While most women will opt for storing their eggs for anywhere between six months to even ten years, frozen eggs can be securely stored for an indefinite period and still be viable, explains Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj.
Over the years, medical technology has grown in leaps and bound and helped us to achieve great milestones in the field of medicine.
Egg freezing is one such exciting technology that has revolutionised the concept of motherhood. The technology has been lauded by many proponents as a feminist advancement.
The very idea of offering this technology to healthy young women is revolutionary and empowering.
Since we know that women are born with a limited number of eggs and are most fertile during their 20s and early 30s and from mid-30s, fertility declines until menopause, elective egg freezing offers one option to those wishing to conceive later.
Oocyte cryopreservation, as it is known scientifically was initially developed as a means to 'preserve' the fertility of women ahead of cancer treatment, it is now increasingly used by women wishing to postpone childbearing for personal or medical reasons, or unable to find right partner or for women with a family history of early menopause or Egg donation programmes.
Egg freezing gives women a chance to achieve a pregnancy later in life by freezing their eggs whey they were young and healthy.
Technological advancements have made the process much more successful.
Flash Freezing or vitrification is a new technique where the eggs are frozen so quickly that damaging ice crystals don’t get a chance to form — has made it more likely for eggs to survive thawing at a later date.
Can anyone and everyone freeze eggs?
Egg freezing is a major decision and one needs to consider all the aspects before you take that first step.
Once you have decided, check in with a fertility specialist whether egg freezing is suitable or necessary, based on medical history, age and future plans about having children.
The doctor will monitor the patient's fertility and hormone levels as well as follicular growth through ultrasounds and blood tests on a regular basis.
All these tests are necessary so as to ensure that sufficient number of mature eggs are harvested during the procedure. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is advised prior to egg freezing.
What is the process like?
The process is typically divided into three phases – stimulating the ovaries, follicular monitoring (and blood tests) and egg retrieval.
Ovarian stimulation and monitoring the follicles is similar to that followed in in-vitro fertilization (IVF), wherein the ovaries are stimulated with hormone injections for 7-10 days to produce eggs and speed up their ripening.
During the stimulation period, follicles are monitored frequently through ultrasounds and blood tests.
Finally, ovulation is triggered in the patient by administering a medication a day prior to the harvesting.
The mature eggs are harvested using a minimally invasive procedure and the retrieved eggs are frozen immediately for later use.
How much does it cost?
Egg freezing is a new technology in fertility medicine and involves considerable costs.
There are two ways you can do it. The first one is for retrieval of eggs and freezing which is similar to that of an IVF cycle and may vary between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
The second one involves an annual cost for retaining them in the frozen state and may be anywhere between Rs 15,000 to Rs30,000 per year.
Moreover, a woman may not need the egg for 10-15 years which means that ongoing egg storage costs will continue to build up. For this reason, most insurance plans are also unlikely to cover the procedure.
While the procedure does provide a long-term solution to fertility problems, however, it is not an ongoing treatment and there is no end date in sight.
What are the risks?
Egg freezing involves stimulating the ovaries through drugs to produce more eggs which may sometimes lead to ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (HSS), a condition where the ovaries become swollen and painful.
The syndrome in turn causes other symptoms such as vomiting, bloating and at times fatal symptoms like blood clots.
Other unwanted side effects include weight gain, mood swings and at times headaches.
The medical procedure for egg retrieval carries risks such as bleeding or risks from anaesthesia. Moreover, a woman may need to undergo multiple cycles of egg freezing, as a result of which the risks may be multiplied with each cycle.
At present, there is insufficient data about the risks of pregnancy from frozen eggs and other social risks.
What are pregnancy rates with oocyte cryopreservation?
Oocyte cryopreservation offers pregnancy in an average of about 55% of cases depending on the age the eggs have been frozen.
Studies have shown pregnancy rates with frozen eggs to be comparable to eggs that have never been frozen.
The current freezing methods like vitrification have shown promising results.
How long can eggs be stored and still be viable?
While most women will opt for storing their eggs for anywhere between six months to even ten years, frozen eggs can be securely stored for an indefinite period and still be viable.
Egg freezing is a new-age technology in the field of reproductive medicine that offers women a chance to freeze their eggs and use them later in life to conceive and enjoy motherhood at a time when they are better prepared to take on the responsibilities effectively.
The technology has its own list of advantages and disadvantages and is yet to be fully understood in all its implications.
Thus, any decision to freeze your eggs is best made under the guidance of a qualified fertility specialist considering the costs, risks and benefits.
Go ahead and chase your dreams, as you keep your motherhood intact!
Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj is a gynecologist, obstetrician and IVF Expert at Nurture IVF Centre, Delhi.