A Field Guide to Freezing Your Eggs

When I hear about women freezing their eggs, I either envision Austin Powers cryogenically frozen for thirty years, or miniature chicken eggs in a frozen mason jar. Or test tube babies. I never said I was mature, okay? On a serious note, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine declared (about a year and a half ago) that freezing eggs was no longer experimental, but actually a viable option for women who want to or have to wait to have children. There is a lot of information out there, and not all of it is correct. Furthermore, there are obviously pros and cons to the procedure.

First of all, this is how it works:

The first step a woman must take (besides thinking this huge decision over and making sure she wants to do this for herself and for her future baby) is to undergo hormone injections and birth control for 2-4 weeks to essentially disable natural hormones. After that, she is injected with hormones for about two weeks in order to stimulate the ovaries and prepare her eggs. During this period, the patient should visit her doctor about twice a week so they can monitor the eggs via ultrasounds and blood work. By keeping close tabs on the eggs, the doctor can see whether the woman needs more or less medication.

Once the eggs are ready or have “ripened,” they are essentially sucked out with a long needle that is inserted in the vagina. That’s a pretty rudimentary explanation, but that is essentially what happens. Although I imagine that the procedure is ten times worse than a pap smear, the doctor does heavily sedate you so that you don’t experience any pain. However, all those weeks of hormones leading up to the egg collection are not pleasant at all, and I’ll get to that.

Once the eggs are removed, they are brought to a clinical lab where each egg is evaluated for health. After this, they are immediately frozen and kept in an egg bank until the woman is ready to have a baby. When that day comes, the eggs are thawed,  injected with a single sperm, fertilized in a lab, and then transferred back into the uterus as an embryo.

Here are some reasons why women are hesitant to freeze their eggs:

1. Freezing your eggs can cost between $6,500-$15,000 per cycle (the time period described above), and some women need more than one cycle to procure enough healthy eggs.  It costs about $500 to initially open an egg bank and then $250 a year to store your eggs.

2. The entire process is difficult on a woman’s body. The first step when you’re injecting yourself with hormones comes with side effects like sensitivity, mood swings, and weight gain. Imagine what it’s like starting a new birth control, but way more intense.  After the egg retrieval, most women experience abdominal bloating and cramping for about a week.

3. There is no guarantee that freezing your eggs will work. It’s estimated that a woman between the ages of 32 and 35 will have a 40-50% chance of achieving a successful pregnancy by freezing her eggs. The rate does go down the older a woman gets, so it’s more effective if eggs are obtained at an earlier age. At an earlier age (your 20s) you might be unsure of what you want to do, or you just might not have that kind of money.

4. Some women find this procedure humiliating and unnatural to have science help them make a baby. Some see this as a “last resort” or an act of desperation. Some are just scared.

Here’s the truth though:

More and more women are breaking the glass ceiling and taking on higher paying positions that require a lot of hours and a lot of dedication and responsibility. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s the kind of progress that we’ve been working towards for years! With this relatively new technology, women are able to postpone motherhood. They can choose when they want to be a mom if they decide to put their career first. I’m not saying that a woman is incapable of having a job and a family at the same time, but now women have the choice. If men can put off having a family by deciding that their job is their first priority, so can women. Even if a woman wants to freeze her eggs because she hasn’t found the right person to procreate with, I think that this is a revolutionary step towards independence. I’ve personally witnessed so many young women settle with guys that are just not right for them because they feel like it’s their last chance to become a mom and wife.

Our twenties and our thirties are extremely important. It’s when we are able to pave the way, and establish ourselves as career-driven individuals and go-getters. It’s a time to travel or go back to school. Not everyone wants to settle down and make time and room for a baby just because we’re biologically inclined to do so.  I know that I couldn’t have a baby right now as much as I want one in the future. I’m in grad school and it’s going to take years before I can land a tenured position as a teacher, probably years until I can secure a contracted position. I also want time to write, not raise a child. And I also want to be able to buy frivolous things like unicorn perfume and floral Doc Martens and not worry about taking care of another human besides myself. I don’t think that’s selfish. I think that’s progressive.

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