The U.S. birth rate is the lowest it’s been in 30 years. Millennials are waiting later than their Boomer and Gen X counterparts to have families for reasons running the gamut from financial to emotional. Instead of letting their fertility window determine timing for parenthood, some women are taking control by freezing their eggs.
Egg Freezing on the Rise
An NYU patient survey found most women freeze their eggs because they don’t have a partner. Turns out there are myriad reasons for delaying pregnancy from student debt and inflexible work scenarios to medical issues like chronic disease or cancer treatments.
Whatever the reason, cryopreservation of eggs is on the rise and people within the industry expect demand to continue to rise. It’s not without risk though, and women should be fully aware of what’s involved in cryopreservation and IVF before commiting thousands of dollars and emotional labor to the process.
As eggs age, fertility decreases and the risk of babies born with congenital issues increases. To counter those risks, women in the their 30s are looking for methods to preserve fertility and are increasingly turning to egg freezing as a solution.
With a price tag of up to $15,000 just for egg preservation and storage, the procedure can be cost-prohibitive and doesn’t guarantee pregnancy.
The In-vitro fertilization (IVF) needed to actually get pregnant with cryogenically frozen eggs can quickly run into multiple tens of thousands of dollars. Most health plans consider the procedure elective and don’t provide coverage for egg freezing and other fertility treatments.
The uncertain nature of egg freezing and IVF should give women pause. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing a 21% success rate for live birth following egg freezing and IVF. Despite its burgeoning popularity among millennial women, freezing eggs is essentially a very expensive crapshoot where the odds are not in their favor. Ultimately, the decision lies with the women who want to preserve their chances for having a family.
The Cryopreservation Process
To begin the process, a series of hormone
injections are prescribed. These injections “ripen” eggs to ready them for
retrieval. The hormones stimulate ovarian follicles to produce mature eggs. On
retrieval day, a physician removes several eggs by inserting a needle into an
ovary. The eggs are then quickly frozen and maintained at a temperature of -196
degrees celsius. Eggs can be stored indefinitely at this temperature with any
When ready to become pregnant, the woman takes another course of hormones to prepare her body for implantation. Sperm is collected from a partner or donor and is injected into the egg. Three to five days after fertilization, the eggs will become embryos and are then implanted into the woman’s uterus.
As with IVF using fresh eggs, there’s no guarantee of a pregnancy or live birth. On average women undergo between 2-3 rounds of IVF before maintaining a pregnancy and IVF with fresh eggs has a 17% higher success rate than with frozen eggs. Also, as women age, the chance of unsuccessful implantation increases.
Whatever their reasons, the ability to preserve fertility and become pregnant when they want is a huge boon for women and an important step in reproductive health and autonomy. Women can feel empowered knowing they’ve taken steps to preserve their chances for a family for when the time is right and not feel pressured to become mothers before they’re ready.