Celebrities like Chrishelle Stause, Kaitlyn Bristowe, Mindy Kaling, and Kourtney Kardashian have all been vocal about freezing their eggs in recent years — and it turns out they’re onto something.
Egg freezing has become an increasingly popular choice for many individuals as they decide to postpone having children for various reasons, such as not having a partner, prioritizing their career, or not being prepared to bear the financial responsibility of raising children at the moment. In fact, the number of total egg-freezing cycles in the U.S. has increased by over 104 percent since 2009, according to a report from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
If you’ve ever looked into freezing your own eggs, you know that it can be quite a bewildering process. (It takes how long — and costs that much?!) Here’s a helpful introductory guide that breaks things down for you.
Why You Might Decide to Freeze Your Eggs
“There are multiple reasons for egg freezing,” says Kecia Gaither, M.D., a doctor specialized in obstetrics-gynecology and maternal fetal medicine, who serves as the director of perinatal services and maternal fetal medicine at NYC Health Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, New York. “The main objective is to postpone childbearing while allowing women to preserve their fertility in anticipation of a decline.”
Egg freezing permits individuals with ovaries to preserve their eggs during a time when those eggs are likely to be in their optimal condition, explains Cindy Duke, M.D., Ph.D., an ob-gyn/virologist and fertility specialist.
For your information: Studies demonstrate that individuals who freeze their eggs before the age of 35 have a higher likelihood of achieving a successful pregnancy in the future compared to those who freeze their eggs after the age of 35. (That’s because as you get older, not only does the quantity of your eggs decrease, but so does their quality, says Dr. Duke.)
“This allows younger women or women with health conditions to conserve their unfertilized eggs until they are ready to pursue parenthood,” she adds.
Some of the common reasons why you might choose to delay having children and freeze your eggs, according to Dr. Gaither, include:
- You have aspirations to attain education or career goals.
- You have not yet found the suitable partner.
- You have received a cancer diagnosis or have a condition like endometriosis that could impact your ovarian function due to the disease or its treatment.
- You do not feel prepared psychologically or financially to raise a child at this time.
- You are uncertain about whether you want to have a child, but would like to safeguard the option.
- Ultimately, the advantages bestow safeguarding of robust eggs until such a time as the woman deems ‘suitable’ to conceive,” states Dr. Gaither.
The Egg Freezing Process
Most of the perplexity surrounding egg freezing pertains to the procedure. Here’s what it genuinely entails.
Phase 1: Diagnostic Testing and Planning with Your Doctor
During this initial phase of the egg-freezing process, your doctor may conduct ovarian reserve testing, which can include a combination of examinations, says Dr. Duke. One common examination is a blood test that measures the levels of specific hormones connected to fertility, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol, and Antimüllerian hormone (AMH), according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). As part of ovarian reserve testing, your doctor may also prescribe clomiphene citrate, a medication used to aid in stimulating ovulation, for five to seven days. The outcomes of this examination can assist your doctor in evaluating how effectively your body might respond to fertility medications.
Another variety of ovarian reserve examination is a transvaginal ultrasound that tallies the quantity of small follicles (2–10 mm in size) in your ovaries. (In case you didn’t know: Follicles are diminutive sacs of fluid on your ovaries that contain developing eggs.) This can inform you of the number of eggs you possess and what your reaction will be to gonadotropin medicines, which encompass FSH, the primary hormone accountable for generating mature eggs.
“The initial step can take an uncertain duration of time as your doctor must conduct testing on particular days of your menstrual cycle,” adds Monte Swarup, M.D., board-certified ob-gyn and founder of HPD Rx. “The objective of this phase is to determine how many eggs you will produce that can be frozen.”
Note that no ovarian reserve examination can predict your capability to conceive or how many fertile years you might have remaining, according to the ASRM — but these examinations can provide your doctor with insight into how likely you might be to conceive compared to other individuals of the same age as you. Additionally, bear in mind that you might display falsely low levels of AHM if you take the birth control pill or other forms of hormonal birth control.
Phase 2: Getting Ready for Egg Extraction
During this stage, you will initiate receiving daily hormone injections to assist your body in generating more eggs. This phase will endure approximately two months.
“The objective is to enhance the likelihood that the follicles in your ovaries will produce eggs and that they will mature correctly,” states Dr. Swarup. “The specific timing for accomplishing this phase depends on your individual body and menstrual cycles.”
