In today’s modern world, women are faced with a generational and cultural quandary: they have the same career demands and expectations as men, but unlike men, women have a much more limited period of peak fertility. Taking the time to establish their careers, become financially secure, and find Mr. Right can limit the likelihood that they will be able to carry their own genetic child.
Thankfully, in recent years, the advent of egg freezing has helped to solve this issue. As the technology involved in the procedure has advanced and the overall cost of egg freezing has decreased, women now have the opportunity to gain greater control of their reproductive future.
Advances in Egg Freezing Technology
Although oocyte preservation (egg freezing) has been around for almost thirty years, the technology used to perform the procedure has recently made great leaps forward. While it was initially offered only to cancer patients and those experiencing fertility issues, an increasing number of women are now choosing to undergo elective (or social) egg freezing. In fact, companies like Apple and Facebook are now offering to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as a part of their benefits package.
A new technique, known as vitrification has revolutionized the egg freezing process. This technique involves flash-freezing the eggs and exposing them to advanced cryoprotectants in order to prevent the formation of ice crystals, which would significantly damage the eggs upon thawing. Vitrification has greatly reduced the failure rate experienced with the slow-freezing methods of the past.
Since 20% of women in the US are having their first child when they are 35 or older, many are taking advantage of these egg freezing advancements to protect their ability to start a family in the future. The decision is a smart one: approximately one-third of women between 35 and 39 suffer from fertility problems. This percentage increases significantly after the age of 39, with 64 percent of women between 40 and 44 struggling to get pregnant. After the age of 45, a woman’s chances of natural conception decreases to just 1 percent. Advances in egg freezing now provide a feasible option for these women, so they no longer need to choose between career and children.
The Egg Freezing Process
Human eggs contain a substantial proportion of water and are incredibly delicate, which makes freezing them a complicated procedure. The process of freezing your eggs will follow the same fertility protocols used during the first stage of a traditional in vitro fertilization cycle.
After a woman has undergone preliminary screening to determine her current reproductive health and uterine quality, her ovaries will be stimulated using hormones and medications to produce more eggs than usual. Her body will be monitored during this period using blood work and ultrasounds. Once her body and eggs are ready, she will take a trigger shot that allows her eggs to be released.
The mature eggs will be collected during a quick out-patient procedure. While traditional IVF patients would then proceed to the egg fertilization process directly, egg freezing patients will bank their eggs for future use.
Once you’ve determined that you would like to freeze your eggs, you will need to speak to a fertility specialist. The number of eggs to be harvested will depend on your age and egg quality. You will most likely need an ultrasound and ovarian reserve tests to gauge how many eggs could be harvested. Through the use of the previously mentioned hormone stimulation protocol that’s specific to your needs, your doctor will be able to determine a more realistic follicle count. Generally, a good yield of eggs to be frozen is ten to fifteen, but this will depend on your particular circumstances.
Using Your Frozen Eggs
Once you decide you are ready to use your eggs, you will need to discuss the thawing, fertilization, and transfer of your eggs with your fertility specialist. Generally, 90% of frozen eggs will survive the thawing process and if your eggs were frozen before the age of 35, around 45% will go on to become healthy embryos.
At the beginning of your IVF cycle, you will undergo similar preliminary screenings to those experienced at the start of your egg freezing process. Once your uterus has been examined, your fertility specialist will prescribe medications like progesterone and estrogen to prepare your endometrial lining for the implantation of your embryo.
The number of eggs you choose to fertilize will be something to discuss with your doctor. You can elect to fertilize all of your eggs, or keep some frozen for additional attempts in the future. Fertility clinics usually use an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) protocol to fertilize the eggs. This involves the use of a needle to inject a single sperm into each egg. After three to five days, your embryologist will be able to assess whether the process has been successful. Viable embryos can then be implanted into your uterus.
The embryo transfer is a simple procedure that consists of a single, or multiple, embryos being placed into your uterus using a thin catheter. The process only takes a few moments and is painless.
Two weeks after your embryo transfer, you will return to your fertility specialist for a blood pregnancy test that will measure the amount of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your system. This is referred to as the “pregnancy hormone” and will determine if the embryo has begun to successfully develop. Your hCG levels will be measured periodically until you are released to a regular ob/gyn around seven weeks of pregnancy. The remainder of your pregnancy will be just like everyone else’s.
Egg Freezing is on the Rise
With more and more people speaking out on behalf of egg freezing, the option is becoming increasingly popular amongst women. Whether you are attempting to climb the career ladder, have not found the right romantic partner, or you simply don’t feel ready to start a family, you shouldn’t have to feel pressure from your biological clock. With the advances in egg freezing, now is the time to take control of your own fertility.