Although there’s a lot more conversation surrounding egg freezing these days, the entire concept is still somewhat mysterious. What does it actually mean, and what does egg-freezing actually entail? We wanted to get down to the nitty gritty details minus the hard-to-understand jargon, and knew Genea’s expert in fertility, specialist Dr Cheryl Phua, could help debunk some common myths surrounding the subject…
We asked Dr Phua about the process of egg retrieval and freezing, the numbers to consider, including how many eggs, how long to store and what the entire procedure could cost, and all the other variables associated with egg freezing, and have learnt so much about this possibly life-changing medical phenomenon. While freezing your eggs doesn’t guarantee you a baby in the future, the process does give you peace of mind and more options when it comes to age, life-stage and time.
If you’re exploring your options when it comes to fertility and want to know about the often unspoken logistics and statistics of egg freezing, then this article is certainly for you…
What are some of the reasons women freeze their eggs?
Common wisdom is that women are freezing their eggs because they want to pursue a career and climb the corporate ladder. The truth, however, is that the majority of women who freeze their eggs do so because of the lack of a suitable partner. A couple of studies conducted recently have found that many women want to give themselves more breathing space to find the right partner. By electing to freeze their eggs, they’re trying to avoid so-called panic partnering – entering into unwise relationships to have a genetically-related child.
You can ready some references to the research mentioned above here.
At the peak of fertility in a woman’s 20s she has just a 25 per cent chance of getting pregnant naturally each month – how does this statistic change as she ages?
Most women know in the back of their minds that their fertility is finite – they can’t have babies forever but I’m not sure that the majority of women really understand exactly how much age impacts their chance of getting pregnant. The reality is that women are born with all of the eggs they will ever have and by the time they start menstruating, the number of eggs they have has fallen to approximately 300,000. But quantity is only half the story. Age also impacts on the quality of the eggs we have left. I think what has happened with the advances we’ve seen in fertility treatment and the constant barrage of “news” about celebrities having babies into their 40s and 50s, society has begun to believe that age is no longer a barrier to starting a family. That’s simply not true if a woman intends to use her own eggs. By the age of 36, the chance of a woman conceiving each month is decreased by almost half from the time that she was her most fertile in her early 20s. This downward trend continues and by the age of 45, the average chance of getting pregnant each month is only 1%.
What does the process of egg freezing look like from pre-treatment to egg stimulation to vitrification and storage?
At the clinic I work with, Genea Horizon, we’ve designed a process that will fit in with women’s busy lives. You start simply with some pre-treatment investigations and then see a Fertility Specialist. Once your personalised treatment plan has been agreed, we stimulate the ovaries through self-administered injections over a period of approximately 10 days (don’t worry, if needles are a concern, you can chat to our nurses about having them help out). During this time, you will also need to come into the Genea Horizon clinic for a few early morning blood tests and ultrasounds. Once we see that your body has responded to the stimulation, we bring you into Genea’s Day Surgery for a short 10-20 minute procedure to collect your eggs. We recommend you have this day off work and head home to the lounge for a Netflix binge but you will need someone to accompany you. While you’re on your way home, our embryologists will be freezing (vitrifying) your eggs using the latest technology in our world-leading laboratory. Then they’ll be stored here at the lab until you’re ready to use them.
Is egg freezing an emotionally challenging experience? How do you help your patients through the process?
Taking the decision to freeze your eggs can mean that you give closer inspection to some areas of your life than you would normally. For some people, this can raise uncomfortable emotions. All of Genea Horizon’s patients are offered counselling as part of their treatment. Interestingly, many of our patients tell us that once they have completed treatment they feel a great sense of relief. Many of my patients tell me that whilst they are aware that although egg freezing does not guarantee a pregnancy in the future, they feel empowered that they have done everything they can to potentially maximise this chance in the future.
How many eggs, on average, can you take out at a time?
We can retrieve as many eggs as your body produces that month. Every woman is unique, so the response to the medications will differ. That’s why it’s important for you to come in for blood tests and ultrasounds during treatment. The injections encourage your body to mature more than the one egg it usually releases in a single cycle. The number of eggs that we retrieve depends on a number of factors including the woman’s age, follicle count as well as AMH level. Your fertility specialist and you will have a discussion based on your medical history and results in order to ensure you are well informed of the likely number of eggs that may be retrieved.
Does removing eggs decrease future fertility?
While there is limited data from women who have undergone egg freezing, international data from the IVF population has been reassuring. Giving medications to stimulate the ovaries and collect eggs does not appear to decrease future fertility. This is because the eggs collected during that cycle would have not matured from a follicle in a natural cycle anyway. Rest assured that it is a common myth that undergoing ovarian stimulation and retrieving eggs depletes your egg reserve; reduces your future fertility or brings on an early menopause – it doesn’t.
How long can you keep your eggs stored?
In NSW, you can store your eggs for 15 years, however, each state in Australia has their own regulations around storage timeframes.
How much does the procedure typically cost?
At Genea Horizon, the first cycle of egg freezing is $4,534 which includes cycle costs, freezing and six months storage. The cost of medications is on top of this charge and starts at $1,500. You will also need to allow $1,441 for day surgery under local anaesthetic (general anaesthetic incurs additional costs). Subsequent egg freezing cycles with Genea Horizon are $3,934 plus medications and day surgery fees. If you are comparing pricing it’s worth remembering to confirm what’s included in the cost that is quoted as each clinic includes different elements. I’m often asked if egg freezing is covered by Medicare. Unfortunately, at this stage, there is no Medicare rebate for elective egg freezing which also means you will not have any coverage through private health insurance either.
Does it matter how long you wait after freezing your eggs to access them?
Not at all, your eggs are frozen in time, forever the age at which they were frozen.
Is there anyone who should not freeze their eggs?
Treatment at Genea and Genea Horizon is always in direct consultation with a high trained Fertility Specialist. This doctor will comprehensively review your medical history and then discuss with you the best treatment for your personal situation.
What are the success rates of egg freezing?
Although egg freezing technology has greatly improved over the past decade, it should not be considered an insurance policy for future pregnancies. The reality is that freezing your eggs and storing them does not guarantee a baby. However, preserving your fertility through egg freezing can be one way of maximising the potential of having a baby later in life. Your age at the time of egg freezing is an important consideration and directly impacts the success rates of future IVF cycles using frozen eggs. The overall clinical experience has been that success rates with frozen eggs decline with maternal age (at time of egg collection). Limited data exists on pregnancy following egg freezing as fewer than 10 per cent of patients return to use their eggs, such a small cohort doesn’t provide a statistically significant reflection of pregnancy rates as a result of treatment.
Can you tell us about Genea Horizon - your dedicated egg freezing clinic and why it is unique?
We opened Genea Horizon, a sister clinic to Genea Fertility, in response to the increased uptake of egg preservation treatment and recognition that women wanting to freeze their eggs have different needs to those undertaking IVF for infertility. We began to notice an increase in the number of women who knew they wanted a family in the future so wanted to take control of their fertility. These women wanted a different environment to our IVF patients and we designed Genea Horizon to offer them an exclusive service, tailored specifically to their needs. Our patients are busy women who want a service that is more simplified, quick, and easy to understand and navigate – Genea Horizon gives them that. Genea Horizon also offers some of the most affordable prices in the industry, whilst also providing patients with access to the leading science Genea is renowned for.