Remember the episode of Being Mary Jane where MJ makes the tough choice to freeze her eggs. Raise your hand if you thought, “this could be me.” Keep your hand up if you thought, “this probably will be me.”
If you’re a single, Millennial woman pushing or passing 30, I’m sure you’ve heard, loathe and tremble just a tad at the term “biological clock,” particularly when reminded each baby-less birthday that it is steadily ticking away. With more women, particularly women of color, becoming more vocal about their choice to postpone child birth, the need to be proactive about our reproductive systems while also being realistic about when we plan to have children is a must. Recently, 38-year-old political analyst Angela Rye spoke publicly about her decision to undergo oocyte cryopreservation, more commonly known as egg freezing, telling Refinery29:
“I froze my eggs in January, and because I have such a stressful life, I wanted to try to create a nurturing environment for eggs to grow… I first looked into [egg freezing] when I was turning 35, because they say your egg count goes down around that age, so I looked into it as a just in case. And after they ran some tests, I learned my egg reserve number was low. That scared me! But it also wasn’t an instant decision, because to be honest, the process is expensive…Now [after freezing my eggs], I don’t feel any pressure as far as work timelines or relationships…I can just focus on my purpose and know that I have that option there if I want it.”
Of course, pursuing a career, waiting for the perfect mate, battling an illness, or simply living your best child-free life are all legitimate reasons to postpone motherhood. And with those choices also comes the reality that by the time you’re ready to have children, your body and ovaries may not be spring chickens, meaning planning up front and possibly considering alternative reproduction methods is key.
From the best age to freeze your eggs, to cost and health insurance coverage, we’ve answered some common questions associated egg freezing. While this article shouldn’t be your last stop in deciding whether or not to freeze your eggs, these tips will hopefully make the decision a little easier and a lot less scarier.
What age should I freeze my eggs?
“…when a woman is 25, already only roughly 50 percent of the eggs in her body will be chromosomally normal, meaning they have a high chance of being fertilized and growing to term without any issues. By 35, that number drops to 25 percent for the same outcome. So in an ideal world, the earlier you make a decision, the better. For most women, egg freezing is less likely to be successful once they hit their 40s. I try to give my patients an estimate of how many eggs she might need to freeze per baby effort, based mainly on her age. Her ovarian reserve hormone levels and a count of follicles seen on an ultrasound in her ovaries helps me estimate how many cycles she may need to do to accomplish that goal.”
How much does it cost?
If you happen to work for one of the few companies that cover elective egg freezing such as Apple, Google of Facebook, you’re in luck. As for the rest us, the cost can vary based on several factors including the number of cycles needed, location and what fertility clinic you use.
On average, the total for egg freezing ranges from $7,000 – $12,000 for a single round of retrieval. Factor in the costs for hormonal drugs ($2,000 – $6,000), storage fees to keep your eggs frozen ($350 – $1,500), and the cost of fertilizing and implanting the eggs ($5,000+) and you’re looking at about $20,000. Luckily, many fertility clinics offer payment plans and some health insurance plans and employers do offer partial coverage or reimbursement.
Before the sticker shock sets in, there is good news. According to survey conducted earlier this year by Willis Towers Watson, 66 percent of employers plan to offer fertility benefits by 2019, up from 55 percent in 2017.
What does the actual process entail?
The following infographic from the Center for Reproductive & Genetic Health in London provides a simplified version of the egg-freezing process.
Dr. Givens further breaks it down.
“The first step in the egg-freezing process is to generate multiple eggs for retrieval. So a physician will prescribe the patient with fertility medication to stimulate follicle growth and produce as many eggs as possible. Once on these medications, patients will come in for a series of ultrasounds and lab tests. A physician will monitor you on a regular basis to assess follicle growth and the number of eggs being produced. When follicles are mature and ready for retrieval, you stop taking the fertility medication and switch to an ovulation trigger—a hormone that brings on the final phase of egg maturation.”
Next up is the egg retrieval. During this painless and relatively brief procedure, your doctor uses an ultrasound to help guide a tiny needle into the follicles to gather the eggs. You will be sedated during the process and in the care of an anesthesiologist throughout the procedure. After the eggs are retrieved, they are immediately sent to be preserved, such as through a rapid freezing process called vitrification. Eggs remain frozen until they are ready to be fertilized.” (Side Note: This is where IVF treatments come in).”
How long can frozen eggs be stored?
It’s tough to give a clear answer on this one, as research is still being done on the preservation of embryos. Current research has shown that frozen eggs can be viable for up to 4 or 5 years, however the belief is that the eggs would maintain their usefulness as long as the freezing conditions remained consistent and optimal. This means, frozen eggs could be stored as long as you need them to be.
Should only single women consider egg freezing?
Not at all. While single women or women not quite ready to start a family are most likely to freeze their eggs, doctors also recommend that women considering having very large families consider egg freezing. Women undergoing some type of medical treatment or health issue such as cancer or an ovulation disorder are also strong candidates for egg freezing.
Bottom line, freezing your eggs is a very personal decision that only you can make. If this is something you’re considering, begin the conversations now with your family and doctor. God gives us options and information, so why not take advantage of them.