In today’s world, women have the option to take control of their reproductive future through egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation. As a woman who has undergone two egg-freezing cycles myself, and also as an Embryologist, I can certainly attest to its significance. In this article, we will explore what egg freezing entails, why it is a valuable option, and who should consider it.
Egg freezing allows women to store their eggs and use them at a later stage in life when they are ready to start a family. The process involves extracting the eggs from the ovaries, freezing them, and preserving their quality for future use. Egg quality declines as a woman gets older; freezing your eggs at a younger age means that you are pausing the effect of aging on those eggs. This can increase the chances of a successful pregnancy later in life and reduce the risks associated with conceiving at an older age, such as miscarriage or having an unhealthy baby.
The optimal time to freeze a woman’s eggs is during the younger years when the quality is at its peak. By taking this proactive step, women can protect their fertility against the natural decline that occurs with age. For example, a 35-year-old woman can freeze her eggs and use them when she is 40. The eggs will still be 35 years old in terms of quality! Therefore, it is advisable to consider egg freezing as early as possible and ideally before the age of 35.
Who should consider egg freezing?
There are many scenarios in which egg freezing can be considered. Firstly, if you are a young woman who plans to have children in the future, but is not ready to start a family now, egg freezing provides a way to preserve your fertility. Additionally, if you have a medical condition, such as an autoimmune disease, that could impact your fertility, egg freezing can offer peace of mind. Similarly, women undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy, which may affect egg quality, can benefit from this method. Finally, if you are undergoing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment and wish to limit the number of remaining embryos, egg freezing can be a suitable alternative.
How does the egg-freezing process work?
The journey typically lasts two weeks and involves various steps. The woman takes medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs and visits the clinic regularly for blood tests and ultrasound scans to monitor the progress. Once the eggs are ready, they are extracted under anesthesia or deep sedation. Instead of immediately fertilizing them with sperm, as typically happens during an IVF cycle, a cryoprotectant is added to protect the eggs from the extremely low temperatures that they will be exposed to. The eggs will be frozen on the same day. They are then stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celcius until it is time to use them. It is important to note that the storage period does not impact the egg quality. When the time comes, the eggs will be defrosted, fertilized in the laboratory to create embryos and the embryos will be transferred in the woman’s uterus.
One common concern is the duration that eggs can be safely stored in a clinic. According to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulatory body of fertility treatment and IVF in the UK, once frozen, the eggs can be stored for up to 55 years. However, it is important to renew or discontinue the storage by signing a consent form every 10 years. Additionally, a storage fee must be paid based on the desired length of storage.
While egg freezing provides an invaluable solution for women, it is essential to consider the associated costs. In the UK, the approximate cost per egg freezing cycle ranges from £4,000-6000. This amount may vary between different clinics. Some women may choose to undergo multiple cycles to freeze more eggs and maximize the chances of a successful pregnancy, some clinics offer payment packages to do so.
According to the HFEA, in 2016, 18% of cycles that used frozen eggs resulted in a live birth. This data is from patients who mostly froze their eggs at an older age than the trend we are seeing now, where more and more patients under the age of 35 are using the technology. The technology has evolved since then, and preliminary data show better outcomes. Finally, it is estimated that only around 4% of patients that have frozen their eggs have come back to use them, so it is important to fully understand the limitations of any data we have at our disposal. Having said all that, egg freezing has revolutionized the reproductive options for women, empowering us to make informed decisions about our fertility and family planning. As someone who has experienced the process firsthand, I believe it is a powerful tool that could increase the likelihood of having a baby in the future, but it is important to remember, it is by no means a guarantee.
Don’t let time dictate your fertility journey. Take control of your reproductive choices today by learning more about egg freezing, consulting experts, and making a proactive decision that empowers your future self. If you wish to discuss this in more detail, book a consultation with one of our Doctors or Embryologists. And use our revolutionary Clinic Finder to find the right clinic for you!