You may have had a picture in your head from the time you were fairly little about how your life was going to go. You’d finish up your schooling or training, land your dream job, end up with an amazing partner, and, maybe, have a kid or two. But life doesn’t always go according to plan, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now. Maybe school took longer than expected, or maybe your dreams changed. Maybe you’re still on the hunt for that elusive great job or amazing partner. Maybe you’re no longer so sure about kids but more on the fence. Maybe you, a partner, or a family member received an unexpected medical diagnosis, throwing everything in flux.
There are all kinds of reasons why someone might consider freezing their eggs. But it’s not something that’s generally discussed unless you go looking for information about it. You and your friends probably don’t chat about egg freezing and family planning over drinks at happy hour, after all. And that means that there’s a lot of information that you need to know if you’re thinking about freezing your eggs that you might be missing right now.
First thing’s first: what even is egg freezing anyway?
According to Mayo Clinic, egg freezing is a process of “saving” your eggs so that you can get pregnant a bit later than you otherwise would. It essentially presses pause on your eggs for a period of time. This can, obviously, be something that many different kinds of people might think is a good idea. Some people might want to consider it more than others, though. According to University of Southern California Fertility, egg freezing might be good for those who want to put off having kids so that they can achieve other goals first; those who have cancer, which might impact fertility; and those who have religious or moral objections to storing frozen embryos. But those who have other conditions and circumstances may want to consider the procedure as well. In fact, a 2013 New York University study found that the number one reason for wanting to undergo egg freezing is the lack of a partner, according to PBS News Hour.
According to an American Society of Reproductive Medicine report, back in 2012, the group determined that the procedure was no longer considered experimental after reviewing the scientific literature but “declined at that time to recommend OC ‘for the sole purpose of circumventing reproductive aging in healthy women,’ on the grounds that there were insufficient data on the ‘safety, efficacy, ethics, emotional risks, and cost-effectiveness’ for that indication.”
New research, however, has been “reassuring,” and in 2018, the ASRM Ethics Committee concluded that “planned OC is an ethically permissible medical treatment that may enhance women’s reproductive autonomy and promote social equality.”
2. The more eggs, the better.
Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra, MD, MSCE, of Penn Fertility Care, told Penn Medicine that, generally, you want at least 10 eggs for freezing, more than is released during a typical menstrual cycle. As per Well + Good, the more eggs that are retrieved for freezing, the better, because only some will still be viable after the thawing process, only some of those will be able to be fertilized, and only some of those will make it to the point they need to in order to be implanted. Kalra explained that there are three steps to egg freezing: Hormone injections (which help your body produce more eggs), monitoring and observation of egg production levels and hormone levels, and egg retrieval. As soon as your eggs have been retrieved, they’re frozen, and there they’ll stay until you’re ready for them.
3. Side effects are usually relatively mild — and familiar.
Side effects to the process are generally minimal, just some bloating, cramping, moodiness, and other sorts of symptoms you might experience when you get your period, according to Extend Fertility. You might also notice pain, redness, or bruising at your injection site, but it’s unlikely that you’d experience any sort of allergic reaction. The other potentially-serious side effect you might experience is something called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Dr. Samantha Pfeifer of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine practice committee told PBS News Hour that this condition can cause nausea, vomiting, pain, and a buildup of fluid. It’s typically manageable, but, if it’s a very serious case, it can also cause kidney problems and blood clots, or — rarely — death.
4. You’re better off freezing when you’re younger.
According to a 2015 study published in Fertility and Sterility, the procedure has the best chance of being successful when done younger (preferably before 36, according to Vogue), but once you hit age 37, that’s when you get the most bang for your buck. “At age 37 years, oocyte cryopreservation has the largest benefit over no action and is most cost-effective,” the authors of the study wrote in the abstract. That same study found that, among those between the ages of 25 and 40 who did choose to freeze their eggs, those who underwent the procedure before the age of 34 had better chances of giving birth, according to The Cut. So it might not be something you want to put off until 40 if it’s something you want to do.
5. It’s pricey.
Egg freezing isn’t cheap, though, and for most people, it’s an out-of-pocket expense. In an interview with Greatist, Ilaina Edison, the CEO of Extend Fertility, said that for those who are about 35 years old, egg freezing can cost between $10,000 and $15,000, not including your future egg storage fees, but it can also be quite a bit more than that. If you have to go through more than one round of egg retrieval, that further increases the cost. Then, once you decide to thaw your eggs and try to use them, you’ll undergo IVF treatments. U.S. News & World Reports noted that the average cost associated with IVF in the U.S. is about $12,000, citing the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago. So it’s not just the hormone injections, egg retrieval process itself, bloodwork and other tests, or even egg storage that you have to factor in, it’s also the amount you’ll pay later on down the line if you want to use those frozen eggs.
6. Consultation is key.
The best way of knowing if egg freezing might be a good fit for you is to have a chat with your doctor or get a consultation at a fertility center specializing in this sort of care. They’ll be able to answer any questions you may have, look at your bloodwork and numbers, and give you a better idea of what might be your best plan of action.
Finding a fertility center or a doctor specializing in fertility doesn’t have to be difficult, per se, but there’s definitely some work involved in finding the right one for you. According to U.S. News & World Reports, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology’s website is a good place to start. You can search for clinics near you, see IVF success rates, and more. Additionally, looking over clinic websites to see how detailed they are about the process can help. Then, meeting with someone from your potential clinic allows you to ask more detailed questions about process, outcomes, success rates, the doctors themselves, and the number of procedures they do there. It also enables you to get a feel for the doctors and other staff members and the clinic itself. If you don’t feel comfortable with the clinic or with the staff there, it might be well worth it to keep looking.
7. There’s no guarantee.
Ultimately, like with any other fertility treatment, there’s no guarantee that you’d have success getting pregnant later on. That’s the sad and disappointing news. But that would also be the case if you didn’t freeze your eggs — there’s never any sort of guarantee. Not only that, but, as Parents noted, getting pregnant and carrying a baby after 35 can also have a number of increased health risks, so that’s something to remember too.
But knowing what sort of options you may have down the road can give you a bit more peace of mind — no matter the reason you’d want to consider a deep freeze.