The are as many reasons why a woman might wait to start a family as there are women waiting. Some of the reasons we hear frequently are establishing a career, not having enough money, and haven’t found the right partner. And as more and more women delay starting a family it becomes more the norm to start trying in your 30s, where just 10 -15 years ago most women started trying in your 20s.
Women face a conundrum—they are at their peak fertility in their 20s, but may not be at their peak readiness to start a family until their 30s…maybe even late 30’s or early 40s. One way to solve this mismatch between fertility and readiness is to freeze your eggs when you are younger and more fertile to use when you are older and more ready.
Whether you should freeze your eggs is a huge decision when you are considering how to preserve your fertility. One of the most important factors in this decision process that you must consider is your age. As with most things related to our fertility health, growing old gracefully must be tempered with some sound education, a good bit of planning, and some moxie.
Age, Age, Age
Did you know that a woman is born with up to 2 million eggs? Most of those will die off naturally (just like our skin cells slough off and our hair cells die). By the time you reached puberty, you likely had about half a million healthy eggs left. As you continue to age through your 20’s and 30’s the eggs die off more quickly. The quality of your remaining eggs that can lead to a healthy conception and pregnancy also declines. For this reason, it is (was) biologically easier for you to become pregnant before your early 30’s.
Why To Consider Egg Freezing?
As you and your eggs are aging (gracefully or not), your life is also unfolding. Sometimes, other life questions and situations rise to alternately demand our time and attention. For example, your career might really be taking off, making your professional dreams come true. Mr. (or Ms.) Right might not have made a grand appearance yet. Building your family might necessarily be delayed by your partner’s cancer scare. These factors, and others like them, all play into deciding the right time and season of your life to attempt a pregnancy.
When you feel you should wait until later to get pregnant, elective egg freezing is a viable option to talk over with your reproductive specialist.
How Does Egg Freezing Work?
The process to freeze your eggs starts out much like a typical IVF procedure. It involves a course of 10-12 daily injections to force more eggs to mature that month, along with regular blood work and ultrasounds to monitor progress. The retrieval of the matured eggs is called harvesting or egg retrieval and is typically done under light anesthesia. An embryologist will check the eggs for viability, and the healthy eggs will be frozen. They can be kept frozen indefinitely until you decide to proceed with fertilization.
Once you want to use your eggs to get pregnant, they will be thawed in an embryology lab, fertilized with sperm, and transferred into your uterus. If the embryo grows and implants, then you will be pregnant.
At What Age Should You Freeze Your Eggs?
Ahhh, what age to freeze your eggs is the $64 Million Dollar Question. Recent research found that egg freezing resulted in the “highest probability of live births” when using eggs that were frozen before a woman turns 34 years old. Interestingly, in that same study egg freezing was considered most cost effective when a woman freezes her eggs at 37 years old. The bottom line is that if you are in your 30’s you should start planning and thinking seriously about your options for your future fertility.
There’s No Guarantee It Will Work.
It’s important to remember that freezing your eggs is not a surefire guarantee that you will be able to get pregnant using your frozen eggs. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine reminds us that “in younger women (i.e., <38-years-old), the chance that one frozen egg will yield a baby in the future is around 2-12%. As women get older and egg quality goes down, the pregnancy rate per frozen egg drops further.” This basic fact of biology complicates the egg freezing discussion in several ways, not the least of which is forcing woman considering this option to decide how many eggs they need to freeze in order to give themself a decent chance of getting pregnant. Getting enough eggs may take several egg retrieval cycles.
Through the process of exploring if egg freezing is the right path, you and your doctor should be talking honestly about the fact that freezing your eggs doesn’t guarantee a baby. It’s important that you also understand the physical, medical and emotional risks of pregnancy and of parenting at an older age. For these reasons and more, it’s vitally important that you seek the counsel and treatment of a trusted reproductive endocrinologist (an infertility doctor) to help you be informed and comfortable with all the available facts, procedures, and possible outcomes.
How to Afford Egg Freezing
The cost of egg freezing is another factor to be considered, and remember that you may need more than one retrieval cycle to get enough eggs. Facebook made headlines a few years ago be providing health insurance coverage for elective egg freezing, but alas, they are the exception. Most health insurance doesn’t cover egg freezing, and some plans only cover it in the case of women at high risk for pre-mature menopause, or facing cancer treatment. Therefore, you will need to research and prepare for some substantial out-of-pocket expenses.
Egg freezing cycles can run a gamut of costs, depending on what clinic you choose and where you live. (Check out our e-guide on How To Choose An Infertility Clinic for help with that!) On the low end, a cycle can cost you around $6,500, but on the high end it can run up to $18,000 or more. The bigger issue will be how many egg freezing cycles you will need to get enough eggs to give you a decent chance at getting pregnant.
It’s good to understand that every fertility clinic prices their egg freezing cycles slightly differently. For example: Clinic A may offer a bundled price of $13,750 that covers testing, monitoring and the first year of storage, but the cost of the fertility drugs for ovarian stimulation is a separate cost. Clinic B might offer a price for egg freezing at $8,000, but that does not cover any of the pre-screening or fertility drugs in the quote. As you can see, these differences can make it difficult to compare costs. The cost of the fertility drugs alone can range anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per cycle. More and more clinics are offering egg freezing packages that include several egg retrieval cycles.
Don’t forget to add in the annual cost of cryopreservation until you want to use your frozen eggs – usually ranging between $600-$1,500 a year. And if you end up using your frozen eggs, you need to factor in the cost of thawing and fertilizing and the cost for an embryo transfer.
When you are considering clinics for egg freezing, make sure you talk to them about the cost breakdown for each aspect of the procedure. Keep good notes of your interviews with the clinics so you can compare “apples to apples.”
Egg freezing is a good option to consider for preserving your fertility if you don’t feel ready to have a child in your 20’s or early 30’s. But you need to be prepared that it is not a guarantee of a healthy pregnancy later and the challenge will be to determine how many eggs you need to have frozen to give you the best chance for a baby in the future. Keep in mind that not every woman a suitable candidate for freezing. You’ll have to plan financially and do your homework, and take action before you are 38 years old.