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Egg Freezing for Fertility Preservation
“Julie” was 23 and starting medical school; “Anika” was 36 and leaving for a military deployment; “Amy” was 19 and had just been diagnosed with lymphoma.
What did these patients all have in common? They wanted to have children someday, but were unable to do so immediately and wished to preserve their options for the future.
Time is not kind to our plans for having a family, and for women especially, the chances of pregnancy start to decline at 35 and by age 42 pregnancies are much harder to achieve. Our busy modern lives cannot always be put on hold while we fulfill those dreams. Until very recently women had no option to protect and preserve their fertility. This has all changed dramatically in the last several years.
Thanks to a new procedure, “egg freezing” (oocyte cryopreservation), eggs can be removed from the ovaries and frozen for future use. Since female fertility is primarily a function of the age of the eggs, freezing them essentially stops time. Thus a woman who freezes her eggs at age 25 will have the same chances of pregnancy ten years later when she uses those eggs. This allows her not only to preserve her fertility, but also to decrease some of the risks associated with later childbearing such as the risk of Down syndrome or miscarriage.
In order to have eggs frozen, a woman must first go through a basic screening involving some blood tests and ultrasound exams. Once those are complete she will complete a two week course of treatment that is identical to the start of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) process. After taking medication to ensure the maturation of a group of eggs, they are removed from the ovary with a needle and frozen.
This process is useful for women who do not immediately want a child, but want to keep their options open in the future. We see too many women who delay childbearing, then have difficulty conceiving. It is also useful for women who may be losing years of time to job commitments where they cannot easily be pregnant, and to women who receive a diagnosis of cancer at a young age, as some cancer therapies compromise the ovaries.
About half of all infertility clinics now offer egg freezing, but how do you know where to go? First of all, it is a new technology, so you want to go to a place that has quickly acquired expertise, and ideally has already proven success – in other words, has not only frozen eggs, but successfully thawed them and had a baby! And as with any other important and personal decision, I would recommend a center that will treat you as an individual and spend the time needed to explain the options and tailor treatment options for your individual needs.
Overall, egg freezing has changed the outlook and option for many women today. More and more patients are employing freezing as a way to ensure their future options. Egg freezing does not guarantee that a child will be born in the future, and not everyone that uses it will need the eggs they freeze; but for many women it has allowed them to take more control over their life, and give them children they would not otherwise have!