What started as a way for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to salvage their fertile years is now an option for women and couples in a variety of situations and points in their lives. Freezing one’s eggs, albeit expensive, is now an option for women who are uncertain of their future timeline with regard to having a family. Depending on one’s career, financial plans, or physical health, women may choose to freeze their eggs in order to delay the biological deadline for having a successful pregnancy. But when should you start to consider it, what are the risks, and what is the actual procedure like?
For starters, let’s try to understand the nature of egg cells. They are the largest cells in a woman’s body, and women are born with all of the eggs they will ever produce in their lifetime. So, women become less fertile as they age because they lose eggs every month. Not only does the quantity of eggs decline as a woman ages, but the quality goes down as well. In a woman’s 20s, the percentage of genetically “normal” eggs in her ovaries are 80-90%, which goes down to about 50% in her 30s, and about 10-20% when she reaches 40. It is for this reason among many others that doctors typically recommend that age thirty is a good time to start considering the procedure. “Typically, if you are not ready to start a family by 30-31 years of age, we recommend freezing eggs at that point in time. This goes for couples as well, in this case we would freeze embryos,” said Dr. Kofinas of Kofinas Fertility in Brooklyn, New York. “Utilization of egg/embryo freezing allows these women to proactively become their own egg donors if the need arises.”
According to Dr. Kofinas, the process is quite easy, especially compared with IVF, and costs pretty much the same. “On average, 10 days of injections are taken (FSH and/or LH). Around the 5th to 6th day of injections, a daily injection is administered to prevent premature release of the eggs,” Dr. Kofinas said. “On the last day of injections, a trigger shot is given to mature the eggs. Approximately 35 to 36 hours after injection of the trigger shot the oocyte retrieval procedure is performed with ultrasound guidance and under sedation anesthesia.” This procedure only takes between ten to twenty minutes, and patients can even return to work the following day. Generally, eggs can be kept frozen for five to ten years.
Afsana Islam, the director of marketing & business development at Kofinas Fertility, is undergoing the process herself. She began working at the fertility center shortly following her 30th birthday, which came with a lot of questioning from her family about her future and when/whether she would start a family. “I learned that I was working with the best and I wanted to be involved in the process of making this treatment more accessible to the ladies in my age range and demographic,” Islam said. “Dr. Kofinas and I reworked the structure so we could streamline and be transparent about the process and cost.”
While she is currently deciding on when is the right time to begin the process officially, Islam is taking her overall health into serious consideration, namely diet, exercise and stress, in order to make sure her eggs are the healthiest they can be when the right time comes. “The egg (oocyte) is the largest cell in a woman’s body and there are so many things that affect the quality of your eggs. Take air quality for example – I live and work in New York City and the air itself is diminishing my egg quality. I have been more deliberate about my health as a result, which is great!” she said.
Islam recommends egg freezing to women who are career-focused and not quite ready to start a family, women who are unsure whether they want or need a romantic partner to raise a family, anyone who is due to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation, and women who just have too many “I don’t knows” about their future.
“It seems scary and daunting, but the more I learn about my own fertility, the more I’m empowered to make the best decision for me,” she said. “I feel like I’m a part of an empowering movement where women are taking more control of their own bodies and future and that is a beautiful thing.”