Ever considered putting your fertility on ice?
We know that lots of us want to delay having children until we are in our 30s – but we also know that as women, we biologically have the best chance of conceiving naturally in our 20s.
What’s a girl to do?
Increasingly, women are turning to egg freezing as a method of preserving their fertility.
In a poll, 28 per cent of you told us that you have considered freezing your eggs.
Celebrities like Rita Ora have admitted to doing it and major companies like Apple and Facebook now offer it to employees as part of their healthcare plan.
It’s worth noting that egg freezing is not just used by women who are choosing to delay motherhood, which is known as ‘social egg freezing’.
Some women who have to undergo treatment like chemotherapy, which could potentially affect their fertility, also choose to do it.
So what’s involved and is it worth doing?
How does it work?
There are three parts to the process – stimulating the ovaries, retrieving the eggs from the woman’s body and then freezing them in a lab for storage.
For the retrieval (also know as extraction) the woman is given medication to produce multiple egg follicles. Each of these will hopefully develop a healthy egg.
The woman’s response to the medication is monitored and when her hormones are at the right levels, she’ll be injected with a hormone to trigger egg maturation.
The eggs are then retrieved in a minor procedure under anaesthesia. The fluid in the follicles is extracted by a needle attached to a transvaginal ultrasound probe (a long, narrow wand) which is guided through the vagina.
It’s an outpatient procedure, meaning the woman can go home afterwards. The cycle, from first stimulation to retrieval, takes about 14 days.
In a lab, the fluid from the follicles is examined for eggs. After eggs are identified, they’re transferred to specially prepared petri dishes and cryopreserved for storage.
Once frozen, eggs can be stored for years and won’t ‘go off’ or diminish in quality.
When’s the best time to do it?
As with all things fertility-related, the earlier you can freeze your eggs, the better your chances will be.
“If you fall into the category now of many women who are just not thinking about having children or not able to have children that young, then actually I would be getting my eggs frozen by 30,” says Dr Simon Fishel of Beacon CARE Fertility.
Current success rates for women who thaw their eggs and try to use them to conceive are only at 18 per cent, he added.
This is not to do with the procedure itself – it’s the fact that lots of the people who have frozen their eggs did it too late.
“There is a very clear reason why freezing eggs at an earlier age is so much more important. It’s about the chance of having a baby and reducing the chance of having a miscarriage and reducing the chance of having a baby with an abnormality.”
That’s not to say that it’s not worth freezing your eggs after 30. Anyone considering egg freezing should have their eggs counted to establish whether they really do need to get a wriggle on.
How much does it cost?
The most important thing to note is that stimulation and extraction is the more expensive part.
At most of the fertility clinics in Ireland that I looked into, including the Sims Clinic and at Beacon Care Fertility, an egg freezing cycle and a year of storage costs €3,000. Storage for subsequent years is around €300 to €350 depending on where you go.
Not everyone who freezes their eggs will use them but there are further costs if you do use your eggs in the future.
Overall, there’s no doubt that it’s a costly measure to take (especially with no guarantee of success in the future) and is the sort of thing that will have a different value to different people.
After the initial hit of the extraction, a couple of hundred euro per year to keep your eggs tucked away might seem worth it if you’re very keen on becoming a mother one day.
If you’re not so sure, it might seem like too much money.
This October is Fertility Month on Her, when we’ll be talking all things reproductive health and having babies.
You can check out all of our Fertility Month articles here.
Want to get in touch? Email me at [email protected].