All you need to know about egg freezing and more. This may be something you consider for your future.
In the last four decades, there has been a big increase in women having their first child later in life. According to a study by National Center for Health Statistics in 2012, there were more than nine times as many first births to women 35 and older than there were 40 years ago. Then, when you factor in that 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant, knowing your fertility health and seeing if egg freezing is something you want to consider may be a smart thing to do!
Egg freezing, known as “oocyte cryopreservation” (if you want to get all medically fancy), is when eggs are retrieved from your ovaries, frozen, and then stored. Freezing your eggs does not mean that you will have to use them to conceive, but if you find you have fertility issues when you’re ready to have children, they are available as an option.
The freezing process is called vitrification. Vitrification is a “fast freeze” that instantly preserves your eggs at the age you were at the time of the retrieval. This process reduces the chances of ice crystal formations on the egg and presents less risk to the egg during the thawing process.
If learning more interests you, your very first step would be to go to your OB/GYN or a reproductive endocrinologist to get a fertility workup. This would entail running blood tests to check your Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estradiol and Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). Then, an ultrasound would be performed to examine the number of follicles on your ovaries. The number of follicles you have directly correlates with the number of eggs in your ovarian reserve. In general, women are born with roughly two million eggs in their ovaries that slowly diminish the older she gets. The blood work, ultrasound, and a review of any health issues or family history, can give the doctor an overview of your fertility health.
Your doctor will walk you through all of your results, and then you can discuss whether egg freezing is something you want to pursue. Egg freezing can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on which clinic you go to and what kind of protocol the doctor recommends. Though each protocol varies slightly, they typically follow the same sequence which is:
- You are given an overall schedule for your egg freezing cycle.
- Your medications will be ordered. NOTE: You should call your insurance company to review what is covered, what is out of pocket, and if you require any preauthorization. Be aware that some insurances will not cover any charges related to egg freezing as it’s considered elective.
- You will have baseline blood work and an ultrasound on your instructed start date to see where your hormones are at and confirm where you are in your cycle.
- You start taking your medications, also known as “stimulation” to help you produce more follicles (eggs). This usually takes approximately 8 -14 days.
- Once your follicles have reached a certain size indicating that they are mature, you will then take your “trigger shot” (also referred to as an hCG) to induce ovulation.
- Approximately 36 hours later, your eggs will be ready for retrieval.
- You will receive light anesthesia, and the fertility doctor will use an ultrasound-guided hollow needle, which is inserted through the back wall of the vagina up into the ovaries. The needle is used to aspirate follicles in the ovaries and suction out an egg from each follicle. You will only be “out” for 15 minutes or so, and speaking as someone who has had this done, it isn’t terribly painful. You may just feel crampy afterward.
- After the egg retrieval, the eggs are prepared for freezing using vitrification. They are transferred to a liquid nitrogen storage chamber, where they are stored in the frozen state until you are ready to thaw them and use them.
- If and when you are ready to fertilize and transfer the embryos that are created from your eggs, your eggs will be thawed and injected with sperm via intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and will be monitored for embryo growth.
Sound good? Well, maybe not as fun as sitting on the beach, but does it sound like something you’d like to look into? If so, if you do have insurance, whether it covers the egg freezing process or not, it typically does cover a consultation so you can meet with a doctor and learn more.
Whether you know for certain you want to have children or are still undecided in general, to be aware and know your health as it relates to conceiving can be life changing. I say at least get a fertility work up and then you can decide what works best for you!