“There comes a point in every childless woman’s life, usually around 35, when the larger world becomes very interested in her womb. Friends and family inquire about its health, asking why it’s not being utilized, when it will be and then: Will it even work? For those who do want children, the pressure can be crushing and counterproductive.” –Bloomberg Businessweek, April 2014
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte vitrification, can be the relief of this pressure and offer hope for women who wish to preserve their fertility. Whether it is a woman’s fast paced lifestyle or the demanding, time-consuming careers that many women are committed to, the “right time” for a woman to attempt pregnancy may not align with their biological clock. More and more women are trying to have children only to find out that it is “too late.” Regardless of the intense desire to have a baby, there is unfortunately no guarantee that a woman will be able to conceive when that “right time” comes. However, recent advances in medicine now allow women the potential opportunity to delay pregnancy until the “right time” for them, and essentially stop the clock. The “right time” may mean the right partner, the right point in their career, or even the right state of health.
At Fertility Centers of Illinois, we use the most cutting-edge form of egg freezing, called oocyte vitrification, or simply vitrification. Egg freezing is the process of taking eggs from the ovary and freezing them for later use when the woman is ready to attempt pregnancy. There have been rapid advances in technology since the report of the first pregnancy using a thawed egg in 1986. In the past, egg freezing used a slow-freezing process, which sometimes damaged the eggs by allowing ice crystals to form, which could potentially affect the delicacy of the egg. Our current technology, vitrification, freezes the egg rapidly, preventing the development of these ice crystals. The vitrified eggs are then stored in liquid nitrogen until that “right time” comes and a woman is ready to use them.
As women age, their fertility quotient decreases. Unlike men who produce new sperm every day of their reproductive lives, women are born with all of the eggs that they are going to have. Egg quantity and quality are both negatively impacted as women advance in age and as a result, a woman’s fecundity rate (the chance of pregnancy in any single menstrual cycle) declines. Unfortunately, her chance of miscarriage increases as well. Egg freezing allows patients to preserve their fertility, increasing their chances of pregnancy at a later age. When that “right time” comes, women will have this option and potential if they are unable to conceive on their own. Some women may even want to have multiple children and if their “right time” is later in life, their frozen eggs will give them this option for their second and third children, if not needed for their first.
What are the Pros and Cons?
The pros of egg freezing include allowing women a chance at a genetic child that they would not have otherwise. Medical treatments such as chemotherapy can forever damage eggs and render a woman infertile. Having the option to freeze eggs before such treatment is life altering. Being able to find the ideal partner at age 43 or any age is great, but it may be too late to have children. Having frozen eggs available can alleviate some of the pressure to find that ideal partner. The same can be said of waiting until you are secure in your chosen career.
The biggest and scariest con is that there is no guarantee of success or that the eggs once thawed will be healthy and result in a healthy baby. Although there are 200+ babies born from this technology and no reported increase in genetic abnormalities or congenital anomalies, egg freezing is a new technology with many unknowns. Careful data collection is being undertaken and more studies in the future will continue to shed light on the process. Additionally, treatment can be stressful, both emotionally and financially.
Am I a Good Candidate?
If you are currently healthy, well-informed, and willing to go through the process, egg freezing may ultimately allow you the genetic family you always dreamed of. Egg freezing can also provide a sense of personal security and empowerment otherwise unavailable. However, egg freezing is not for everyone. It is an expensive procedure involving multiple daily injections, frequent office visits, minor outpatient surgery, and emotional and financial stress. Good candidates are women less than 40 years of age with normal hormone levels. A positive attitude and an open mind also provide for a more optimal experience. Flexibility is also very important. You need to be available for appointments and not traveling for approximately 2-3 weeks.
What are the Other Options?
There are many other options available to women that have a higher chance of successfully delivering a baby.
Married or committed couples may want to consider going through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and freezing embryos for implantation at a later date, as embryos have been demonstrated to freeze better than eggs.
Women with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, may wish to undertake chemotherapy/surgery now and once cured, consider adoption, embryo adoption, or egg donation if their ovaries are no longer functional. If they no longer have a uterus but have functioning ovaries, they can consider gestational carrier with IVF.
Women without a male partner may want to consider donor inseminations, or an IVF cycle with donor sperm, and having a baby now. They could also choose to freeze embryos created with donor sperm for future use.
If women choose to wait until the “right time” and then discover that their age is preventing them from conceiving, egg donation and adoption are always options.
How do I Start a Cycle for Egg freezing?
If you are interested in egg freezing, we invite you to call us. Our physicians and staff will walk you through every step of the process, ensuring that you fully understand the benefits and risks, costs and your chances of a successful pregnancy. We are here for you!
What happens when I’m ready to get pregnant?
You will meet with your physician to ensure you are healthy and ready to carry a pregnancy. Your male partner (or sperm source) will also need some labs tests. When you are ready to proceed, you will begin a cycle where you will take medicine to prepare your uterus for pregnancy. At the appropriate time, the eggs will be thawed, injected with sperm through a process known as ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). The resulting embryos are then transferred into your uterus when they are either 3 days or 5 days old. Any extra embryos can be frozen and stored. You will continue to take hormones to support an early pregnancy. Approximately 10-12 days after embryo transfer, you will know if you are pregnant. After 8 weeks of pregnancy, you will transfer your care to the obstetrician who will deliver your baby.
If you would like to learn more, please fill out our Fertility Preservation Form. We welcome the opportunity to help take charge of your fertility today, for tomorrow.