Although discussed much more openly now than in the past, egg freezing is still a taboo subject in some circles and is quite a complicated topic. The decision to freeze your eggs is a highly personal one and is best discussed with your doctor and your healthcare team. Friends and family members who know you well can be a great source of advice, but they can also be a source of misinformation when it comes to egg freezing. Make sure you're dealing with the facts and your own feelings only when deciding whether or not to freeze your eggs.
What is Egg Freezing?
Known in medical circles as oocyte cryopreservation, egg freezing is a process in which a doctor extracts some eggs from your ovaries and then freezes them for use later. The eggs get frozen before being fertilized, so you are preserving only an egg and not an embryo or fetus. If you decide at some point that you want to get pregnant, your doctor will thaw your eggs and fertilize them with a sperm donation collected from your partner or a sperm bank. Upon successful fertilization, the doctor places the embryo into your uterus where a pregnancy will hopefully result.
Why do Women Freeze Their Eggs?
Unlike men, who continue to produce sperm throughout their lives, women are born with all of their eggs already formed and waiting for fertilization. As you age, so do your eggs. The older your eggs, the less likely you are to experience a healthy, successful pregnancy. As a result, women often freeze their eggs in an attempt to give themselves more time.
One is that they simply aren't ready to settle down or haven't found the right man to settle down with. If you're hearing the ticking of your biological clock a bit more loudly these days but aren't ready for family life, freezing your eggs may buy you time. If you freeze your eggs now, you can spend more time focusing on yourself and your career without sacrificing your chance to have a baby.
Sometimes women aren't looking for the right man at all. Perhaps you're looking for the right woman or prefer the idea of raising a child yourself. If so, freezing your eggs provides the opportunity to have a biological child without a male counterpart in your life.
Although age is often a factor in the egg freezing decision, so is health. Some cancer treatments and other medical interventions can save your life but damage your fertility. If you need medical treatment that could reduce your chances of getting pregnant later, you may want to consider freezing your eggs. Doing so allows you to freeze your eggs before treatment and then consider pregnancy later when your health improves. If the eggs in your body did suffer damage, you'll have the frozen ones to use.
Are There Downsides to Egg Freezing?
Unfortunately, very few of life's choices offer win-win situations. While there are compelling reasons to freeze your eggs, the process does have some potential pitfalls. One is the cost. You can't just grab your eggs and pop them in the freezer at home. Egg harvesting requires the services of a medical specialist and an anesthesiologist to keep you comfortable during the procedure. You'll also need medication before the retrieval that allows your body to get more than one egg ready. Your body normally releases only one egg a month, and you'll need medication to override that so your doctor can harvest multiple eggs.
Your health insurance may or may not cover these expenses. Even if your insurance does cover egg retrieval, the cryogenic labs that store eggs charge women a monthly fee for doing so. While some clinics offer more affordable options, you can generally expect to pay between $10,000 and $12,000 for one egg retrieval cycle and $800 a year for egg storage.
Be aware, too, that egg freezing comes with no guarantees. Some eggs don't survive the freezing process. Others don't survive thawing. Even if all goes well and your eggs survive freezing, thawing and fertilization, implantation doesn't always lead to pregnancy. Some women freeze their eggs with great success. The process does fail others, however. Your odds of a successful pregnancy with frozen eggs is between 4 and 14 percent per egg. The more eggs you freeze, the better your odds become.
Just because you've frozen eggs doesn't mean you'll use them. Many women freeze their eggs and then get pregnant on their own later. There is no harm in freezing eggs and not using them, but it does result in a sizeable expense if you freeze eggs but never use them. Some women, however, get peace of mind from having frozen eggs to fall back on and feel it worth the cost, even if the eggs are never used.
Maybe a recent birthday has you paying more attention to the ticking of your biological clock. Perhaps your mother's constant nagging about when she is getting a grandchild has started you thinking. Whatever the reason you're considering egg freezing, try not to worry too much. With a bit of time and advice from your doctor, you'll make the decision that's right for you.