HEALTH

What You Need To Know About Freezing Your Eggs

'Social' egg freezing is on the rise.

06/06/2016 10:05 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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Alexander Nicholson
Don't mind me, I'm just going to pop these in the freezer...

If you're a woman who would one day like to have children, chances are you originally imagined the scenario to occur by natural means, without the intervention of science.

However, things don't always go to plan and unfortunately, fertility levels aren't reasonable when it comes to negotiating timelines. Unfair though it may be, it is simply a fact of life that the average woman's fertility peaks in her 20s, starts to decline in her early 30s and drops off more quickly after about age 35.

As such, there are increasing numbers of healthy Australian women in their 30s who are seeking to pay thousands of dollars in order to freeze their eggs and thus 'buy more time' to start a family.

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But is freezing your eggs really the answer to defying that ever-ticking biological clock? And at $12,000 - $15,000 per treatment, is it the right choice for you?

The rise of social egg freezing

"Egg freezing has not been widely used in Australia historically other than for situations where someone is about to go through cancer treatment and wants to store their eggs in case the treatment damages their ovaries," Robert Norman, Professor of Reproductive and Periconceptual Medicine at the University of Adelaide, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"What has changed the equation is not only technology, but the social attitude.

"From the age 30, a woman's fertility starts to gradually decline, but it rapidly declines from mid-30s onwards.

"If the woman is unlikely to be able to have a pregnancy before they are 35, 36, they may contemplate storing their eggs as insurance."

As a woman gets older, the egg quality gets worse. Once you get to the age of 40, the majority of embryos are abnormal genetically.​

It is a trend that's on the rise throughout Australia, with IVF Australia's Professor Michael Chapman telling The Daily Telegraph that social egg freezing had grown from "only a handful a few years ago" to around 50 women a year freezing their eggs through IVF Australia alone.

"The main social reasons we are seeing cause women seek to freeze their eggs is if they don't have a partner, are in a relationship but the other partner doesn't want to have to have a child right now, or if a blood test indicates their egg reserve is getting lower," Norman told HuffPost Australia.

"These are the major indications for social egg freezing we are currently seeing."

How the process works

Much like in IVF, for an egg freezing cycle, hormone injections are used to stimulate the growth of multiple eggs in order to be collected. According to IVF Australia, an average cycle will allow 6 - 15 eggs to mature.

The eggs are then collected from the ovaries via a probe, which is inserted through the vagina. This process can be carried out under light general anaesthetic or with sedation.

IVF Australia states a patient can go home one to two hours after the procedure, but are advised not to drive and to rest for the reminder of the day.

In terms of actually freezing the eggs, this is done by a rapid freezing procedure called vitrification. Once vitrified, eggs may be stored for many years.

Success rate

How successful the procedure is likely to be depends on a number of factors, including the age of the woman at the time of egg freezing.

"The success rate is very varied. Generally, we tend to quote the chance of having a live baby from one egg to be about five percent," Norman told HuffPost Australia.

"So you would want 15 - 25 eggs to have a higher chance of success.

"However, people shouldn't feel because their eggs are frozen away they are guaranteed a baby. It depends on not only the number of eggs you have stored, but the quality of those eggs."

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Unfortunately, freezing your eggs does not act as a guarantee of pregnancy.

"As a woman gets older, the egg quality gets worse," Norman continued. "Once you get to the age of 40, the majority of embryos are abnormal genetically.​

"The ideal candidate for freezing eggs would be a woman in her early 20s who produces lots of good quality eggs. That is what you would use for a donor, for example.

"However, when it comes to social egg freezing, someone in their 20s isn't likely to have even thought about it.

"Mid 30s is probably getting near the end of the desirable line. I'd say 30 to 36 is the most realistic time if you are thinking of having your eggs frozen as a kind of insurance. Late 30s, in my view, is probably too late."

Is it right for me?

"A lot depends on your social circumstances and your finances," Norman said. "If you are not in a relationship and your career or some other social factor means you are not going to be able to have a child until your 40s, it's probably the best way to go.

"IVF over 40 has a very, very low success rate.

"However, I think if you are in a relationship that is stable and you find your egg reserve is low, it's a lot better to go and have a baby naturally then go and try and store your eggs.

"That is actually something that is becoming increasingly popular -- measuring egg reserves. When people get answers, quite often they will then make reproductive decisions​."

Freezing eggs as insurance

The concept of freezing your eggs as a type of insurance is one Norman is keen to address, as he believes it is a misleading way of viewing the procedure and what you stand to get from it.

"With insurance, if something goes wrong, you get the reality you are hoping for," he said. "If your house burns down, you get money in order to build a new one.

"But with storing your eggs, people talk about it as insurance, when it's actually not. It's trying to minimise the risks. It is possible you go through cycles and store eggs and get nothing at the end of it.

"In my opinion, the concept of freezing your eggs as insurance needs to be reviewed."

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