Egg freezing is a way that some women preserve their fertility in hopes of one day successfully bearing a child. Every woman is born with a finite amount of eggs. You will never make more eggs. While you may be born with about two million eggs (or oocytes), by puberty that number is down to 400,000 or so.
Before girls begin menstruating, they lose about 11,000 eggs a month. This number continues to diminish on a monthly basis throughout a woman’s adult life. According to experts at Yale Medicine, a rapid decline begins around the age of 37 and continues until menopause, at which a point a woman may only have about 1,000 eggs left.
There are numerous aspects of a woman’s egg supply and quality that relate to fertility.
There are insufficient tests that measure the quality of eggs in a woman’s body. Scientists and fertility researchers have, however, created a fairly standardized system of harvesting and preserving eggs that could produce viable pregnancies.
History of Egg Freezing
There is an interesting history to egg freezing. While relatively new, its popularity has skyrocketed as a viable way for women to extend their fertility or ensure motherhood “at a later date.” These practices have helped countless women. Here are the high points of cryopreservation and egg freezing practices among women in the United States.
1983: first pregnancy from a frozen, human embryo
1986: first birth from a frozen, human oocyte
1999: first live birth from vitrification (flash freezing) of human oocyte
2005: 457 women froze their eggs
2012: American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) removes the “experimental” label for egg freezing methods
2014: Two large corporations (Apple and Facebook) include egg freezing in their healthcare benefits for female employees
2019: Over 72,000 babies were born from 262,834 egg freezing cycles in 2017
Egg freezing is more accessible and increasingly used by younger women. One study published by the Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology Journal in 2018 found that:
85% of the women freezing their eggs were single
The average age of women freezing their eggs was 36 years old
72% of women who freeze their eggs have a postgraduate degree
There are many reasons women freeze their eggs.
Why do Women Freeze Their Eggs?
Egg freezing isn’t always about planning for children later in life. Some people find it medically necessary to freeze their eggs if they ever want to have children. Here are some reasons women need to preserve their eggs:
Ovaries are damaged in surgery
Chemotherapy or radiation treatments may impact fertility
Chromosomal syndromes can cause ovarian failure
Certain genetic mutations require removal of the ovaries
To preserve fertility
How do Women Freeze Their Eggs?
For a woman, there are two primary phases to egg freezing. While it has increased in popularity, it doesn’t have the ease of getting a haircut. It is still a medical procedure. Additionally, freezing your eggs is not rigidly pragmatic: almost all women who undergo this attest to a highly emotional component.
First, women will focus on the logistics of research, being assessed, understanding the procedures and selecting a care provider and facility.
Second, they will have to reflect and make decisions armed with all of that knowledge.
There are important conversations in both of these phases. Many women understand that egg freezing is not a guarantee of a child someday. Once thawed, many eggs will not be viable. Women who ultimately decide to go through with freezing their eggs are “agreeing to the odds.”
The actual procedure to harvest eggs may happen once or in numerous cycles, depending on a woman’s preference. Women prepare with assessment, hormone injections and monitoring of the ovaries and eggs through an ultrasound. Egg collection takes about 20 minutes and the patient is under anaesthesia. The process happens vaginally with a small needle. It is not painful and can easily be concluded within a day.
You will want to research and understand the following aspects of egg freezing:
Fertility drugs such as synthetic, follicle-stimulating hormones to induce ovulation
Side effects of all drugs that will be used
Possible procedural complications, including bleeding or infections
Emotional challenges, knowing there is no guarantee of success
Pros and Cons to Freezing Your Eggs
Some women don’t freeze their eggs from medical necessity. In that case, these women elect to freeze their eggs for delayed childbearing. There are pros and cons to this choice.
Pros to Freezing Your Eggs
You may be able to choose pregnancy at a later date
Can preserve fertility in the event of a health condition
You can collect younger, high-quality eggs
Achieve personal and professional goals in your own timeline
Freedom from worry about future fertility
An article in the New York Times reports that fewer women use their eggs than expected, but 69% would still recommend egg freezing.
Cons to Freezing Your Eggs
There is a 4.5%-12% chance of pregnancy for each viable egg
Initial procedure fees average around $10,000-$12,000
Ongoing storage fees
Decisions about disposal for unused eggs
May require multiple cycles
May not result in viable eggs or successful implantation
Multiple shots and medications required
May impact mental and emotional health
An article posted by NPR details the opinion of numerous experts on the challenges of egg freezing and advanced age considerations.
More Info About Egg Freezing and Fertility
Egg freezing has frequently been featured in popular news outlets and among women. As a vital part of women’s health and extended fertility, egg freezing provides opportunities for many women to become mothers.
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Inhorn, M.C. et al. “Elective egg freezing and its underlying socio-demography: a binational analysis with global implications.” Journal of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 2018. Accessed February 10, 2020.