For a week or two, you will administer self-injections once or twice a day with follicle-stimulating hormones or hormones that prevent premature ovulation — alternatively, a friend or healthcare provider can administer the injections, as mentioned by Dr. Swarup.
“Regular visits to your doctor will be necessary for pelvic ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor your hormone levels,” he states. “These tests assist in determining the appropriate dosage and the eventual timing of your surgery for [egg extraction].”
Once your follicles have reached an adequate size, you will receive a “trigger” shot. This shot must be administered at a precise time and aids in the maturation of the eggs so they can be retrieved, as explained by Dr. Swarup. The trigger shot contains human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by the placenta and typically present in early embryos, as previously reported by Shape magazine.
Phase 3: Surgical Retrieval of Eggs
Following the trigger shot, your doctor will surgically retrieve the eggs 36 hours later. This procedure is performed as an outpatient at your doctor’s office, usually with sedation to keep you conscious, according to Dr. Swarup. The procedure typically lasts 15-45 minutes, he adds.
“Using a needle guided by ultrasound, your doctor will extract the fluid from your follicles,” explains Dr. Swarup. “The objective is for each follicle to contain a mature egg.”
Dr. Swarup assures that recovery is minimal and that you will likely be able to resume work the next day. “Most women experience no pain and return to their normal state within a few days,” he says.
Phase 4: Freezing and Preserving the Eggs
Immediately after the surgical retrieval, your doctor will pass the fluid from the follicles to an embryologist to determine if any mature eggs are present, clarifies Dr. Swarup.
“The mature eggs will undergo freezing or cryopreservation,” he states. “The laboratories employ a rapid freezing process known as vitrification. The eggs will be stored at your fertility clinic until you decide to utilize them.”
Phase 5: Returning to the Clinic to Thaw and Use the Eggs
Have you decided that it is time to use your frozen eggs? They will need to successfully endure the thawing process; according to a review spanning 15 years of patient data, the overall survival rate of thawed eggs is 79 percent (although this rate can vary depending on age, genetics, medical conditions, and other factors), as stated in a publication.
Afterward, eggs need to be successfully fertilized with sperm from a spouse or a contributor to transform into an embryo.
Genetic Testing of Embryos: Ensuring a Healthy Pregnancy
At this juncture, embryos will undergo genetic testing to verify that they possess a normal set of chromosomes and, consequently, are highly likely to result in a healthy gestation and infant, which is imperative for a sustainable pregnancy, explains Dr. Swarup. Physicians will examine for abnormalities caused by an excess or deficiency of chromosomes in the embryo’s DNA.
Once the embryos are deemed viable, “the final step involves the embryos being transferred and implanted back into the uterus to facilitate a healthy gestation and the birth of a live baby,” he concludes. By the way, an embryo transfer is typically performed at your doctor’s office as an outpatient procedure within two to five days of your egg retrieval.
The Cost of Egg Freezing: How Much Does It Amount to?
The cost of freezing your eggs will vary depending on your geographical location. However, according to Dr. Gaither, the typical cost ranges from $30,000 to $40,000 for the entire treatment and storage process. This translates to around $15,000 per cycle, with the majority of individuals requiring an average of two cycles to obtain an adequate number of eggs.
“The majority of insurance companies do not cover the expense of the procedure, but there are now more insurance companies that offer coverage for certain aspects,” adds Dr. Duke. “Therefore, it is necessary for you to verify with your insurance provider.”
The Bottom Line: Considerations for Egg Freezing
As illustrated, there are genuine advantages to freezing your eggs, but it is a protracted procedure that will come with a substantial cost. Furthermore, the older you are at the time of freezing, the lower the likelihood that it will result in a successful pregnancy in the future. Consequently, Dr. Duke suggests consulting your doctor to determine the number of eggs you should freeze in order to provide yourself with a favorable chance of achieving a successful pregnancy in the event that you need to thaw them in the future.
Selecting the appropriate clinic is also crucial in enhancing your prospects of becoming a parent later on if that is your desire. “Acquire information about their ‘oocyte cryosurvival’ rate,” advises Dr. Swarup. “This refers to the percentage of eggs that survive when they are thawed.”
He suggests ensuring that this data pertains to both the eggs that the clinic has frozen and subsequently warmed. “Look for a rate of at least 80 percent — a score of 90 percent is exceptional,” he states.
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