In recent years, there has been a notable increase in women choosing to preserve future fertility through a process commonly referred to as ‘egg freezing’.
Egg freezing allows a woman to store mature eggs for an indefinite length of time. The aim being to allow a woman a chance of achieving a pregnancy at a later stage of life.
There are a number of reasons that a woman may choose to undergo this process, most commonly:
• Fertility declines with age. After the age of 35 years, this decline happens more rapidly and many women age over 35 struggle to fall pregnant naturally.
• Egg quality and quantity also declines with age, so eggs that are frozen at a younger age, will retain the quality that they had at the time they were harvested.
• Health reasons. Women who are undergoing chemotherapy or other medical procedures that could impact future fertility may choose to freeze their eggs as a safety net.
• Financial or personal reasons. Many women choose to freeze their eggs at a certain age if they have not met a suitable partner, or are unable to afford to have a baby at the moment, but would like to have the option of having one at a later stage of life.
• Women who are at risk of premature menopause.
The process involves in egg freezing is somewhat invasive and requires referral to a fertility specialist. The specialist will ensure you understand how the process works, the costs involved, potential risks and the chance of achieving a successful pregnancy using frozen eggs.
The specialist will then refer you for investigations such as hormone testing and a sexually transmitted infection screen.
During a normal menstrual cycle, only one egg matures and is released per month. The egg freezing process involves a course of fertility medication over about 10-12 days that is designed to stimulate maturation of all the eggs that are present. The development of mature eggs is monitored using blood tests and ultrasounds.
When the eggs are ready to be collected, you will be given a light anaesthetic and the doctor will collect the eggs, via the vagina under ultrasound-guided control. The whole procedure takes no more than 20 minutes and you are generally able to leave after 1-2 hours.
Collected eggs are snap-frozen and stored indefinitely in liquid nitrogen.
Your Doctor will collect as many as 10-35 eggs (depending on your age at the time of collection) in order to maximise the number of viable eggs. This may mean that multiple collection cycles will be required. Some eggs will not survive the freezing and thawing process and others will not be suitable for fertilisation for any number of other reasons.
There are considerable costs associated with egg freezing and unless there is a medical reason for choosing to undergo egg freezing, there is usually no Medicare rebate. There will be fees attached to the initial consultation, the fertility medication, the ultrasounds, the retrieval procedure and ongoing costs for storage of the collected eggs. There will also be costs involved if you decide to use the eggs when you are ready to try for a pregnancy.
It is important to remember that not all transferred eggs will result in a pregnancy, but the chances of a successful live birth is about the same as for ‘fresh’ eggs that are collected during a normal IVF procedure. If you are considering this procedure, it is a good idea to do your research and enquire about the fertility clinic’s success rate using frozen eggs.
Many women who choose to freeze their eggs are still able to fall pregnant naturally when the time comes, so it is not uncommon for the frozen eggs to never be required. Success rates for pregnancy using frozen eggs do decline with age and often depend on the age of the eggs at the time of collection.
If you are considering egg freezing, there are a lot of fertility clinics to choose from. Speak to your GP first and if necessary, seek consultations with multiple fertility clinics to get the most appropriate advice for your personal circumstances and financial situation.