I heard about freezing eggs in Sex and the City Season 2 when Miranda considers it after she finds out that one of her ovaries has gotten ‘lazy’. The procedure ages back to 1953, with first successful birth in 1999, and Wiki describes it as a process in which a woman’s eggs (oocytes) are extracted, frozen and stored. In the future, the eggs can be thawed, fertilized, and transferred to the uterus as embryos.

With men and women choosing to delay parenthood for any number of reasons, the procedure is more common than you think. However, the success rate is debatable. Gizmodo claims that only 2,000 babies in the world have been born from cryogenically frozen eggs. But it is a hot trend, and here’s what you need to know about it, especially if you are considering having babies ‘later’.

Why do women freeze eggs?

  1. Those who would like to preserve their fertility until they are ready to start a family. Today, we see many women delaying childbearing due to career and other personal or medical reasons, and then struggling to conceive in later years. Pregnancy rates from frozen eggs will depend on the woman’s age at the time she freezes her eggs, but will not be affected by the age at which she comes back to use them.
  2. Those diagnosed with cancer who have not yet begun chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In the short time that is available, stimulation of the ovaries can be undertaken safely and eggs can be preserved. Significant damage to the ovarian follicles can be expected after cancer treatment.
  3. Those with religious or other reasons not to freeze embryos during in vitro fertilisation may find that egg freezing is a viable option.

How is the process done?

In order to retrieve eggs for freezing, a patient undergoes the same hormone injection process as in vitro fertilization. The only difference is that following egg retrieval, the eggs are frozen for a period before they are thawed, fertilised and transferred to the uterus as embryos.

It takes approximately two to three weeks to complete the egg freezing cycle, which is consistent with the initial stages of the IVF process, including 10 to 14 days of hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries and ripen multiple eggs.

Once the eggs have adequately matured, they are removed with a needle that is carefully placed through the vagina under ultrasound guidance. This procedure is done under intravenous sedation and is not painful. The eggs are then immediately frozen. When the patient is ready to attempt pregnancy, which can be several years later, the eggs are thawed, injected with a single sperm to achieve fertilisation, and then transferred to the uterus as embryos.

Good to know:

  1. It is recommend to freeze 10 eggs to be stored for each pregnancy attempt.
  2. Long-term storage of frozen eggs, for as long as 10 years, does not result in any decrease in quality.
  3. To take advantage of best egg quality and quantity, it is recommend to freeze eggs in the prime reproductive years — a woman’s 20s and early 30s.
  4. The costs of egg freezing are identical to those of routine IVF. In general, it costs USD 8,500 to undergo an egg freezing cycle. The egg thaw, fertilisation and embryo transfer procedure costs roughly USD 5,000, which is payable at the time of egg thaw.
  5. Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) testing is a blood test that is used to find out the number of eggs remaining in the body. It may help to define a woman’s fertility potential and ovarian reserve, and can also tell a woman about her response when injections are given to stimulate the ovaries.

A special shoutout to Fakih IVF Fertility Center and Dr. Monika Chawla for the information.

Image courtesy – Genetic Literacy Project.