Egg freezing has garnered a lot of attention in recent years as the newest trend in baby making. And although it’s becoming a viable option for more women looking to have families in the future, it’s not necessarily the insurance policy they’re hoping for.
The 20s are the best years to conceive, yet as more women wait for Mr. Right, hold off on starting families, or find themselves in new relationships, fertility starts to become more of a challenge. In fact, a healthy and fertile 30-year-old has only a 20 percent change of getting pregnant each month, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
This technology, known as oocyte cryopreservation, has been available to women for just a few years, and experts say less than 1 percent of women are actually freezing their eggs because of a lack of awareness and high costs. From consultation through implantation, the entire process can cost upwards of $20,000 in addition to annual storage fees after the first year.
The treatment is not only for women who are holding off on starting families. Women who are diagnosed with cancer and will likely be infertile after treatment also choose to freeze their eggs.
“It becomes a fertility preservation option,” said Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the New York University Fertility Center. Since 2004, the center has completed more than 1,500 treatment cycles. “It’s about freezing your current potential so you can be your own egg donor if you need it,” he said.
In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the experimental label from oocyte cryopreservation. Yet some experts believe egg freezing isn’t any more experimental than IVF. “I think in some respects it’s a social experiment because it offers an opportunity that women didn’t have before,” Grifo said.
According to a study in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the amount of babies born from frozen eggs was similar to those born from fresh embryos. Yet success rates are still a complicated area for experts.
“Because of the fact that this has been around for such a short time, not that many women have come back to use their frozen eggs,” said Dr. Shahin Ghadir, a reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist and founding partner of Southern California Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The best time for a woman to freeze her eggs is by age 35, but even earlier is ideal. “The younger the eggs, the healthier the eggs,” Ghadir said. And although it’s not impossible to delivery a healthy baby later, there’s a significant decline in fertility after 35 due to egg quality and chromosomal abnormalities.
On average, 10 to 20 eggs are stored, yet there’s no telling how many babies, if any, will result. “You need a lot to get one good one out of it,” Ghadir said.
Some providers will decide to thaw two eggs at a time and make embryos while others will make embryos of all the eggs and then re-freeze them. “We know that frozen embryos do very well for a very long time,” said Ghadir, who added that it’s also very easy to do genetic screening to make sure the embryo is healthy at that point.
The bottom line for women exploring egg freezing as an option? Weigh the pros and cons and have realistic expectations. “It’s not a guarantee; it’s hope,” Grifo said.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.