Fertility: Frozen in Time
Egg freezing is the process of taking eggs from the ovary and freezing them for later use when a woman is ready to start a family. Egg freezing increases the chances of a successful pregnancy at a later age. When eggs are frozen, the quality and ‘youth’ of the eggs are preserved. Women get the benefit of an egg that was frozen during peak fertility.
At Fertility Centers of Illinois, we use the most cutting-edge form of egg freezing, called oocyte vitrification, or simply vitrification. Vitrified (flash-frozen) eggs are stored in liquid nitrogen at our cryopreservation laboratory until the woman is ready to use them.
The egg freezing process
- The first step is a visit with one of our physicians for an overview of the process – they will answer any questions you have.
- Your next appointment is to conduct blood tests and an ultrasound that will help determine your ovarian reserve and potential for preconception.
- Following testing, your results are reviewed with your physician to determine your unique protocol. The likely number of eggs to expect is also reviewed. Ideal numbers are discussed as well.
- You will then begin your medication regimen. Up to 3 different medications (on average) are injected via a tiny needle in the abdomen for 8-14 days to stimulate your ovaries.
- Our staff will show you how to administer these injections; many patients say the shot feels only like a tiny ‘pinch’ and that they get the hang of it easily.
- Services are available to have nurses administer injections from the comfort of your home – ask your physician for details.
- During your medication period, monitoring with blood work and ultrasound is done to determine your response and adjust your medications.
- On average women come in every day to every other during this two-week window. You will then be ready for egg retrieval.
- Egg retrieval requires light sedation, often referred to as ‘twilight’ anesthesia, for the 15-30 minute procedure.
- After the procedure, you will need someone to drive you home. Most women are back to work the next day. After you may experience bloating, spotting, or mild discomfort but these symptoms often fade quickly.
- Eggs are flash-frozen and stored in our cryo tanks until you’re ready to use them.
Biology of ovarian reserve
As women age, their fertility quotient decreases. Unlike men, who produce new sperm every day of their reproductive lives, women are born with all of the eggs they will ever have and incrementally lose eggs every month.
Egg quantity and quality are both negatively impacted as women age and as a result, a woman’s fecundity rate (the chance of pregnancy in any single menstrual cycle) declines. The chance of miscarriage also increases.
Egg freezing technology
There have been rapid advances in technology since the first pregnancy reported using a thawed egg in 1986. In the past, egg freezing used a slow-freezing process, which sometimes damaged the eggs by allowing ice crystals to form, which could potentially affect the integrity of the egg.
Our current technology, vitrification, freezes the egg rapidly (flash-freezing), preventing the development of ice crystals. Frozen eggs are kept in one of our 30+ cryo storage tanks, which currently store over 30,000 frozen embryos, eggs, and sperm samples.
Why Should I Freeze My Eggs?
Fast-paced lifestyles, career goals, or finding the right partner are common reasons to delay parenthood. However, when a woman decides to start a family, there is no guarantee that she will be able to conceive. Egg Freezing can help ease those stresses.
In today’s society, women are choosing to have children at an older age. Sometimes this can result in difficulty getting pregnant. As ovarian reserve declines with a woman’s age, the chance of fertility issues increases. Freezing at a younger age allows women to conceive later and also have the pregnancy health benefits of using a younger egg such as decreased miscarriage and Down Syndrome rates.
Some women get pregnant naturally the first time, but choose to use their frozen eggs for second or third children, or if they are diagnosed with secondary infertility.
Click here for more information about preserving fertility before chemotherapy or other medical treatments that may cause infertility.
Am I a good candidate?
The optimal age to freeze eggs is 32-36, but any woman with normal hormone levels aged 30-40 should consider egg freezing if they plan to delay pregnancy. The number of eggs a woman needs to freeze is dependent upon her age, but age is only a single factor. Not every 35- or 40-year-old are the same. Therefore, there is not necessarily an absolute upper age; although women less than and equal to 40 will have better success and studies have shown egg freezing is cost-effective until age 38.
Flexibility is also very important. You need to be available for daily appointments for approximately 2-3 weeks.
What are the Risks?
There is no guarantee of success or that the eggs, once thawed, will be healthy and result in a healthy baby. Although there are 200+ babies born from this technology and no reported increase in genetic abnormalities or congenital anomalies, egg freezing is a new technology with many unknowns.
Careful data collection is being undertaken and more studies in the future will continue to shed light on the process. Additionally, treatment can be stressful, both emotionally and financially. Our team of experts is here to guide you through the process and ease your concerns.
What happens when I’m ready to get pregnant?
You will meet with your physician to ensure you are healthy and ready to carry a pregnancy. Your male partner (or sperm source) will also need some labs tests. When you are ready to proceed, you will begin taking medicine to prepare your uterus for pregnancy.
At the appropriate time, the eggs will be thawed and injected with sperm through a process known as ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). The resulting embryos are then transferred into your uterus when they are either 3 days or 5 days old. Any extra embryos can be frozen and stored.
You will continue to take hormones to support early pregnancy. Approximately 10-12 days after embryo transfer, you will know if you are pregnant. After 8 weeks of pregnancy, you will transfer your care to the obstetrician who will deliver your baby.
What are the other options?
There are many other options available to women that have a higher chance of successfully delivering a baby.
Married or committed couples may want to consider going through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and freezing embryos for implantation at a later date, as embryos have been demonstrated to freeze better than eggs.
Women with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, may wish to undertake chemotherapy/surgery now and once cured, consider adoption, embryo adoption, or egg donation if their ovaries are no longer functional. If they no longer have a uterus but have functioning ovaries, they can consider gestational carrier with IVF.
Women without a male partner may want to consider donor inseminations or an IVF cycle with donor sperm, and having a baby now. They could also choose to freeze embryos created with donor sperm for future use.
If women choose to wait until the “right time” and then discover that their age is preventing them from conceiving, egg donation and adoption are always options.
How do I get started?
Our physicians and staff will walk you through every step of the process, ensuring that you fully understand the benefits, risks, costs, and chances of a successful pregnancy. We welcome the opportunity to help you take charge of your fertility today, for tomorrow. Fill out the form below to get started or for more information.
Join Us January 19 for a FREE webinar on egg freezing!
Find out everything you need to know about egg freezing! Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, Dr. Channing Burks Chatmon and a panel of nursing and financial experts will walk you through the egg freezing process, share fertility facts and clarify common misconceptions. Click here for details and to register!