What is egg freezing?
Oocyte cryopreservation, commonly known as egg freezing, is a fertility procedure where “eggs are extracted, frozen, and stored to preserve reproduction potential in women of reproductive age” (UCLA). Social egg freezing is the freezing of eggs for non-medical reasons, this procedure is commonly done for people who wish to have kids later in life.
The Purpose of Egg Freezing
For a variety of different reasons, many women are delaying motherhood through their 20s. From 2000 to 2014 the mean age of mothers in the U.S. has increased from 24.9 to 26.3 (CDC). Fertility is not stable throughout the life of a woman. Peak reproductive years for women land between their late teens and late 20s, meaning the ability to get pregnant is highest during this period (ACOG). Fertility begins declining by the age of 30, rapidly declines for people in their mid-30s, and natural pregnancy is unlikely for people aged 45 and older (ACOG). Additionally, as people age the risk of birth defects and miscarriages increases because older eggs are more likely to accumulate chromosomal abnormalities (errors in the DNA).
Egg freezing gives people the ability to have children outside of their peak fertility years. Experts recommend that people interested in egg freezing begin the process around age 25, but most egg freezing occurs in women aged 35 and older due to the cost of the procedure (Borovecki et al., 2018). In addition to social egg freezing, people may consider egg freezing for medical reasons as well. Egg freezing is often discussed with people with a high risk of ovary damage due to chemotherapy, pelvic radiation therapy, surgery, and ovarian disease like PCOS due to the likelihood of egg damage. Additionally, egg freezing is commonly discussed among people with a high risk for premature ovarian failure (Turner syndrome and fragile X syndrome) and a family history of early menopause (UCLA). Egg freezing gives people the opportunity to have children at a later stage in their life, whether that be for medical reasons, societal factors, or personal choice.
Before egg freezing occurs a fertility expert will assess the ovarian reserve to estimate the potential egg yield using blood work and pelvic ultrasounds. Once the potential egg yield is determined an injectable hormone medication is used to stimulate the ovary to help with egg retrieval. A fertility doctor will then remove the eggs from the ovarian follicle while the patient is under sedation. Before the eggs are frozen the doctor will assess the quality of the eggs under a microscope and select mature eggs for freezing (UCLA).
Egg freezing is an elective procedure that costs between $6000 to $10000. This price does not include the cost of VF, the fertilization and transfer of the fertilized egg to the uterus, which often costs up to $18,000 (Yale Medicine). Most people cannot afford to pay for egg freezing, but some employers are now offering to pay for the procedure. Facebook and Apple offered their female employees $20,000 for egg freezing and other large companies are warming up to this benefit as well (Borovecki et al., 2018).
Despite the thousands of dollars spent on this procedure, egg freezing and IVF does not guarantee pregnancy. Additionally, people who undergo egg freezing increase their risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome infection and bleeding due to the use of fertility drugs and the egg retrieval procedure (UCLA). Egg freezing has the power to give women more autonomy over their bodies and lives, but there’s a long way to go before this benefit is accessible for all.
GENERAL DISCLAIMER: It’s Fetch is a community that provides a safe space for members to discuss health and wellness topics. We provide access to archived health related content, note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content shared, regardless of date should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. For questions on this article, please contact our team at email@example.com.
-Written by Sabrina Park MPH