Egg freezing seems to be in the air. Lately, I’ve been hearing from single woman who are considering freezing their eggs because they know
they want kids, but would prefer to have a partner in parenting. I’ve also heard from a few married women, who think they want to be a mom someday, just not now. They want to keep their options open. Of course, we also hear more frequently from women who have come to the end of fertility treatment with their own eggs, and are turning to frozen egg banks to find donor eggs.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, was when I ran into an acquaintance with three adult children in their later 20s through mid 30s who wanted my advice on if she should suggest they (or their wife) freeze their eggs since they didn’t seem in any hurry to have children. Needless to say, I was looking forward to yesterday’s show on Egg Freezing for Fertility Preservation and Egg Donation, with Dr. Daniel Shapiro, Medical Director of Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta and Clinical Manager of My Egg Bank; and Dr. Pat McShane, Associate Director of Fertility Preservation at the University of Colorado Hospital and Medical Director of The World Egg Bank.
Many Ask; Not So Many Follow Through
When the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) took the experimental label off of egg freezing last year, many were concerned that this would herald a rush of women opting for this procedure to extend their childbearing years. ASRM was clear that they were not recommending this. At least so far, they need not worry. While the interest in egg freezing to extend reproductive years is high, according to the experts on yesterday’s show, not that many women are actually doing it.
Who Considers Egg Freezing
Dr. Dan Shapiro said that the typical woman who calls a reproductive endocrinologist for information on egg freezing is 37 to 38 years old and has had some form of psychological shock. This “shock” might be the ending of a relationship, the death of a partner, losing a job, or something to make her take stock and question where her life is going.
Harder Than You Imagine
The reality of freezing your eggs discourages many women. Egg freezing begins the same way an in vitro fertilization cycle. A woman injects herself with strong ovulatory stimulation medications to force her ovaries to produce many eggs, rather than the usual one egg per month. Once her eggs are ripe, they are surgically removed, usually under general anesthesia, by a needle inserted through the back of the vagina. Let’s just say it’s not a walk in the park.
Costlier Than You Imagine
Egg freezing is as stressful to the wallet as it is on the body. Costs vary by region and infertility clinic, but range from around $10-15,000 to freeze the eggs and around $500- 1,000 each year for storage. Of course, you also have to factor in the cost on the other end to thaw and fertilize the egg, grow the embryos, then transfer back into the uterus with the hope of implantation. Add in another $5-7,5000 to cover these costs.
The Catch 22
Egg freezing to preserve fertility is most successful with younger women, but many younger women aren’t ready to think about it and often can’t afford it. Younger women still hope to find their Prince Charming and have kids the usual way with a bottle of wine, candles, and no doctors, unless Mr. P. Charming happens to be one. Why would they want to spend $10-15,000 that they likely don’t have, just on the chance that they will someday need to use their frozen eggs?
What usually happens, as Dr. Shapiro said, is that women end up hoping and waiting until they are in their late 30s and something happens to give them a wake up call. While research is showing that older eggs can be successfully frozen and thawed, the chances of a pregnancy and live birth are totally dependent on the age of the eggs when frozen, and older eggs means less chance of getting pregnant. To further add salt into the wound, women in their late 30s usually have to use more of the expensive ovulatory stimulation medications to force their ovaries into producing more eggs, and even with medication older ovaries simply don’t produce as many eggs.
Egg Banks for Donor Eggs
While egg freezing for preserving fertility is not recommended, this technology is changing the face of egg donation. With pregnancy rates approaching or equal to fresh donor egg cycles and costs often substantially less, more couples are turning to frozen egg banks when looking for an egg donor. Using an egg bank is also more convenient since frozen eggs bypass the need to synch cycles with an egg donor.
Another benefit to egg banks is that fewer excess embryos will be created. Generally a woman or couple buys the number of eggs from the egg bank to fertilize for one transfer. In traditional egg donation, couples often end up with many excess embryos since all the eggs retrieved from the donor (and this is often a substantial number since donors are at the peak of their fertility) are fertilized.
Godsend for Cancer Patients
One of the best uses of egg freezing is for cancer patients, particularly younger women, who aren’t in a permanent relationship. It is not always possible or recommended for a cancer patient to freeze her eggs prior to treatment, but when it is possible it keeps the hope of biological children alive. We will be doing a Creating a Family show on Getting Pregnant After Cancer in the fall. (To receive notice of this show, sign up for our bi-weekly e-newsletter at the bottom of this blog.)
Freezing your eggs to preserve your fertility isn’t something to be entered into lightly or cheaply, but for those who know they want children but for whatever reason must wait or really want to wait, the advancements in this technology seem miraculous. If nothing else they will know that they’ve done everything they can to keep the option of genetically related parenting open. Just remember, there are no guarantees.
So, what do you think? Would you? Should you?
Image credit: eurovision_nicola