At last, women have the same benefits as men in the reproductive world. With the advent of successful egg freezing, we have the ability to preserve our fertility and deliver babies long after our bodies biologically can’t, or won’t.
As a woman ages, so do her eggs. Female fertility rates drop significantly by the time a woman reaches her 40th birthday. By the time she is 45, her chances of delivering a baby with her own eggs is nearing zero. We can’t cheat Mother Nature. No matter how many salads we eat or days we exercise, our eggs will continue to age along with the rest of our body.
Unfortunately for some women, age is not always the fertility villain. Instead, cancer or other health conditions may compromise a woman’s fertility. It is difficult to hear an unwanted diagnosis to only learn that a dream of having a baby may be compromised as well. Thankfully, egg freezing is changing the field of reproductive medicine, giving women the opportunity to preserve their fertility and another chance at parenthood.Technically, egg freezing is not new. In fact, egg freezing was first reported as long ago as 1986. Fertility clinics have been freezing eggs for years. Until recently, few babies have successfully been born from traditional egg freezing. Now, a new technique called vitrification has changed the egg freezing game, making it a real and viable option for women.
Vitrification is a flash freeze technique in which eggs are plunged quickly into liquid nitrogen. In the past a slow freeze technique was utilized. This slow freeze often resulted in ice crystals in the structure of the egg cell, thereby compromising the integrity of the cell.
Presently egg freezing is considered experimental by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). An October 18, 2011, a press release put out by ASRM should cause those interested in egg freezing to do some research. In that press release, President of ASRM Dr. Roger Lobo states, ASRM considers elective egg freezing an experimental procedure with insufficient data on usage and outcomes to assure patients that it’s a worthwhile undertaking. Despite increasing numbers of clinics offering the procedure and the significant media attention paid it in the last several years, women are not pursuing elective egg freezing at an age when it would most likely help them accomplish their fertility goals. It is apparent that patients need more education about their fertility at younger ages and we need more outcomes research to help us better advise them of their best options.
Egg freezing using the vitrification technique remains relatively new. While the research and data on egg freezing are growing, there is still limited empirical data in comparison to more common procedures such as sperm freezing. Like most procedures, as more fertility clinics perform egg freezing, more research will continue to emerge and ASRM will likely remove the “experimental” designation at some point in the near future.
The quality of the vitrification technique varies between fertility clinics, so if you choose to preserve your eggs, do a little research into each fertility clinics’ experience in both freezing and thawing techniques. Both components of the process: the freeze and the thaw are equally important. As well, discuss your current age and its impact on your fertility with your physician, so you fully understand your chances of conceiving a baby when you are ready to use your eggs.
Egg freezing may give some critics visions of superwomen too self-absorbed to take time to have children. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with waiting for Mr. Right or climbing the corporate ladder in your younger years, especially in this time period when many of us are thankful to even have employment. Women choose to freeze their eggs for a wide variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with their social status in life. For example, egg freezing and fertility preservation offer a life preserver to the woman undergoing cancer treatment or to the woman who knows she wants a child ¦ just not yet.
In accordance with Dr. Lobo’s comments, not every woman should run out to freeze her eggs. The ideal candidate for elective egg preservation is over the age of 32 and under the age of 40. While egg freezing does afford a woman an opportunity to bear children with her own eggs, it is not a guarantee. Not every egg will produce a baby.
No matter what life throws us, women can have renewed hope of an increased chance of having genetic children. So, eat the salads, continue to exercise, and when the right time comes along, you can eat your cake and hopefully have a baby too.
Heidi Hayes is CEO of Donor Egg Bank USA, a national and international network of Fertility Clinics collaborating together to offer patients access to frozen donor eggs as an alternative to traditional donor IVF treatment. Heidi works with over 100 of the nation’s leading reproductive endocrinologists and embryologists and has a deep understanding of infertility from her own personal experience, having built her family through adoption and donor egg treatment.