If you know that you want to have children later in your life, but don’t feel that you’re quite ready yet – have you ever considered egg freezing? The idea might have popped into your mind more than once, but is it possible that you never saw it as a real option because “it’s one of those things that only rich people do”?
Well, you might be very happy to know that the process of having your eggs frozen is a lot more accessible than you might have thought. We’ll get through the misconceptions just now, but for now, let’s quickly look at some of the reasons you would consider freezing your eggs, and what to expect from the process
Why would you want to freeze your eggs?
Prof. Igno Siebert, a fertility and endometriosis specialist at Aevitas Fertility Clinic, explains that when a woman gets to the age of 35, there’s quite a dramatic drop in her fertility potential and it continues to drop as she gets older. A lot of the time, a woman’s decision to freeze her eggs has to do with this.
The reasons for egg freezing are split into two separate categories: social freezing and freezing for a medical reason.
“If you haven’t met the right guy, or you’re not planning to get married in the next three to five years, or any other ‘social’ reason for postponing or delaying having a baby is called social freezing,” Prof. Siebert says.
“If you decide to freeze your eggs because you have cancer, or you’re going to undergo certain treatments that have the potential to harm your ovaries and you want to freeze your eggs before said treatment, then this would be considered a medical reason for freezing.”
What makes a good candidate?
Generally, a woman in good health with healthy eggs is considered to be a good candidate for egg freezing. But it’s all decided on a case-by-case basis during the initial fertility assessment and overall health check that takes place before anything else in this process.
“Normally, the prediction of a good candidate is age-related; ideally 35 or below – but this is not necessarily the threshold,” Prof. Siebert explains. “What we also do is check a woman’s ovarian reserves with a test called the anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test.”
The reason that the test is done is that your doctor is hoping to get at least 15 eggs to free from you. The number of eggs you freeze has a profound effect on your chances of one day falling pregnant with those eggs.
You might have just hit 40 and are wondering if this can be an option for you. It can, but you’ll just have to manage your expectations.
“Just from an age point of view, it is not a good idea because your chances of conceiving with those eggs are very low, but this will be discussed with you so that you can make an informed decision.”
It’s important to keep in mind that every person is different – some women’s fertility potential may deteriorate slower than others, or only start deteriorating significantly after they hit 40 instead of their late thirties. Consulting with a fertility specialist is quite important in this regard.
Now, let’s take a look at some misconceptions and the truth behind each one:
1/ Egg freezing might harm your ovarian reserve
Women often worry that the egg freezing procedure might do something to harm her ovarian reserves, but Prof. Sieber assures us that this is not the case at all.
“In any given month, a woman will lose hundreds of eggs anyway, so we only go into the pool of eggs that’s available in that month – meaning that we can’t harm the future fertility of that person,” he says.
2/ Medical aid will cover it
The chances that your medical aid will cover an egg freezing procedure are slim to none – this is especially true for someone who’s doing it for social reasons. In some instances, a medical aid may cover, or partially cover, the procedure if you have a medical reason for doing it.
“In South Africa, you should be prepared to pay out of pocket,” Prof. Sieber says.
3/ It’s way too expensive
Granted, egg freezing is a pricey procedure, but it’s an amount that someone with the means could save towards. What makes it pricey are all the elements involved in the cost structure. This includes the medication that you are going to use, the theatre costs, the anaesthetic cost, the doctor’s cost and the actual freezing of the eggs in a lab. You can expect to spend a total of at least R35 000.
“Following this, you will also pay an annual fee to keep the eggs stored, but often, there will be a couple of years of storage included in the initial fee you pay – and as soon as that lapses, you will be expected to pay the annual storage fees yourself,” Prof. Siebert says.
4/ You won’t feel a thing
While it’s true that egg freezing is not generally considered to be a painful procedure or process, it’s worth mentioning that you should expect some discomfort after the procedure.
“After the operation, you could be uncomfortable,” Prof. Siebert says. “Some women produce upwards of 20 eggs and this can lead to discomfort you will feel for the next couple of days up to a week.”
Much of the discomfort is based on the number of eggs you’ve produced. While more eggs are better, the reverse side of that is that the more eggs you produce, the more discomfort you will experience.
What happens when you are ready to get pregnant?
Freezing your eggs, particularly when we talk about social freezing, is like having a fertility insurance policy.
If you get to a point where you are ready to have a child, Prof. Siebert explains that, if one’s circumstance allows, it would still be recommended for the woman to conceive a baby spontaneously with her partner.
“If she’s at an age above 42, or there’s a medical issue at play, then she would need to use her eggs to get pregnant through in vitro fertilisation (IVF),” he says.
And if you end up successfully conceiving a child spontaneously and don’t need or want your eggs anymore, you can either have your eggs destroyed, continue to keep them frozen or donate them.
While egg freezing is a great way to ensure that you have healthy eggs in the future, one should know that it’s not guaranteed that you will get pregnant when you eventually use them.