Recently, one of Australia’s top recording artists revealed she didn’t want to have kids, like, ever. It sparked a massive debate amongst mothers and women without children, but a significant amount of the conversation was contributed by women who struggle with infertility. Women who aren’t given the luxury of saying they simply ‘don’t want’ to have children, but who either physically cannot, or who face a long emotional and financial struggle just to get pregnant. One alternative suggested to this outspoken pop star was that of freezing her eggs, especially whilst she is young, so that the option was there should she change her mind in the future.
One of the leading regrets of some women who had children young is not establishing or really fulfilling a career, travelling extensively or taking steps to be more financially secure. More and more women are choosing to wait rather than just settle, establish careers, travel the world and enjoy their relationship before starting a family. Ironically, women are at their prime fertility in their 20’s, yet most are not ready for, or wanting, babies at this stage in life. Freezing your eggs is an option open to most women who wish to fulfil these milestones without worrying about their best babymaking eggs going to waste. It is also a viable option for women worried about declined fertility due to health reasons (ie. cancer treatments) and with a family history of infertility and fertility problems.
What Does Freezing Your Eggs Involve?
Women who want to freeze their eggs are first screened for infectious diseases and then given fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce a large number of eggs. It’s usually over a course of 2-4 weeks of self-administered hormone injections and birth control pills, very much consistent with the initial stages of IVF treatment. When the eggs mature, they are removed by inserting a needle into the vagina and guided via ultrasound to retrieve them and then frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen. They are frozen in either a process called vitrification (flash-frozen) or a slow freeze method. When the eggs are required at a later date, they are thawed, injected with a single sperm and re-injected back into the uterus.
How Do I Know If It’s Right For Me?
When it comes to fertility and options for getting pregnant, the choice is ultimately a personal one and should not be entered into without some form of research and/or counselling. Typically, women who seek advice and information regarding egg freezing include:
- Women who are facing medical treatment that can affect fertility
- Women who have not found the ‘right’ partner
- Same sex couples who would like their options extended when they do start trying IVF
- Women at risk of endometriosis or early menopause
- Women with religious or moral objections to freezing embryos (fertilised eggs)
- Women who are looking into helping a same-sex couple start a family
How Well Does It Work And How Many Should I Store?
The two most important factors when it comes to having a successful pregnancy from frozen eggs is the age you were when you had them retrieved and the number of eggs you had frozen. The number of eggs produced in the fertility treatments decline with age so the younger you are when you go through the procedure, the more eggs you will be able to freeze.
The documented chances of having a successful pregnancy using a frozen and thawed egg are varied, however it generally sits at about 75%. So for every 10 eggs frozen, 7 are expected to survive the thaw properly and 5-6 are expected to fertilize and become an embryo. It is therefore suggested that women retrieve and store around 10-20 eggs per cycle, for as many cycles as they can afford or simply choose. The number is important because at every stage of the procedure, some of the eggs may be deemed unsuitable or just not survive.
How Much Does It Cost?
In Australia, the cost of egg freezing is different from clinic to clinic and typically does not carry a Medicare rebate when done as a precautionary measure. It can, however, be claimed as part of fertility treatment through private health cover if you are planning to use the eggs through IVF at a later date.
When considering the cost, women need to take into account note only the fertility treatments and consults, but the actual procedure and storage fees as well. These can vary if you are using the eggs for IVF in the near future or you are storing long-term.
Are There Any Risks Involved?
To date, there have been over 300,000 babies born worldwide as a result of frozen eggs, with no documented evidence that using a frozen egg in the initial stages of pregnancy results in higher birth defects or infant death.
The only found risk of freezing one’s eggs has been to the mother. Some women respond excessively to the hormones in the fertility treatments and some can have heavy bleeding or, in rare cases, infection from the egg retrieval process.
It is extremely important that you discuss all concerns and questions with your regular GP before referral to a clinic for egg freezing. The choice may be entirely yours when it comes to your own body, however you need to be well-informed as to your options when it comes to, potentially, taking the steps towards starting new life.
Would you freeze your eggs? Do you know anyone who has?