There are a number of reasons why a woman might want to explore freezing her eggs. We spoke to a fertility specialist about the social and medical considerations involved in egg freezing.
We all know fertility is finite, but if you’re a woman who hopes to one day have children, this knowledge can be filled with complexity. When you don’t feel ready or your personal situation is such that you can’t get pregnant during your most fertile years, it’s common to start thinking about other options. Fortunately, fertility preservation is an option, made possible by cryopreservation of eggs.
Egg freezingOne option may be egg freezing as a major factor in fertility is the decline in the quantity and quality of eggs released from the ovaries. Egg freezing aims to provide an opportunity for you to have a child by collecting and freezing eggs so they can be used at a later point if needed. Existing research suggests that cryopreservation of eggs has little impact on their viability.
Dr Ben Kroon, an experienced gynaecologist and fertility specialist with Queensland Fertility Group, advises that in theory eggs can stay frozen for an indefinite period without losing their quality.
“Eggs frozen by a woman remain genetically stable regardless of how long they are frozen. This means the risk of chromosome abnormalities like Down syndrome is kept at the age the woman is at when she freezes those eggs.”
While freezing eggs is a great way to delay pregnancy, it won’t help if a woman has already become infertile. Women interested in saving eggs for pregnancy will have a higher likelihood of pregnancy later if they freeze their eggs in their 20s or early 30s.
Should I freeze my eggs?There are many different reasons why a woman may be concerned about her fertility but not yet ready to conceive. Some of Dr Kroon’s patients are yet to find a partner that they want to have children with, and others want to delay having a baby while they pursue career opportunities. Some women discover through an ovarian reserve (AMH) test that the number of eggs they have remaining is not very high. In any case, Dr Kroon recommends that if a woman is considering freezing eggs, it’s preferable to do so in their early 30s and, if possible, before the age of 35. Fertility preservation procedures don’t do much good after the age of 40, because the odds that a woman will have enough eggs to get pregnant drop from 20% to 5%.
Egg freezing for medical reasonsSome medical treatments for serious illnesses such as cancer may reduce a woman’s ovarian reserve, or affect the eggs themselves, so egg freezing prior to treatment presents women with the possibility of preserving their eggs. Other women may have genetic conditions that may lead to premature ovarian failure, or may have conditions that require surgical removal of the ovaries while they’re still of a child-bearing age. They can still have children if they begin fertility preservation early enough. These women may opt for freezing eggs for future use.
What does egg freezing involve?Freezing eggs involves hormone injections to stimulate egg production, and scans and blood tests over a two-week period. Following this there is a 20-minute procedure during which a needle is used to retrieve the eggs from the ovaries while the patient is under sedation or a short general anaesthetic. Dr Kroon says that patients are usually back to work the next day. “Side effects from the hormone injections are very minimal. Most people tolerate it very well.”
How much does it cost to freeze eggs?While the cost of egg freezing varies, at this time you could expect to pay between $10,000 and $14,000 for one egg-freezing cycle. The ongoing storage costs for frozen eggs are around $500 per year. Women who freeze eggs due to a serious medical condition or medically diagnosed fertility concerns often have a lower fee structure and may be eligible for a Medicare rebate.
Is egg freezing an option for you?According to Dr Kroon, the first step is always to catch up with a fertility specialist and talk about your individual situation and whether freezing eggs is worthwhile for you.
“A fertility specialist will always assess a woman’s fertility before recommending egg freezing. We look at all of the factors that may impact on a woman’s ability to conceive and carry a child. The specialist will assess relevant lifestyle factors, whether a woman is likely to have damaged tubes, and whether there are specific fertility-impacting conditions, such as polycystic ovaries or endometriosis. Interestingly, for some women who want to discuss egg freezing, their eggs might in fact turn out to be only a small part of their issue.”
Dr Kroon stresses that while freezing eggs is a good option for many women, it’s important to be aware that it does not guarantee a successful pregnancy down the line. “Eggs are only one part of the reproductive jigsaw puzzle.”
If you are considering egg freezing, consulting with a fertility preservation and IVF specialist may clarify the options you have available, and help you to work out what’s right for you. For many women, freezing eggs can provide a comforting backup plan while they tend to other areas of their lives.