The headlines dazzle like sunbursts on a glacier: SINGLE CAREER WOMEN FREEZE EGGS FOR FUTURE CONCEPTIONS. An improved freezing method, called vitrification, has resulted in more live births than freezing by any older method. Perhaps you are considering egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, in hopes that when the time is right in terms of career, savings, and relationship, your younger, preserved eggs will work better than your fresh eggs.
You may be under even greater pressure than that imposed by the typical biological clock if you have cancer and are about to start radiation, chemotherapy, or both, or if you have a family history of early menopause.
Like all new fertility techniques, egg freezing brings not only new options but also tough decisions that previous generations of women never had to face.
Be a cautious consumer. Before you spend or borrow a ton of money—insurance typically doesn’t cover the procedure—you might ask, “How likely is this procedure to yield an actual baby, and at what cost to my wallet, body, and mind?” Another crucial question: “How can I best prepare for motherhood and handle my baby cravings while I am waiting impatiently for the ‘right’ time?”
Take care of your psychological well-being before you look at the logistics of this decision. It may help to acknowledge to yourself and to a loved one or therapist how disappointed you are to have arrived at this point in your life without a baby. You may even have had a timeline such as “married by 28, first child by 30, second by 32.” Even if you eventually wind up with your dream, albeit at a slower pace, this delay can hurt, especially if your sisters and/or friends are completing and enjoying their families.
Here are some guidelines for talking to your OB-GYN, an infertility specialist (reproductive endocrinologist), your partner, family, friends, or psychotherapist. Try to talk to at least one physician who doesn’t do the procedure and therefore has an extra measure of objectivity.
Before you head to a clinic, consider the facts:
- There will be wear and tear on your body, and maybe time off from work. You will undergo fertility tests to see if you are a candidate for the procedure. If you are and you decide to go forward, you will give yourself hormone shots at home and visit your clinics to monitor your developing egg follicles to see whether or when they can be harvested. Next comes an outpatient egg retrieval process, which doesn’t involve surgery but does require light anesthesia. Once your eggs are retrieved, they will be frozen and stored until you are ready to use them.
- It’s not cheap. If you are a cancer patient, health insurance and/or foundation money may pay some of your costs. Otherwise, you will pay out of pocket, typically between $8,000 and $18,000, not counting yearly storage fees—generally several hundred dollars per year.
- When you’re ready to try for a baby, there will be additional costs. Unless you get pregnant on your own with fresh eggs (a typical protocol before high-tech intervention), you will fertilize your preserved eggs with your partner’s or a donor’s sperm via in-vitro fertilization (IVF)—creating an embryo (or embryos) in a Petri dish. You will pay for this procedure as well as the costs of thawing the eggs. The embryo(s), if deemed viable by an embryologist, will then be implanted in your uterus. If your insurance doesn’t cover fertility treatment, you would pay out of pocket for these procedures. Even if you have insurance coverage, you might have significant co-pays or age restrictions on your coverage.
Are you bowled over by sticker shock? You are not alone. Speak to your OB-GYN to learn of less expensive ways to protect your fertility. Examples are eating well, cutting back on smoking and drinking, and doing low-tech fertility tests to take stock of your status.
Success Rates, Risks, and Psychological Toll
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), if you are under 38 years old when you freeze your eggs, the chances that a particular egg will yield a baby range from 2% to 12%. Because many eggs are often retrieved, these additional eggs increase your chances. If you are older when you freeze your eggs, your chances may be even lower.
Speak to your OB-GYN or go to ReproductiveFacts.org, the patient education website for ASRM, to learn about the risks of taking hormones and other aspects of treatment. A doctor or other medical practitioner can help you weigh the risks and benefits.
Giving yourself shots can be stressful. Hormones can wreak havoc on your emotions, and you will ride a roller coaster of hope and disappointment. Your cycle could be canceled for medical reasons, or few or nonviable eggs might be retrieved. You will need support from family or friends.
Of course, if you are undergoing this procedure because you are about to lose your fertility to cancer, your emotional burden and need for support is even greater. Emotional resilience and good support from your fertility program and loved ones will be greatly helpful.
Are You an Ideal Candidate?
This technique may make sense for you if you:
- Have a compelling medical reason, such as being about to begin cancer treatment, or if you anticipate early menopause (premature ovarian failure).
- Received encouraging news about your egg quality in your initial fertility evaluation.
- Are fortunate enough to have money available—yours or your family’s—so that you will not go into debt or be financially devastated.
- Are realistic about outcomes, knowing that you receive no guarantees.
If you do freeze your eggs, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. You and your partner should still try for pregnancy as soon as you are ready.
Considering having a baby may raise thorny questions about careers, relationship commitment, and finances. If you’re in a relationship and your heart is telling you that a baby is your highest priority, dare to ask the question. Even if you decide not to speed up the planning, you may discover what you need to change psychologically and practically before you are truly ready. And you and your partner may find yourselves having the richest, deepest conversations you’ve ever had.
Even if you are lucky enough to afford the technique, you might prefer to save the money for future fertility techniques with higher success rates. Or you might want the money later to extend your maternity leave or to pay for an alternative, such as a donor egg or adoption.
Don’t let statistics destroy your hopes. Numbers aren’t crystal balls. You could get pregnant on your honeymoon at 43, or you could freeze eggs at 41 that lead to your beloved newborn when you’re 45.
Even if you freeze some eggs, you might later discover you didn’t need them. For example, when you’re ready, you might get pregnant during good, old-fashioned lovemaking or a procedure using your own fresh eggs.
Consider, also, that although you might not have a baby with your genes, you may be able to enjoy a child via a donated egg, surrogacy, or adoption. Although you may hope to never have to use them, these alternative paths have turned out to be very satisfying for many families.
Actions You Can Take While Waiting for the Right Time
- Meet your need for nurture. Consider getting a puppy or kitten. Babysit your niece or volunteer. Hug and cuddle with your partner, family, and friends.
- Learn about parenting. Read books, observe friends raising young children, and talk to them about their experiences. Hang out with families and play with the children or babysit them.
- Take stock. What does mothering mean to you? At what point in your life would it be reasonable to start trying—medically and logistically? Is there a point at which the scale will tip toward baby as highest priority even if it means facing career obstacles or being a single mother?
- If you’re in a relationship, ask your partner to do his/her own soul searching. Even if your partner wants to postpone parenting or remain permanently child-free, it’s better for partners to come to their own conclusions before negotiating with you, if you happen to disagree.
- Talk to each other. Who are you as individuals and as a couple? Does becoming a parent seem like the next logical step for your growth and expansion? What else matters to each of you and to both of you that still hasn’t happened in your life? Could you do some of these things now, taking advantage of your freedom before you are tied down with a child?
Dealing with these questions now, even if the answers change later, gives you a foundation for going forward.
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