Vitality

Ice Ice Baby: How Egg Freezing Works, From Someone Who Does It And Someone Who’s Had It Done

eggs
Thinking about freezing your eggs? You may want to read this then. Kate Ter Haar CC BY 2.0

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood once said, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.” Few realize, however, that freedom over one’s body is not limited to preventing reproduction, but also to preserving the ability to reproduce. In 2016, women can pause their reproductive clocks and opt to have babies at an age when it would otherwise be biologically impossible, thanks to a process known as egg freezing.

T Minus One Million

A woman’s egg is the largest cell in the human body — about 30 times wider than a sperm cell. A baby girl starts off with well over a million of them at birth, but by the time she hits puberty, their numbers have typically dwindled to around 300,000, The New York Times reported. From the start of a woman’s first menstrual cycle until menopause, she loses her eggs until her reserve is completely depleted. Once the eggs are gone, so are the woman’s chances of pregnancy.

At least that’s how it used to be. Today, egg freezing offers women a way to extend their fertility window.

Egg freezing is very similar process to that of in vitro fertilization. Women are typically put on a course of hormones before the actual procedure to stimulate and ripen the eggs — only mature eggs can be taken for freezing. Before the eggs are collected, women must also take birth control pills in order to temporarily turn off their body’s natural hormones. However, as noted by USC Fertility Clinic, this step may be skipped if collecting the eggs is more urgent — such as with cancer patients who want to preserve eggs before undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment.  

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The eggs are then removed with a needle that’s placed into the vagina. Once collected, the eggs are immediately frozen and stored until the woman is ready to thaw and fertilize them in an attempt to have a child.

Dr. David Adamson, a reproductive endocrinologist and founder of ARC Fertility Clinic in Northern California, told Medical Daily that women should undergo STD testing before having the procedure in case they decide to donate their eggs rather than use them. “The FDA requires STD test done for any person who will donate tissue,” he said. “I would recommend screening to make the tissue available for donation.”

Everybody Is Doing It?

A quick Google search of the term “egg freezing” may lead one to believe it’s an up and coming trend for young professional women in America. However, Adamson says there really isn’t a large influx of women coming in requesting to freeze their eggs. “I think it’s more popular with the media than it is with women,” he said, explaining that although egg freezing is a truly important and wonderful aspect of artificial reproductive technology, it really doesn’t apply to every woman.

“The reality is that the vast majority of women still want to have babies the old-fashioned way,” Adamson said. “They are going to find a partner during a time period when they have good fertility. They will get pregnant and they will have a baby.”

Adamson suggests egg freezing is a better choice for women with certain health problems that affect their egg quality. For example, women undergoing cancer treatment or those with a family history of premature ovarian failure would benefit. It’s also ideal for women who want to preserve their fertility until a time that’s more suitable for them to have a baby.

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Unlike what popular headlines say, however, Adamson says women should wait until they are at least 30 but not older than 38 to undergo the procedure. “Under 30 and there is too much of a chance that it won’t be necessary to use her frozen eggs. Over 38 and the chances of ending up with a baby are getting too low,” Adamson said.

Alice Mann, who chose not to use her real name, decided to freeze her eggs when, at 36 years old, she was still without a committed significant other, yet wished to one day have a family. She now runs the EggedOn Blog, where she shares her experiences regarding the procedure.

“I wasn’t prepared to go down the route of trying to have a child on my own at that stage, and rather than seeing every date as a potential father to my children or going out and having unprotected sex with strangers in the hope of ending up pregnant, egg freezing felt like a proactive and positive thing that could offer me a bit of breathing space,” Mann told Medical Daily in an email. She called egg freezing “an insurance policy.”

Insurance Not A Guarantee

Adamson also refers to egg freezing as insurance, while warning that it’s not a guarantee. He says that if six eggs are taken from a 25-year-old woman, she’ll have an approximate 30 percent chance of successfully becoming pregnant. These chances drop to only 20 percent if the eggs are taken from a 35-year-old woman.

Personally, Mann said the experience was emotionally difficult, especially since she chose to keep the fact she was undergoing the procedure a secret from the majority of her friends and family.

“I went to my best friend’s wedding, pretended I was drinking and took the drugs in an insulated bag with syringes and a pack of frozen peas so that I could inject them in the loo that evening,” she said. After six months of hormone injections and egg harvesting, however, she now has a different outlook on the experience.

“I’m glad I did it,” she said. “I know it’s not a guarantee of anything, and it was very expensive. But at a time when I couldn’t have felt more negative, it gave me the opportunity to take a positive step and I can never regret that, even if I never use those eggs or have a child as a result of the procedure.”

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