According to the statistics, in the 1980s, the average age of first-time mothers in the United States was 22. This rose to nearly 25 by 2000, and it further increased to 26 by 2014. It has now become more common among women to have kids at later periods of their lives than ever before. This trend is seen in both developed and developing countries.
As we know, even if society and lifestyle are changing, the biological realities of fertility in women remain the same. That is, women may undergo menopause in their late 40s and early 50s, and their fertility declines as they approach menopause. This is why the chances of pregnancy are very low in their later years. In this regard, the use of frozen eggs offers hope to women who wish to have kids later. This article will discuss the procedures and benefits of egg freezing as well as how it helps infertility.
What Is Egg Freezing?
Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that is done to preserve a woman’s fertility until she is ready to conceive a baby. The first successful human birth from a frozen egg was recorded in 1986. Since then, there have been advancements in oocyte cryopreservation, which is no longer an experimental procedure.
How Is Egg Freezing Done?
Before the process of egg freezing starts, the doctors would comprehensively study the medical history, assess the regularities of menstruation, and run a number of tests to assess hormonal levels and any infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. This is to prevent contamination and ensure you can freeze your eggs.
The egg-freezing procedure involves three major steps, and they are:
- Ovulation induction: Generally, only one egg is released from the ovaries per menstrual cycle. Certain medications are given to women during the first 12 days of the treatment to suppress the natural menstrual cycle. After it is suppressed, hormonal medications like follicle-stimulating hormones, or FSH, and luteinizing, or LSH are injected into the woman’s body to stimulate her ovaries. This is done in order to maximize the number of eggs produced. An injection of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is then injected halfway through the cycle to prevent early ovulation. The next few weeks after the intake of these will be monitored. Further check-ups like ultrasounds will be carried out to determine the time of maturation of eggs.
- Egg retrieval: Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is given to fasten the maturation of the eggs. After the eggs mature, they will then move on to the next phase, which is called the egg retrieval stage. Eggs from the follicles have to be removed surgically before the eggs ovulate. Transvaginal ultrasound aspiration is the common method opted by doctors to retrieve eggs. Here, the ultrasound probe is introduced into the vagina to identify the follicle. Then the needle is passed through the vaginal opening to the follicle. Finally, using a suction device that is attached to the needle, the eggs are collected from the follicle.
- Egg freezing: Once the eggs are retrieved, they are cooled to sub-zero temperatures to inhibit all biological activities and preserve them for the future. Cryoprotectants are utilized to prevent ice crystal formation.
Most people fear losing their natural fertility by undergoing the egg freezing process, but the process of egg freezing does not affect your chances of getting pregnant naturally in the future. But it gives you a backup plan if you have difficulty conceiving naturally.
How Can Egg Freezing Help Prevent Infertility? And Who Would Benefit From Egg Freezing?
Egg freezing is considered for a number of reasons, especially if you are undergoing medical treatment or have a health condition. Here, let us look into some reasons why women freeze their eggs:
- Medical treatment: People who undergo treatments like chemotherapy, gender-affirming surgery, or treatment for severe endometriosis are encouraged to freeze their eggs before undergoing these treatments as these treatments can interfere with or sometimes end fertility. In some of these cases, you may be required to remove your ovaries. Therefore, egg freezing might help preserve your fertility.
- Organ failure or any other health condition: Genetic mutations like the BRCA mutation; ovarian diseases with a risk of damaging the ovaries; and risks of premature ovarian failure due to chromosomal abnormalities like Turner syndrome and fragile X syndrome can harm eggs and fertility.
- Career prioritization: Women who wish to advance in their careers may freeze their eggs at a younger age so they can have access to healthy eggs later in the future. Companies like Apple and Facebook fund egg freezing for female employees who wish to delay pregnancy due to professional reasons.
- Personal circumstances: Freezing eggs is also chosen by women who would like to have a kid with a partner but have not yet found one. This can also benefit women in same-sex relationships who wish to have kids in the future.
It has been observed that when freezing eggs, younger women have higher success rates when compared with older women. This is because the egg supply starts to decline as you age. Hence, if you are considering freezing your eggs, it is recommended to do it as soon as possible. However, certain clinics and medical facilities allow women over 45 to freeze their eggs, but it may not be as successful as the others.
Another factor that you might want to consider is getting insurance to cover the expenses. The cost of egg freezing may vary according to the clinic and where you are located. However, we should be mindful that most insurance plans do not cover the egg-freezing process unless you are suffering from health conditions like cancer. Egg storage may also cost you a lot. So, look for clinics that offer insurance plans for egg freezing and storage.
Freezing eggs to delay pregnancy is becoming popular and is beneficial for women who desire to pursue a career, find a partner, have health concerns, or are going through medical treatments. This gives you an opportunity to manage other aspects of your life until you are ready to conceive without interfering with your ability to get pregnant naturally.