Pregnancy on pause: With many women opting for freezing their eggs, experts discuss what the process entails

In a recent interview, actor Mona Singh shared her decision to have her eggs frozen five years ago. Now 39, Singh says that she is focusing on enjoying her relationship with her partner, who she married last year, and travel and will only plan a baby when she is mentally prepared.

“Egg freezing has become a mainstream treatment and is no longer considered an experimental process. It is typically opted for by women because of certain medical reasons – where the woman’s fertility is at stake because she has been diagnosed with genital or ovarian cancer, if she needs to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy, if she has severe endometriosis, or if she is undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Increasingly, women are also opting to have their eggs frozen as a personal preference. With many women choosing to focus on their career in their 20s or 30s, they are willing to put motherhood on hold until a later age. Similarly, women who have not met the right partner or couples who prefer to attain a certain financial position before adding to their family are opting for this procedure,” shares Dr Vaishali Joshi, a senior gynaecologist at Kokilaben Ambani Hospital.  

She adds that the perception of motherhood has changed in recent years as more women are becoming aware about their reproductive rights, which has led to an increase in the number of queries doctors are receiving about this procedure. Many major firms are also including egg freezing in the health benefits offered to employees, which is encouraging more women to seek this alternative. 

Experts share common questions women may have about the process: 

Who is eligible? 

Dr Richa Jagtap, clinical director and reproductive medicine consultant at Nova IVF Fertility says that this procedure is best suited to women in their thirties. “Women’s fertility is finite. Egg numbers keep decreasing over time and women find it difficult to conceive after the age of 37. Accordingly, egg freezing should ideally be opted for before 37 years of age as there will be a sharp decline in the quality and quantity of eggs after this. When delaying pregnancy for any reason, it is best to medically estimate the egg reserve with an AMH blood test,” she says. 

What does the process entail? 

Women seeking to undergo this procedure are first offered counselling to prepare them physically and mentally, says Dr Joshi. Next, injections and drugs are administered to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. After these eggs reach a certain size, they are retrieved by the doctor. This procedure is done under sedation. The eggs are then sent to the lab, where they are frozen.

The entire process takes roughly three-four weeks, depending on the number of eggs that are successfully retrieved. If necessary, the doctor may prescribe an additional cycle, Dr Joshi adds. Women can resume regular activities within a week after this process. When the woman desires to use these frozen eggs, they are thawed, fertilised, and implanted in the uterus. 

Is it difficult to conceive? 

This is a popular misconception, says Dr Joshi, pointing out that the success rate with IVF for either is comparable. “Many women are also concerned about medical conditions in children who are born from IVF pregnancies. However, there is no data to suggest any long-term health complications in these children,” she adds.

With many women choosing to focus on their career in their 20s or 30s, they are willing to put motherhood on hold until a later age.
Dr Vaishali Joshi, senior gynaecologist at Kokilaben Ambani Hospital

Dr Jagtap adds that freezing your eggs does not mean that you can have only one child. “If women have frozen a good number of eggs, they result in multiple embryos. These can be used one at a time to attempt conception. However, it is important to note that not all eggs fertilise and not all embryos later culminate in pregnancies,” she says.

What are the risks? 

“In rare cases, this process can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, especially in women with polycystic ovaries. In recent times, better and tailor-made protocols have significantly reduced this risk. You can expect minor bloating and mood changes,” says Dr Japtap.

Dr Joshi points out that there is a significant medical cost associated with freezing and storing the eggs, which must be taken into consideration. Further, the emotional toll of multiple pregnancy attempts through IVF can be difficult. 

Will freezing deplete the natural ovarian reserve? 

“This is untrue. If the woman has any pre-existing medical conditions, she may need more care. The doctor will discuss this with her during counselling. Many women also mistakenly believe that egg freezing can lead to early menopause. However, women ovulate one egg every cycle, with the rest discarded by the body. During stimulation, the doctor makes use of all eggs that are produced in that cycle. Egg harvesting is a smooth process and does not reduce the number of eggs,” says Dr Jagtap.

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