08 Mar Freezing your eggs – should you do it?
Egg freezing – it’s everywhere at the moment. Clinics are promoting it heavily. Facebook and Apple are offering it to their female employees. Magazine features are publishing real-life stories. So is freezing your eggs really a good idea? Here’s a reality check.
First, the principle. You’re in your thirties. Mr. Right is nowhere to be seen. You want children in the future. Someone suggests freezing your eggs before you’re 35: the point where egg quality goes downhill. It’s a back-up plan. A way of protecting your fertility. An insurance policy.
On the face of it, the concept of egg freezing seems eminently sensible. For medical reasons – perhaps due to imminent cancer treatment or unreliable ovarian function – who would question it? But most women choose to freeze their eggs for lifestyle reasons, not medical ones. Egg-freezing marketing often implies it’s a miracle cure, future-proofing your reproductive success. Actually, as insurance policies go, pay-outs can be poor.
Egg freezing, like IVF itself, doesn’t guarantee a future baby. When you freeze your eggs, you’ve embarked on the first stage of the IVF process: medicated stimulation of your ovaries to produce multiple follicles. Normal IVF patients have their collected eggs fertilised. Yours are vitrified. Chances are, your eggs will be of good quality because you’ve frozen them in your fertile years. So your odds of future IVF success are better than if you wait. That’s the main plus.
But average live-birth rates for IVF using your own eggs are, globally, under 40%. So even if you find Mr. Right, and he agrees to complete the IVF process with you, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations. Don’t get us wrong – egg freezing is an amazing concept. You just need to go into it with your eyes open.
So what’s going on with Facebook and Apple? Well, they’re offering egg freezing as a benefit in an attempt to attract more female staff. It’s a bold and intriguing idea. But critics have questioned whether handing over your reproductive timetable to your employer is right. Does it pressurise women to delay childbirth? Does it stall a key work/life decision? Would more generous maternity benefits work better?
Whether you, or your company, pay to freeze your eggs, have a good think about the practicalities. Where will you freeze them? Will that clinic carry out your later fertilisation and embryo transfer? Or can you ship your eggs to another clinic if you so choose – one that is better-performing or geographically closer to you if you’ve moved? If the clinic goes out of business, what happens to its cryobank and your frozen eggs? And if you don’t meet Mr. Right, would you consider using a sperm donor to fertilise your frozen eggs?
Vitrification, the new gamete-freezing technique, is a massive improvement on older freezing methods. Even so, not all eggs thaw successfully. The failure rate is around 5 to 15 per cent. It may be prudent to do more than one fertility cycle and build up your egg bank. This will cost you. And IVF is not risk-free. The big danger is OHSS, a potentially fatal condition where your ovaries are dangerously over-stimulated.
Okay, so perhaps this blog post has dwelt too much on the negative aspects of egg freezing. The reality is this. In today’s complex world, freezing your eggs could make excellent sense. Comments saying you should just have children earlier in life, regardless of career or romantic luck, are unhelpful and insensitive. Egg freezing is a brave and brilliant decision for women who want to exercise a degree of control over their reproductive options.
All we say is: understand the risks and plan it carefully. With a bit of luck, freezing your eggs could end up being the best thing you ever did.