In today’s scenario, couples who are unable to conceive naturally can experience the joy of parenthood with various advanced techniques. Egg freezing is one such new-age option that is gradually gaining popularity. This procedure is considered to be an innovation in the fertility industry that has revolutionised the path toward parenthood. Earlier, it was developed as a method to preserve the fertility of women ahead of cancer treatment. However, now, it is also preferred by women who wish to postpone their pregnancy.
Egg freezing is also known as oocyte cryopreservation. In this process, the eggs harvested from your ovaries are frozen in an unfertilised state and stored for later use. Women who do not wish to be a parent at the present moment can consider this option for conceiving at a later stage in their life. If you are planning to go through this process, here are a few things that you should know:
It is a technique in which a woman’s eggs are extracted and cryopreserved at a temperature of -196c. This process is conducted with the assistance of an advanced freezing technique, vitrification, also known as flash freezing. The first stage in the process is fertility assessment by the medical professional. It is then followed by the ovarian stimulation stage wherein the woman is injected with drugs that multiply eggs in her ovaries. At the appropriate time, the eggs are retrieved and stored in liquid nitrogen to be cryopreserved until the time of usage.
Conceiving with frozen eggs
Once you are ready to start a family, the eggs are thawed and fertilised using the ICSI technique with the partner’s sperm. The embryos formed on fertilisation are then transferred into the woman’s uterus for implantation.
The egg freezing process is indeed beneficial but comes with a timeline. You should consider doing it till the time you are in your early 30s. The reason is simple: As a woman ages, the egg count and quality decline. This causes issues in conceiving and increases the risk of miscarriages. The chances of the occurrence of genetic anomalies in a fetus also grow significantly. Hence, the sooner you preserve your eggs, the higher will be the chances of a healthy pregnancy in the future.
Medical conditions impacting fertility
When the woman goes through severe medical conditions such as sickle cell anemia and autoimmune diseases, the fertility is impacted. In such a scenario, they can opt for egg freezing to start a family in the future.
Viable pregnancy method in case of cancer
In certain cases, undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy can affect a woman’s fertility. The woman can consider egg freezing for conceiving at a later stage once she has recovered and fit to have a baby.
Egg freezing is comparatively expensive. Retrieval of eggs and freezing them may cost Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000. Adding to it, the annual cost of retaining the eggs in the frozen state could cost around Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000. If the woman does not use the eggs for 10-15 years after freezing, then the ongoing storage cost keeps adding up. Hence, this could be a slightly expensive option for conceiving.
There are various risks associated with egg freezing. The woman may have to undergo multiple cycles of IVF to become pregnant. Since the woman has to take hormones for the multiplication of eggs, she could experience adverse side effects such as weight gain, bloating, mood swings, etc. In severe cases, it can even lead to the occurrence of ovarian hyperstimulation, a condition in which ovaries swell up and the fluid leaks into the body.
Before going ahead with this process, it is imperative that you seek medical supervision. The doctor will focus on your comprehensive medical history with special attention to fertility. The expert will also analyse the menstrual pattern and accordingly perform a range of tests to assess hormone levels. You should initiate the process only after prior consultation with a fertility expert.
(Dr. Devi R is Consultant - Reproductive Medicine, Milann Fertility Hospital, Indiranagar, Bangalore)