Beating the biological clock

Egg freezing gives women versatility when it comes to having children

By Barbara Pierce

Frederick
Frederick

“At 37, I was left with a broken heart and an awakened urge to spawn. I can’t believe I forgot to have children,” says an anonymous woman on line. “I ultimately froze my eggs to buy myself time. So, when and if I do meet someone and we want to procreate, my chances of being able to have a baby the old-fashioned way are increased. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, eggs get old!”

“This isn’t where I had planned to be in my late 30s,” says MeiMei Fox online. “I longed to find true love and have a partner to share the parenting journey but I was confronting the end of my fertile years. I took control of the one aspect of my journey to having a family that I could — I preserved my fertility. I froze my eggs.”

“Egg freezing is becoming more popular,” said Jane Frederick, internationally noted reproductive specialist and medical director of HRC Fertility in Orange County, Calif. “More and more career women are freezing their eggs.”

“It’s very successful. It’s not a guarantee, but an insurance back-up. I can go back and fertilize the eggs that were frozen and give a couple more opportunities to have a genetic child,” Frederick said.

“The typical woman I see is 37 years old, focused on her career, hasn’t found a partner and doesn’t want to be pressured into a relationship just to have a child,” she said.

The technology was initially developed for women with cancer, explained Frederick, as some chemotherapy drugs damage eggs. “When a woman was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to harvest her eggs before she became sterile.”

Egg preservation has advanced greatly over the past few years, with improved overall success of eggs surviving the freezing process.
“Freezing eggs does not guarantee a baby, but offers a reliable insurance plan,” said Frederick. It provides a swing at the bat.

When you’re ready to use your frozen eggs to have a family, several steps are necessary. The eggs are warmed and assessed for genetic abnormalities. Surviving eggs are fertilized with a sperm injection. The fertilized eggs will grow in culture until the embryo(s) are ready to be transferred into the uterus to achieve pregnancy, a few days after fertilization.

Eggs must survive the freeze, thaw, fertilize, implant and hopefully result in a baby. Along the way, any of these steps may not happen. Until the eggs are used, physicians can’t know the outcome.

Age is critical factor

The two most important factors in determining a successful pregnancy are the woman’s age at the time of egg freezing and the number of available eggs. Ten to 15 eggs per cycle are harvested.

“Success depends on age,” Frederick added. “If the eggs are frozen before age 30, there is a 50 percent rate of successful pregnancy.

When the eggs are frozen at between 30-to-40, there is a 25 percent chance. It’s not recommended for those over 40.”

“Age is critical,” stressed Frederick. As we get older, our eggs get fewer and of poorer quality.

The magic window for baby making: The average woman’s fertility peaks at the age of 24. Women under 25 have a 96 percent chance of conceiving in a year if trying each month. From age 25 to 34, chances are 86 percent after trying for a year. At 35, it goes down to a 78 percent chance.

Age 35 seems to be the point where fertility declines, mostly due to reduced egg quality. You’re also at a greater risk of miscarriage or fetus with an abnormality.

Before 40 years of age is your last chance to freeze viable eggs for use at a later date, should you prefer not to get pregnant now.

“A woman can freeze her eggs up until age 40; then she can come back years later and have a good chance of pregnancy even into her mid-40s,” said one fertility expert online.

Frederick said she is able to gauge how many eggs you may have left — a low, average or high number — and can determine whether those eggs are good or “we have to work quickly.”

“Cost is a negative,” added Frederick. “From $15,000 to $40,000 per cycle. More and more companies are providing this. Goggle, Apple, and Facebook offer this opportunity to their employees.”

“There is hope out there,” Frederick said. “My feeling is we need to empower women to take charge of their reproduction. We can prevent a birth. Women should be able to say ‘I froze my eggs, now I’m ready to have a child.’”