A look at why women freeze their eggs
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IDAHO FALLS — If you’re a young woman wanting to start a family later down the road, or possibly experiencing illness and want to suspend your fertility in time, then egg freezing may be a viable option.
Both the Idaho Fertility Center and the Idaho IVF Center provide this service in Idaho Falls.
We visited the Idaho Fertility Center to learn more about its egg-freezing program.
“Our eggs in a sense age as we get older,” says Dr. Dierdre Conway, Utah and Idaho Fertility Centers’ reproductive endocrinologist. “I always think of it as we have a basket of eggs from birth, whereas men are little sperm factories, and they’re always making sperm through their whole life that is fresh.”
Conway says a woman’s fertility can be a bit compromised as they shed little groups of eggs per month.
“What you’ll see is as women get older the number of eggs will start to go down, but also the quality of the eggs goes down,” Conway says.
She says women in their 20s and 30s are prime candidates for egg freezing, as the success rate of pregnancy with younger eggs is much higher.
Conway says at the beginning of the egg-freezing process, women are given injectable hormones for 10 days to produce some 15 eggs or more in a cycle instead of just one.
“We’re gaming the system in a sense by putting them on hormone shots which enable them to grow 15 to 30 eggs all at the same time,” Conway says.
At the end of the 10-day period, the patient undergoes an egg retrieval procedure. She is given anesthesia during the 15-minute process.
“The eggs will immediately get frozen in our lab, and then they can be stored there indefinitely,” Conway says.
The instant freezing process is called vitrification. Eggs and embryos are frozen almost immediately. Once they are ready for use, they are warmed up quickly. Conway says in the past, the cells were frozen slowly with the intention of better preserving the eggs. Research later proved this method to be less effective, Conway says, as cells had a lower chance of surviving.
“Once they’re frozen, it’s not just a regular freezer. They go into liquid nitrogen,” Conway says. “People sometimes refer to it as flash freezing.”
Conway says when the egg is frozen, the liquid nitrogen prevents ice crystals from forming within the egg as it would compromise the egg’s survival rate. The success rate of an egg cycle or multiple extracted eggs can be very high, like an 8 out of 10 chance. She also says there isn’t a difference between pregnancy success rates with either fresh or frozen eggs.
“It’s not the same as a loaf of bread in the freezer where the quality goes down over time. You can keep them frozen, and then even if you’re in your later 30s or 40s, once you warm those eggs down the road, a very high percentage of them will survive,” Conway says.
Conway says egg freezing is an option for women who want to donate their eggs to intended parents, or for women who are about to experience chemotherapy.
“We often will do egg freezing before they start chemotherapy, because if they’re on chemotherapy that can also wipe out and also affect the quality of their eggs down the road,” Conway says. “Anybody that’s thinking about it and stressing out about their future fertility potential and that wants to have that, it’s almost like insurance backup plan.”
Conway says sperm preservation is available to men at the Idaho Fertility Center who want to store their sperm for future or donor use as well.
“We will do sperm banking, which logistically as you can imagine is a little bit easier,” Conway says. “Then we can store it in the same way as we would for the eggs in our tanks.”
Conway says patient consults are available for those who are curious about their fertility and or wanting to know an egg count.
“Maybe they don’t even opt to do the egg freezing right away, but at least you kind of know where you’re at. At the patient consult we do quite a bit of testing,” Conway says.
Conway says the egg freezing procedure starts roughly around $5,000 and insurance may cover some expenses. She says grants are available to patients, and financial coordinators can assist patients with a plan to pay for the costs.
Idaho and Utah Fertility Centers are partnered with Donor Egg Bank USA, which specializes in egg freezing to ensure quality control. The organization helps the fertility center improve its technology and technique in the egg-freezing process.