All About Freezing Your Eggs—Our Readers Asked, a Fertility Doctor Answered
You know you’re getting older when your married friend forwards you an invite for a roundtable about freezing your eggs and says she’ll go with you for moral support (yes, this has happened to me). But rather than be offended—since she had the best of intentions—I was comforted in the fact that technology such as this takes some of the pressure off of meeting the right person and settling down.This sparked my curiosity as to what's really involved in the process of egg freezing—and as I've found out, a lot of single and married women I know are just as intrigued.
Most of us have heard through the grapevine a few of the details surrounding egg freezing. For example, most are aware that you’ll have to give yourself some injections, that not all of your eggs may be viable, and most of all, that it can be quite the investment (although a worthwhile one at that).
With the help of some of our savvy readers, we rounded up all the questions we have surrounding egg freezing below—and then tapped fertility specialist Shahin Ghadir, MD, of Southern California Reproductive Center to respond to each. It may be worth taking notes.
How do I know if I should freeze my eggs?
SHAHIN GHADIR: Any woman who is not in a committed relationship and wants to have children needs to consider freezing their eggs. You should start by visiting a fertility specialist to assess your fertility level and see if it’s a good option for you.
At what age should you freeze your eggs? 26, 28, 30-plus?
SG: The advice I always give is that the younger and sooner, the better quality and mature eggs you can freeze. As women age, their egg count goes down and so does their egg quality. However, I would never discourage women not to freeze eggs. I had one case with a 43-year-old woman who froze three eggs and one of those led to a successful pregnancy.
If you freeze your eggs and decide to have a baby after 40, is it best to use your frozen eggs or try to get pregnant naturally first?
SG: I always recommend to try to get pregnant naturally first. If for any reason it isn’t working well, then consider using frozen eggs.
At which age is it pointless for me to freeze my eggs?
SG: Each individual should be assessed by a fertility specialist. The risk and benefits should be thoroughly discussed before making that decision.
What is the egg-freezing process? And do you have to stay celibate?
SG: The process usually involves a call to the office on day one of your menstrual flow and a blood test on day three of your cycle. We generally then put you on birth control to stop your natural cycle and transition into a 10- to 12-day process of self-administered injection to help the number of eggs grow. During the injection period, we ask you to come in four or five times for blood tests and ultrasounds to assess the growth of eggs. The eggs will be retrieved under a light anesthesia; you are sedated to remove the eggs using an ultrasound and needle which sucks the eggs out of the ovary. During the last week of injections and the week after the egg retrieval, we recommend patients do not have sex or exercise.
How much do the hormones affect your mood? Are the effects noticeable or subtle?
SG: Most women tolerate the injectable extremely well. However, some do report some mood-related side effects.
Does taking continuous birth control or birth control pills for an extended time (five to 10 years) lead to complications with your number of available eggs?
SG: The use of continuous birth control pills or birth control pills for long periods of time has been shown to have no effect on long-term fertility for women in multiple studies. Whether a woman naturally has a menstrual flow on a monthly basis, skips her flow because she is taking birth control pills, or is on birth control pills and has a normal menstrual flow, none will cause her eggs to diminish. Every month while releasing the one egg for ovulation, approximately 1000 others will die in the process. Even if someone is taking birth control pills and no egg is being released that month, there is still about the same exact loss of 1000 eggs per month. As a woman gets older, more and more eggs die each month. Many women believe that they are protecting their fertility by continuing to take birth control pills, and as great as that sounds, unfortunately, it is not helpful. Also, skipping the placebo pills in your birth control pack has no effect on the number and quality of eggs.
If I only have one ovary, is it a good idea to freeze my eggs?
SG: Women with one ovary are the number one group of people who should freeze their eggs. If they were to get something like an ovarian cyst, ovarian torsion, or anything that can cause them to lose that remaining ovary, they would no longer have the option to have their own biological children if they didn’t freeze eggs beforehand.
What if I only have half of a reconstructed ovary?
SG: Generally speaking, even a reconstructed ovary or one that’s gone through surgery can still produce eggs when stimulated.
If a doctor cannot determine the quality of an egg, what is the point of freezing when they can all be bad?
SG: No one can ever give a definitive answer on how future and collected eggs will do, but having eggs frozen and stored always leaves the potential for future fertility whereas not freezing eggs closes those doors.
What is the difference between freezing embryos and eggs? [Ed Note: Freezing embryos is when you freeze an egg fertilised with sperm.]
SG: Freezing an embryo allows for genetic testing and determines which embryo will be healthy, while that’s not possible for a frozen egg.
How much does it cost to store your eggs per year, and how long do they last?
SG: Annual storage fees are around $600 per year. Eggs, embryos, and sperm theoretically can be frozen indefinitely. We have had success with sperm stored for 31.5 years and one-year-old embryos.
Help me choose: Pay off my student loans or freeze my eggs?
SG: You can always continue to pay student loans, however, not freezing your eggs at the appropriate time will leave you without any options for fertility in the future.