Worried about Your Eggs?
This scene is something that a lot of women can relate to as they age. More specifically, egg freezing is a trending topic that we are also seeing more and more of in the news. Most recently, Apple and Google announced that each would be providing special benefits to women who would like to freeze their eggs. Many believe that women are waiting longer to have children because they are focusing on their careers, and progressive corporations like these see it as a way to give back to them for their dedication.
I reached out to Michael Thomas, M.D., a respected Professor and Division and Fellowship Director in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center to get his take on this topic…
All women are born with over one million eggs, which is all she will ever have. These eggs decrease in number from birth and are all gone by the time she is 50 years old…also known as the menopause. Though the age of menopause varies from woman to woman, it is usually the same age that your mother or your older sister have or will go into the menopause. Between birth and menopause, a woman loses about 1,000 eggs each cycle. Also, as a woman gets older her eggs start to develop problems in their chromosomes that increase the risk of miscarriage, or developmental problems in the baby. These chromosomal abnormalities especially increase when a woman is over the age of 35. Therefore, it is easier for a woman to get pregnant in her 20s or early 30s.
Because of this, fertility doctors are now giving women the opportunity to retrieve their eggs at an early age, then to either freeze them or mix them with male partner or donor sperm to freeze embryos.
How does it work?
Eggs are obtained by in vitro fertilization (IVF). During an IVF cycle, women are given medicines to rescue some of the eggs that would have died off during a normal menstrual cycle. These eggs are obtained by using a catheter through the vaginal tissues directly into the ovaries. Once the eggs are removed, they can be frozen immediately (future pregnancy rate is 2-12% per egg) or mixed with male partner or donor sperm to make embryos or fertilized eggs (future pregnancy rate 35-60% per embryo). The biggest advantage of frozen embryos over frozen eggs is that embryo survival after thawing may be higher, which increases the chance of future pregnancy.
The advantage of freezing eggs without fertilization is that they can be fertilized with the sperm of a future male partner or donor sperm no matter what your age may be at that time. Another way to look at this is that if you freeze your eggs at age 24, you will always have a 24-year-old version of yourself waiting for you while you continue to complete your career and/or find the right time in your life to have a child with or without a partner. Some patients opt to freeze half of their eggs and fertilize the other half.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not pay for egg freezing. But if egg freezing is being performed to store eggs prior to taking chemotherapy or radiation because of a recent diagnosis of cancer, some insurance companies may cover this procedure. (Chemo and radiation destroys eggs that are developing in the ovaries.)
Egg freezing is not a guarantee that a future pregnancy will take place. Many things factor into a successful pregnancy, including the age of the woman and/or the quality of the eggs at the time of egg freezing.
I applaud companies like Google and others who are paying for employees who aren’t ready for a pregnancy now, but would like to in the future. There are many professional businesswomen who are now in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to force a pregnancy before they are ready; it’s also common for women to freeze their eggs when they simply have not found the ideal partner yet; that being said, it’s a great resource for those who want to have a family, but also do not want to settle!
If you have questions or for more information, you can contact your local fertility practice or reach me at Michael.Thomas@uc.edu or www.ucfertility.com. Follow us on Twitter at @ucfertility. More information for any reproductive health topic can be obtained at www.reproductivefacts.org.