Egg freezing is a procedure wherein women can freeze their eggs in their 20s and 30s thereby allowing them the freedom to have children in their 40s.The best time to freeze eggs is the early thirties as you have had the time to think about pregnancy. However, eggs of women in their 20s come with a greater success rate. There is a decline in fertility after 35 years of age.
It may however be noted that freezing eggs does not mean that you will definitely be able to conceive a baby. This is because the frozen eggs need to survive thawing. Also, successful implantation and fertilization must occur for the fetus to form. Finally, the pregnancy must be safe without any problems till delivery for the egg freezing-associated late childbirth process to be successful. Egg freezing can thus be considered as a fairly dependable insurance plan for late pregnancy.
The egg has large quantities of water and is the biggest cell in humans. Ice crystals develop on frozen eggs thereby destroying the egg-cell. Hence, eggs are dehydrated and the water is replaced with an ‘anti-freeze’ before the freezing process is conducted. This prevents the formation of ice crystals. Also, the egg shell hardens after freezing. Hence, a technique called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection/ICSI to inject the egg with sperm thereby fertilizing it. Two processes, i.e., vitrification or flash-freezing, or the slow-freeze method can be used to freeze eggs.
Partners who do not want to current have any children can also go for embryo freezing instead of egg freezing; it is believed that freezing embryos comes with greater chances of success. Eggs are fragile and sometimes may not survive the thaw. Embryos are created by fertilizing the eggs with the partner’s sperm and later frozen.
Cost of freezing the eggs
Doctors will carry out numerous tests and evaluate the reproductive system before proceeding with the process of egg retrieval and freezing. Thus, the cost of egg freezing includes the cost of treatment and medications including egg retrieval, which is in the range of $10,000 to $12,000 per cycle; the cost of storing the eggs which is in the range of $500 to $800 per year; and the cost of egg thawing, transfer or implantation of the unfrozen eggs, and fertilization, which is around $5000 to $7000. Thus, freezing the eggs can be very expensive. But when compared to fertility treatments that women may need to undergo when trying to conceive in their 40s, this will end up saving you several thousands of dollars as well as provide you with some peace of mind.
Preparation before you freeze your eggs
Before starting the process of eggs retrieval and freezing, doctors will spend a month conducting varied tests like ultrasounds and blood tests to check the reproductive health. An inexpensive and convenient blood test for checking the potential of the ovaries is the Anti-Mullerian Hormone test. It provides the number of eggs left, i.e., where they are average, low, or high; gives information about the reserves in the ovaries; and helps determine whether loss of fertility may occur gradually or quickly.
In the second month, women will take medications for 2 weeks before the egg retrieval process is carried out. Such medications may include daily hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries and ensure that multiple eggs are ripened. At the same time, the growth eggs and their readiness is kept under observation via regular blood tests and ultrasound, etc. The egg harvesting procedure is done during the period that a woman (the patient) would usually ovulate.
Removal of eggs begin after they have matured sufficiently. Women will be put under minor sedation at the time of egg retrieval process. This can later result in bloating and minor cramps. Eggs are retrieved with the help of a needle that is inserted via the vagina under guidance of ultrasound. The eggs thus removed are immediately frozen. Frozen eggs can be stored for as long as 10 years. Long-term storage of eggs does not lead to any reduction in its quality. Doctors will usually opt for freezing of around 15 eggs so as to ensure a higher success rate for pregnancy when the eggs are unfrozen in the future.
Benefits of egg freezing
Egg freezing helps preserve the fertility of women for the future. Some of the benefits of the procedure are listed below:
- Fertility declines with age. Hence, women who want to delay pregnancy to pursue career, educational, and other life goals can freeze their eggs to ensure a chance at conceiving children in the future.The eggs and ovaries age; but the uterus does not age and is capable of carrying a pregnancy in the 40s and even 50s.
- Freezing embryos may be considered morally or religiously incorrect by some women. Freezing eggs does not come with such moral/religious dilemma.
- Chemotherapy destroys the eggs and results in infertility. Hence, women with cancer can freeze their eggs before the therapy.
- If early menopause, including premature ovarian failure, runs in the family, then affected women may choose to freeze and save their eggs before all of them are depleted.