You know people freeze their eggs, but you'd probably freeze up if someone asked you about the specifics.
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology reports that in 2018, there were more than 13,000 times people froze and banked their eggs. That’s a long way from egg freezing’s reputation as an “experimental” practice in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.
So how does it work?
Doctors harvest eggs from your ovaries and store them in a freezer until you’re ready to use them. The eggs are then thawed, combined with sperm, and implanted in the uterus to hopefully make a baby. Or, you can freeze fertilized eggs. Those are known as embryos.
How often does a frozen egg actually become a human?
Eggcellent question. But, there’s not a clear answer. That’s partly because many women have had their eggs frozen but not yet implanted. Here’s what we do know: Age is probably the most important factor when it comes to turning frozen eggs into babies. Ideally, you’d lock some away before you reach your mid 30s.
Why should I freeze my eggs?
You’re not ready to have kids yet...As your distant relatives love to remind you every Thanksgiving, you’re not getting any younger. Hate to say it but they’re right: The more you age, the fewer eggs you have and the more likely those eggs have abnormalities. Egg freezing allows you to save your healthy eggs which may give you a better shot at a successful birth if and when the time comes. (Watch one Skimm'r's story about freezing her eggs here.)
Your fertility could be impacted...Since the ‘90s, women getting cancer treatments have opted to freeze their eggs because radiation and chemotherapy could cause sterility. Autoimmune diseases and hormone treatments could also affect your fertility and family planning. For example, a transgender man may freeze his eggs to preserve his ability to have a biological child later.
You’re using a sperm donor and/or surrogate...If you’re single or in a relationship with someone who isn't able to biologically make a baby with you, you may decide to conceive with donor sperm. And you can use frozen eggs for that.
When is the right time to do it?
Not to sound like a broken record, but the earlier you freeze your eggs and try to get pregnant, the less likely you are to face challenges along the way. This egg freezing calculator developed by two OB-GYNs estimates your likelihood of live birth after egg freezing, based on your age and number of eggs. (Here's why one Skimm'r decided to do it at age 30.)
How do my eggs end up in a freezer?
Before you put your eggs on ice, you have to check that all systems are a go. Your doc will likely test your blood for AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) or give you a different ovarian reserve test to estimate your egg count. Regular injections will stimulate your ovaries to produce more eggs than usual and prevent premature ovulation. And after about 10 to 14 days, you’ll get another shot to help your eggs grow up (aka ‘mature’). You may have a few vaginal ultrasounds, and then the one when your doc goes fishing. The more eggs retrieved, the better. According to recent research, women 35 and younger need about 14 mature eggs extracted for an 80% chance of future live birth.
Do frozen eggs have an expiration date?
Nope. Something you’ve probably never considered: Unused eggs and embryos can become a storage problem or legal matter. Here are the options for yours: save them for a potential future pregnancy, donate them to someone trying to start a family, give them to science, or authorize the clinic to destroy them. Some people create disposal ceremonies for their embryos.
I take it you need to fertilize the eggs in order to have a baby.
A+. If you didn’t fertilize your eggs with sperm before freezing them, your frozen eggs will get thawed and then fertilized with sperm in a lab. The fertilization process that happens outside of the body is in vitro fertilization, IVF for short. Then, it’s implantation time. Using a small catheter, a doc places the embryo into your uterus. And bingo — within about two weeks, you’ll know if you’re expecting. Note: Many women have to go through more than one cycle of IVF to get pregnant. That’s the case whether they’re using fresh eggs or thawed frozen ones.
What’s the downside?
Egg retrieval can have side effects like mood swings, headaches, and cramping. In some cases, after IVF, you might experience Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (when the ovaries swell and the body produces excess fluid, and in the worst case, cause blood clots and kidney failure). Thing to know: In one study, African American women with OHSS were more likely to develop life-threatening conditions from it than white women. And according to a number of studies, the chances of a Black patient having a live birth after IVF were much lower than those of a white patient. There’s also that risk you know but is hard to talk about: the emotional one. There’s a very real chance that you won’t get pregnant from frozen eggs. It’s important to talk to your loved ones and doctor about your fertility goals and plans if egg freezing doesn’t work out.
And the million dollar question: What does it cost?
Cost varies based on health, insurance coverage, and the clinic or hospital you go to. The lab work and extraction could cost between $6-10k, then upwards of $400 per year to keep the eggs on ice. Then add at least another $12k for each IVF cycle. Something else to keep in mind: If you go for multiple cycles — and you likely will — the price will grow. Some fertility clinics offer payment plans. You can also consider researching grants to help you cover costs.
When does insurance come in?
Read. Your. Insurance. Policy. Coverage truly depends on your specific plan, and where you work. Some companies offer fertility benefits (and certain companies pay for egg freezing), but only 16 states require insurance providers to cover or at least offer coverage.
How do I even find an egg freezing center?
You’ll want to go somewhere that’s been vetted. It should be approved by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, College of American Pathologists, and/or be a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. You can even go right on the SART website and search for clinics that meet its standards. And before you commit to a place, ask for the survival rate of thawed eggs. If they’re using technology called ‘vitrification’ (aka flash freezing), the eggs will be less vulnerable when thawed.
Putting your eggs on ice could keep your future family planning options open. But it also could be emotionally, physically, and literally costly. So consult with your doctor and consider all of your options before making the call.
Skimm'd by Carly Mallenbaum, Becky Murray, and Jane Ackermann
Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter.
Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.
When Jenni set out to freeze her eggs, she discovered that the quantity and quality of them was far less than she expected for her age.
Say oocyte cryopreservation five times fast. Then get saving.
Avoiding tolls is not exactly an option.