Written by: Tabitha Britt
Fact-Checked By : Dr. Tara Scott, OB-GYN
If the pandemic has you thinking about your future, you’re not the only one. Since this awful turn of events transpired last March, many women have looked to fertility clinics to ease their minds. And who could blame them? With so much uncertainty in the air, it’s hard not to wonder where we’ll be romantically, professionally, financially, or emotionally within the next few years.
When COVID-19 hit the US, fertility clinics received an unexpected uptick in individuals who wanted to freeze their eggs during the pandemic. While there isn’t a set number or official stats to refer to, according to TIME, 54 clinics across the country had an increased number of clients who were interested in freezing their eggs—which, considering the number of clinics that were forced to shut down and suspend treatments during the early months of the pandemic, is quite impressive.
If you’re interested in freezing your eggs or are curious about the process, here’s a quick and easy-to-read guide that covers a few of the frequently asked questions about egg freezing, starting with how it’s done.
How to Freeze Your Eggs
Egg freezing, scientifically known as “mature oocyte cryopreservation,” is a process in which unfertilized eggs are harvested from the ovaries, frozen, and stored for future use. When ready, the eggs can be thawed, combined with sperm from a partner or a sperm donor (in a lab), and implanted in your uterus.
Here’s a brief summary of how it works and what to expect:
Before you do anything, you’ll need to make a consultation appointment. During this appointment, your fertility specialist will ask you questions about your medical history and perform a vaginal sonogram to ensure that you’re a good candidate for egg freezing.
“During the initial consultation, the fertility specialist will obtain a detailed medical, gynecologic and reproductive history, and perform a vaginal sonogram to visualize the woman’s ovaries and determine if she is an appropriate candidate for egg freezing,” says Daniel Stein, MD, and Medical Director with WINFertility. “A series of hormones tests will also be performed to better assess a woman’s chances of yielding an adequate number of eggs during her egg freezing treatment cycle.”
Once you and your fertility specialist have decided that you’re a viable candidate, you’ll be asked to undergo a series of hormone injections. This process usually takes two to three weeks, though it may vary from patient to patient.
“Hormone injections will be administered once or twice a day for approximately eight to 12 days in order to stimulate the ovaries to grow multiple follicles (the structures within each ovary that contain eggs),” says Stein. “Every few days blood tests and sonograms will be performed to monitor a woman’s response to the medications so that medication doses can be adjusted.”
During egg retrieval, you’ll be put under mild sedation, also called a “twilight sleep.” Your doctor will then use an ultrasound-guided needle to collect your eggs. The eggs are then frozen in small vials and are stored until you’re ready to fertilize them.
“Once enough follicles have developed and hormone levels are determined to be appropriate, the woman undergoes an egg retrieval procedure (under intravenous anesthesia) in which a needle is inserted, using ultrasound guidance, through the wall of the vagina into each ovary,” says Stein. “The eggs are collected into test tubes and are frozen in small vials called straws. These straws are frozen in liquid nitrogen until the woman decides to thaw the eggs and fertilize them.”
Why Freeze Your Eggs
There are several scenarios why you may consider freezing your eggs, including:
- You have cancer and are required to receive chemotherapy or radiation treatments
- You have severe rheumatologic disease (e.g. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis )
- You’re planning to remove your ovaries for non-cancerous conditions (e.g. large cysts, endometriosis)
- You have a significant family history of early menopause
- You plan to defer conception into your late 30s
“The unfortunate truth is that women are born with a finite amount of eggs, so as a woman ages, the quality and quantity of her eggs begin to decline, making it more difficult to become pregnant,” says Joshua Hurwitz, MD, and board-certified reproductive Endocrinologist of RMA of Connecticut. “This is where the idea of the ‘biological clock’ comes into play and can sometimes evoke feelings of anxiety and stress. Egg freezing is a way of 'stopping the clock’ and banking your youngest eggs for use in the future when you are ready to build your family.”
When to Freeze Your Eggs
Although the time to freeze your eggs is ultimately up to you, there is a window in which you may achieve greater results.
“Women who freeze their eggs prior to age 35 have a greater chance of achieving a future successful pregnancy using those eggs than women who freeze at older ages,” says Stein. “Furthermore, because a greater proportion of eggs are genetically normal in younger women than in older women, younger women do not require as many eggs to be frozen to achieve a successful pregnancy as older women.”