Women are taught at a young age to fear the ticking clock. And despite our efforts to ignore the reproductive countdown — the reality often stares back at us like those digital numbers in the television show 24. But these days, more women are turning to the latest reproductive bomb squad: oocyte cryopreservation, more commonly known as egg freezing to effectively turn back time, reproductively speaking.
“It is not a guarantee of future fertility,” says Dr. Brian Levine the practice director at Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine’s New York City office. “But it is the best technology that we have now. It is a good way to stop the biological clock.”
In recent years, egg freezing has become more widely accepted. In 2012, the Society for Assisted Reproductivity (SART) stopped calling the procedure experimental, and instead embraced it. And the number of women choosing to freeze their eggs has increased seven-fold between 2009 and 2013.
Dr. Levine says his patients opt for the procedure for various reasons: “Sometimes I see women choosing to delay childbearing, sometimes because they have cancer, sometimes because they are going through a divorce, and sometimes because their insurance covers it and they figure why not?”
But despite the increasing popularity of egg freezing, the procedure still requires careful consideration, comparison shopping, and fine-print-reading. To help, we put together this introductory guide.
What is it?
Egg freezing is the process of removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries and freezing them using either a slow-freeze method or a flash-freezing process known as vitrification. You can also freeze an embryo, or an already fertilized egg, which can lead to a slightly better outcome.
What is the first step?
Start by meeting with a reproductive endocrinologist, who will perform blood tests and ultrasounds to see if you are a good candidate, which means you have enough eggs to harvest. The amount of viable eggs you have to harvest will vary greatly based largely on your age. If you decide to proceed, you will take 2-4 weeks of self-administered hormone shots designed to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. Levine explains that the more eggs that are available, the more likely you will get pregnant in the future.
What is the medical procedure like?
To have these eggs harvested, you undergo mild sedation, eggs are removed from the ovaries using a needle guided by ultrasound through the vagina and put them into test tubes. Levine says doctors typically like to harvest between 8 and 25 eggs. The eggs are then evaluated and used for freezing and/or fertilization. Then, when you are ready to have a child you return to the clinic for the next steps. “People often come in and think it is just a one, two, three, process,” Levine says. “But it is just the first few steps of in vitro fertilization. And a lot of people don’t realize that, and so a lot of people are generally confused by how involved the process is.”
How much does it cost?
The average cost just to freeze your eggs ranges between $10,000 and $12,000, depending on the fertility clinic, and this may not include medication or the fees to store your eggs. (Although several new fertility clinic startups, like Prelude and Progeny, are offering these services for half the cost.) When you decide to get pregnant, the egg thaw, fertilization, and embryo transfer can cost an additional $5,000, although additional IVF treatments may be required and layer on additional costs. Some companies like Intel, Apple, and Facebook now cover egg freezing costs for employees.
How much does it increase my odds of getting pregnant later in life?
To date, approximately 5,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs, and 300,000 have been born from frozen embryos. One study published in Human Reproduction estimated that women under the age of 35 who freeze 10 eggs have a 70% chance of live birth, and if they freeze 20 eggs their rates jump to 90%. “There are good data sets to suggest that if you are under 35 and you have between 6 and 10 eggs frozen, you will have a good outcome,” says Levine. “If you are over 35 you would need more than 10 eggs frozen to have the same outcome.”
Where can I read more?
There is a lot of money being made in reproductive health right now, so make sure to look into each clinic carefully. Make sure to ask how many babies have been born using the specific clinic’s procedures. For more information, the Society For Assisted Reproductive Technology also offers a comprehensive patient guide.