If you’re a person with a uterus between the ages of 25 and 40, you’ve likely encountered the idea of freezing your eggs. From millennial pink Instagram ads driving you to websites with chic branding, to keynote speeches at women’s empowerment summits, to conversations in the group chat, it seems like the fertility preservation practice is everywhere all of a sudden — regardless of what your biological clock is or is not telling you.
Freezing your eggs (aka “oocyte cryopreservation”) is far from new — the procedure has been routinely offering women more fertility flexibility since the 1980s. But thanks to a combination of factors — financing plans and insurance coverage that make the procedure more affordable, the smashing of taboos around reproductive health, and a trend towards having kids later in life — it’s become more popular and more openly discussed.
So, what do you need to know about the procedure and whether freezing your eggs is the right move? We asked two leading experts to break down common questions.
When is the ideal time to freeze your eggs?
The first thing to know about fertility is that age really does matter — it’s the number one predictor of fertility for women. “You can freeze your eggs at any time, but the sooner you do it, the better,” says Dr. Sanaz Ghazal, co-founder and Medical Director of RISE Fertility. “As you get older, the quantity and quality of your eggs decrease, which is important if you want or need to use your eggs in the future.”
Experts recommend freezing your eggs in your late 20s or early 30s (fertility begins to decline significantly at 35). “There are also medical conditions that can impact when a woman should freeze her eggs such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), as these conditions can diminish egg quality,” says Dr. Jessica Rubin, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist with Reproductive Biology Associates, part of The Prelude Network. “Women being treated for cancer or autoimmune diseases should also consider egg freezing since these treatments often impair egg quantity and health,” she adds. (Not sure how those conditions might be impacting you? Talk to your doctor about your plans and your personal risk factors.)
How long can you keep eggs on ice?
“Once eggs are frozen, they can be stored and saved indefinitely and used at any time,” says Dr. Ghazal. A recent study conducted by doctors at the NYU Langone Fertility Center over 15 years found that eggs that have been frozen for years don’t decline in quality. Babies have been born from eggs frozen for over 14 years, adds Dr. Rubin.
In other words, “freezing your eggs is like pausing your biological clock,” says Dr. Ghazal. “No matter when you decide to use your frozen eggs, their quality and performance will likely be consistent with your age at the time they were frozen.”
What is the physical process like?
Freezing your eggs is a multi-step process that takes about 12 to 14 days from start to finish.
“It starts with understanding a patient’s reproductive health and fertility goals. To start, a doctor will order blood work and an ultrasound to gauge a patient’s ovarian egg reserve (egg number) and her potential response to ovarian-stimulating medications,” explains Dr. Rubin. “Based on these tests, a fertility specialist will determine a woman’s personalized treatment plan.”
The treatment plan starts with 10 days of medication, which is injected daily at the start of your menstrual cycle to stimulate your ovaries to grow as many eggs as possible. (Doctors aim for 10-15 eggs per pregnancy attempt.) During this time, you’ll make three to four visits to your doctor’s office to monitor your progress. (Think: blood work and ultrasounds.) “Prior to retrieval, the patient will take what is called a trigger shot, which prepares your ovaries by signaling it’s time for ovulation,” says Dr. Rubin.
After the trigger shot — which is an injection of the “pregnancy hormone,” human chorionic gonadotropin — it’s time for the actual egg retrieval. “During egg retrieval, the patient is placed under sedation and eggs are collected from the ovaries under ultrasound guidance,” says Dr. Rubin. Recovery is pretty quick — 1-2 days — but you might experience some soreness, cramping, and spotting during this time.
What are the risks?
The idea of going under anesthesia can sound intimidating — and it is important to discuss all risks and side effects with your doctor — but the procedure is extremely safe, backed by hundreds of millions of successful outcomes.
The main risk to discuss is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which can cause pain and swelling in the ovaries. It’s rare, but definitely worth discussing with your doctor.
How much does egg freezing cost?
It’s true that egg freezing is more accessible than ever thanks to financing options that break the cost down into more affordable installments. (More and more insurance plans are also starting to offer coverage for the procedure.) But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s cheap.
The average cost of a single cycle of egg freezing in the U.S. is $15,000 to $20,000, according to Fertility IQ, which includes treatment, medication, and the cost of storage for five years. However, the average woman undergoes two egg freezing cycles (in order to retrieve an optimal amount of eggs), so plan to budget for up to $40,000. “Many clinics offer financing options to help aspiring parents afford the cost of egg freezing and other fertility treatments,” says Dr. Rubin.
Keep in mind, that number doesn’t include the cost of actually using those eggs. “Once you decide to use your eggs, there will be additional costs depending on your treatment plan,” says Dr. Ghazal. If you plan to opt for a procedure like IVF or IUI, make sure you talk to your fertility clinic and insurance company about the costs and what is covered.
How to choose the right fertility clinic?
Okay, so how do you go about finding the right doctor to have all of these important conversations with? “You want to start by making sure you are working with a reputable clinic that focuses on personalized treatment plans based on your individual needs,” says Dr. Rubin. Look for board-certified specialists.
You also want to feel comfortable. “One of the important things to consider when vetting fertility clinics is to find a physician that makes you feel comfortable and at ease and a clinical team that will support you throughout your journey,” says Dr. Ghazal. Don’t be afraid to shop around — egg freezing is an emotional and physical journey and you want to feel like you have a team behind you.
Should I get fertility testing done first?
Traditionally, the tests that can arm you with the information you need about your current and future fertility to make these major life decisions weren’t easily accessible. (Most doctors won’t do standard fertility tests until you’ve been trying and failing to get pregnant for six months to a year.) But that’s changing thanks to a new wave of women’s health companies like Modern Fertility, who are making those tests accessible — super helpful if you’re not sure when you might want to start a family and you don’t know how proactive you should be now.
“Fertility testing is a very useful part of the egg freezing process, as it gives women and their fertility specialist valuable information about the quality and quantity of their ovarian reserve,” says Dr. Rubin. To have the best egg freezing outcomes, you want to freeze, when your egg quality and quantity are at their peak, she explains. Three measures in particular — antral follicle count, which is measured via ultrasound, and levels of Anti-Müllerian hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, which are measured via a blood test — help your doctor determine your current fertility status. You can get info on your levels of the latter two via an at-home test from Modern Fertility or EverlyWell.
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