It’s 2020 and we’re living in an era where women are independent, hard-working and equally the breadwinners of their homes. The old traditions are on their way out of the door, and as a result, women are choosing to conceive and have children at a much later age. Perhaps you’ve been too busy climbing the career ladder, living your best life or you just haven’t met your Mr or Mrs Right yet, and pressing pause on parenthood is just a celebration of your freedom – and we love to see it!
However, as you age, unfortunately, your fertility rate decreases… and the decline can speed up pretty rapidly. You are born with all your eggs and become fertile when you hit puberty until you eventually reach menopause, with the average age to start your menstrual cycle being 12 years old and the average age for menopause being between 50 and 55. So an average healthy woman would have roughly 480 menstrual cycles in their lifetime, depending on any pregnancies (that’s a lot of tampons). Women are at their most fertile before the age of 30, where they have a 25% chance of pregnancy each month, but after that, your fertility rate starts to decrease.
But with science to the rescue, research has invented different techniques in which you can conceive even after your fertile age range. One very novel and successful technique is the process of egg freezing, where multiple egg cells are extracted and frozen from your ovaries at a younger age, to then be thawed and used in the future when you are ready.
But what exactly does egg freezing entail? And how do you know if it’s right for you? Here’s a guide to help you out.
Should you freeze your eggs?
So who is egg freezing for? As mentioned, it can be as simple as the fact that you have not yet met your parenthood partner and are worried about your declining fertility, or you are simply not ready to have children yet. Now, these may be the cases for women who can conceive naturally but wish not to quite yet. However, there are many out there that have been trying and are unsuccessful and may choose to freeze their eggs for medical reasons. Fertility problems can be explained by many reasons, such as you may suffer from ovarian syndromes, hormonal imbalance or endometriosis, which is the uterus lining forming in the wrong sections. These all lead to a lack of regular ovulation resulting in unsuccessful egg release, unsuccessful egg fertilisation and pregnancies.
You may also be diagnosed with a new condition which will affect and possibly damage your ovaries and hormonal balance, therefore, egg freezing may be a good option to preserve your fertility. Also, if you are at risk of injury or death due to being a member of the armed forces, freezing your eggs may mean you can have children once you return from a mission. Similarly, if you are undergoing gender transition you may wish to preserve your fertility through egg freezing as the transitioning process can lead to a total or partial loss of fertility. If you fall into any of these categories may consider egg freezing.
All this is helpful information, right? But how can you understand your fertility and whether or not you should consider egg freezing? Don’t worry, we can help! By measuring and analysing various hormones in your blood, the Hertility team will explain what these hormone levels mean regarding your fertility and reproductive health and give you advice on whether egg freezing is for you.
The process- step-by-step!
Egg freezing might sound pretty futuristic and overwhelming to you, so what does the process actually entail? Before we dive into all the super fancy steps of egg freezing, it is important to note that you will be screened for HIV and Hepatitis B and C as these are infectious diseases and there may be a risk of contamination of other samples during storage. Those that suffer from infectious diseases like this can still get their eggs frozen, however, not all clinics offer this. If they do, then they will have separate labs and extra precautions taken for those patients. The exact steps of your egg freezing process vary depending on your fertility clinic, however, there are three core steps that the process entails; Ovarian Stimulation, Egg Retrieval and Freezing and Storage.
- Ovarian Stimulation
Before you start your ovarian stimulation process, you will undergo ovarian reserve testing, where your quantity and quality of eggs are tested and analysed. This may be done by measuring the concentration of various hormones in your blood such as AMH, FSH and Oestradiol. This helps predict how your body will respond to fertility medication, which will be used to stimulate your ovaries, as well as to determine whether or not your ovarian reserve is suitable for egg freezing. The duration of this step can vary as the tests may be conducted on certain days of your menstrual cycle and of course, your body is exceptionally unique and different to others.
Assuming that your ovarian reserve is suitable, after the informative diagnostic testing, the next step is to stimulate your ovaries with various medication and hormonal therapy. These medications not only stimulate ovulation but also prevent premature ovulation. The synthetic hormones (Gonadotropins) induce your ovaries to release multiple eggs rather than one, as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) requires multiple eggs and multiple chances for an embryo to develop and a baby to grow. IVF is the process after egg freezing and is the technique where the egg cell of a woman and the sperm cell of a man is fused in the lab and then implanted into the womb.
The hormones will most likely be in the form of injections which are to be administered daily. Now the cool part about this is that you can do it yourself, unless of course, you are a bit squeamish, in which you can choose to be assisted. To keep track of the number and growth of your follicles, which contain your eggs, and monitor your hormone levels, you will be asked to attend ultrasounds and blood tests regularly.
Time and planning are essential in this process as every stage requires precise care. Roughly after two weeks of hormonal therapy, a final injection of Gonadotropin aka a trigger injection is administered and then matures your egg, preparing you for egg retrieval. This final dose must be taken at a very precise time and could be the most stressful and daunting step.
2. Egg Retrieval
Time to get those mature eggs out! If you’re light-hearted, then you can choose to undergo this procedure using general anaesthetics rather than being sedated. Your eggs are now ready to be extracted under transvaginal ultrasound guidance. Using a needle and an ultrasound probe, your doctor will identify and then suck out the fluid from each of the grown follicles which, hopefully, contain mature eggs.
3. Freezing & Storage
Once your eggs have been extracted, they are passed onto an embryologist who analyses them and separates the mature eggs from the rest. They will then freeze (cryopreserve) the mature eggs in a method called vitrification. Your frozen eggs will be stored in your fertility clinic to be later thawed when you feel you are ready to have children.
Let’s Talk Money!
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the average cost of the entire egg freezing process from egg retrieval to thawing a§nd womb transferral is roughly between £7000-£8000. Just the egg freezing process itself can cost between £3000 to £5000. Pretty pricey – and unfortunately, the NHS does not provide funding for egg freezing to everyone. However, there are a few NHS exceptions. Firstly, cancer patients who will undergo treatment can get their eggs frozen fully funded. In addition, women over the age of 30, who have tried to conceive and have been unsuccessful for a certain amount of time, may be offered egg freezing funded by the NHS.
Are there any risks involved?
Nothing is for certain! The egg freezing process has its risks and health implications for both you and your potential offspring. Similarly, there is no guarantee that the process will result in a live birth as there are limitations to the entire process. The eggs frozen from a younger woman have shown significantly higher pregnancy rates than the eggs frozen from older women. There is also a small risk that you could develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which is when your ovaries are induced to produce multiple eggs even after the treatment ends.
Egg freezing is a fairly new technique to preserve your fertility. Even though a low number of babies have been born from frozen eggs and further evidence is required to guarantee the success of egg freezing, the success rates are increasing as are its popularity. The risks are low, the existing cases are significantly successful and as further women undergo egg freezing treatment, we will get a better understanding of this novel treatment and will be able to develop it further.
Are you looking to protect your parenthood plans? Our at-home hormone tests can give you an insight into your egg count, fertility and highlight and red-flags. But at Hertility, we don’t believe in giving you results without the rest. We give you the what’s up and the what’s next. Our team of experts include fertility specialists in highly accredited clinics. So if you think egg freezing is the path for you, we can guide you through your treatment.