When it comes to fertility, it's smart to plan for the future. The older you get, the harder it is to get pregnant because the age of your eggs greatly influences your ability to conceive. But if you're feeling trapped by your biological clock, you can explore egg freezing.
"The younger your eggs are when trying to conceive, the better chance you will have of getting pregnant," says John Zhang, a pioneer in the field of fertility and founder of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. "If you know that one day you would like to become a mother but feel that now is just not the time, we recommend freezing your eggs."
Who is it for?
Egg freezing—also known as oocyte freezing—involves extracting egg cells from the ovaries, freezing them and then storing them to be fertilized later. It's a safe and effective procedure that more women are choosing to keep their options open for having children later in life.
But wanting to wait until you feel you're ready to tackle parenting isn't the only reason to freeze your eggs. It's also a great plan of action for women who are diagnosed with medical conditions that necessitate the removal of their ovaries or who are undergoing medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, that may damage their reproductive system. It's also a treatment path for women who suffer from conditions that can shorten their fertile years, such as early menopause, premature ovarian failure and low antral follicle counts.
Ideal candidates have regular periods and are under the age of 37, says Zhang. Without those two factors, the likelihood of success will decrease, but that doesn't mean egg freezing isn't an option. It's not a one-diagnosis-fits-all type of procedure.
How does egg freezing work?
Every woman's cycle varies, but the process usually takes two weeks to complete from prep to retrieval. The first step in pursuing egg freezing is an initial consultation. You undergo a series of tests, including blood work and an ultrasound to evaluate your ovarian reserve.
After your period begins, you get more blood tests and another ultrasound to determine the proper dosages of the medications that will be used. Through the first half of your cycle, you take these drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce a few follicles that potentially contain eggs. Drugs may be administered by injection or orally. When the follicles reach a desirable size, ovulation is induced, and egg retrieval is scheduled.
The eggs are retrieved from the ovaries through the vagina, which eliminates the need for an incision on the abdomen. The patient remains awake through the procedure, but local anesthesia or IV sedation is typically used. Either way, the procedure is minimally invasive and painless.
The advantage of freezing young, healthy eggs is that they can be stored indefinitely, which means you're no longer racing your biological clock and can pursue pregnancy and parenthood when you're ready. Doctors can share information about the health of your eggs and your chances for pregnancy to help shape your decisions.
However, the procedure isn't cheap. One cycle of egg freezing costs an average of $7,200 plus medication costs, which varies depending on treatment plan, Zhang says. Many clinics offer a period of complimentary storage at the end of your first egg banking. After that period, storage fees can average $1,200 a year.