut down the overall cost for egg freezing.
8. There are some organizations that offer fertility preservation grants for cancer patients. You can research these organizations and apply for grants if you fit the criteria.
9. Contact multiple egg-freezing clinics before choosing anyone. Explore their policies, and pricing, and see what kind of security they offer in case a natural disaster hits the egg freezing units.
10. Make sure to bring a support person along with you on the day of egg retrieval as you will feel a bit uncomfortable and exhausted from the procedure.
11. Usually, you can resume your daily normal activities 24 hours after egg retrieval. For this time being, you should get enough rest and sleep.
12. However, if you are feeling any discomfort like abdominal pain, fever, or heavy vaginal bleeding, contact your clinic ASAP as it could imply underlying issues.
Side effects of egg freezing
As with any other medical process, egg freezing will induce some discomfort. The typical side effects of the medications include:
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
You may feel the following symptoms after the retrieval procedure:
- Mild pain
There are Risk Factors You Should Consider
Egg freezing is a medical procedure and involves some risks. This is why the process calls for thorough consideration, patience, and medical attention.
- The main concern is OHSS or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome development where the ovaries reach an overstimulation stage. This mainly happens due to hormonal triggers. In rare cases, OHHS can be life-threatening. The symptoms include breath shortness, gastric reflux, pain, and vomiting. However, the chances of developing OHSS during ovarian stimulation are less than 5%.
- Egg retrieval uses needle aspiration. If the procedures are not done correctly, it may cause bleeding, infection/damage to the bowel, bladder, and/or a blood vessel. This is why it’s essential that you investigate the potential clinic’s reputation and expertise before undergoing the procedure.
- While it is still not clear, some medical experts speculate that egg freezing may increase the chances of cancer as hormone therapy raises estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen is known to be a contributor to breast and ovarian cancer.
Egg freezing is a very useful option for women who have to delay motherhood and want to have biological children in the future. Many famous people have also opted for fertility preservation. The process allows you to rest assured that you can become a mother when you think the time is right.