Today, as women have grown to be independent and career-oriented people, the urge of marriage and children is often pushed back. The couples have also delayed their family planning and choose to attain career stability first. With these, cancer treatments, genetics, age, and lifestyle also play a role in infertility.
So women are choosing to preserve their fertility by the technique of oocyte cryopreservation. In this, the eggs of women are retrieved and then frozen for future use. Just like in IVF, eggs are retrieved in this but only to use in the future. Most of the fertility clinics in the world provide this type of service.
Why Exactly is it done?
As discussed above, many women prefer to welcome maternity late in life. Then there are women who, because of unavoidable circumstances, might have to delay their pregnancies. Amidst all of this, as the women’s age increases, her fertility decreases. The same isn’t right for men, as naturally, their fertility starts falling in the fifties.
So eggs can be frozen, and in the future, with the help of your partner’s or a donor’s sperm, they can be fertilized. For this, you might be given fertility drugs to ovulate with more than one egg. Below are conditions under which women can freeze their eggs:
- She might have a disease or condition that can affect her fertility. These include sickle cell anemia, lupus, and more. Transgender is also considered as a condition in this.
- If she is undergoing treatment for cancer or any other illness that can affect her ability to get pregnant. The medical therapies, which include radiation, can harm a person’s fertility. Chemotherapy (for cancer) uses heat and radiation to destroy tumor cells.
- If she is undergoing in vitro fertilization, but it has to be postponed for some reason. This is a rare scenario where the couple chooses in vitro fertilization (IVF). Still, before or in between treatment, due to any unforeseen situation, they have to postpone it. The fertility doctors suggest them at least complete the egg retrieval process and then continue the treatment when they feel comfortable.
- She wishes to preserve younger eggs now and then use them in the future. Freezing eggs at a younger age is always advisable because, with age, the quality of oocytes (egg cells) decreases. It can affect the development of the embryo and also it’s implantation.
Further, in all cases, it is the couple’s or woman’s (if single mother) choice to whether to use the partner’s sperm or donor’s. The donor can be a known or anonymous person. This also gives an option to a couple/woman to get the embryo implanted in her or a carrier (surrogacy).
Are There Any Risks Involved?
Egg freezing does carry risks like:
- Possible consequences of fertility drugs.
As we have discussed earlier, the women will be injected with some fertility drugs, so she ovulates faster and with more than one egg. In rare cases, the use of these fertility drugs that induce ovulation can also cause the ovaries to become swollen and painful.
It generally happens after ovulation or egg retrieval. If the woman feels abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomits, and/or diarrhea, then ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome can have happened to her. If left untreated, then it might become a life-threatening disease.
- Egg retrieval procedure complications.
In rarer cases, the use of the needle to retrieve eggs results in bleeding, infection, or damage to the bowel, bladder, or any blood vessel.
- Emotional risks
The egg freezing provides a better chance of pregnancy in the future, but it doesn’t guarantee the same. There is a considerable amount of risk that the money and hopes invested might not yield the result. So the couple/women always need to consider this, before taking their step forward in egg freezing.
Now the other thing is that if the frozen eggs have been chosen for pregnancy, then the chances of miscarriage are always based on the age at which these eggs were retrieved.
If the women at frozen her eggs during the late thirties and early forties, then she might have higher miscarriage rates, mainly due to having older eggs. Apart from this, to date, no research has proven that there’s an increased risk of birth defects in babies born through egg freezing. So for now, these are rumors.
The Procedure in Detail
Deciding to freeze the eggs for future pregnancy is a big decision. For this, the couple should know the whole procedure in detail, as with it, many hopes are tied too.
- Some Prior Tests
Ovarian reserve testing is done to determine the quantity and quality of the eggs in women. On day three of the woman’s cycle, the doctor might test the concentration of follicle-stimulating hormone and estradiol in the blood. The reports help the fertility doctor in accurately predicting the response of the ovaries to fertility medication.
Further to it, some blood tests and an ultrasound of the ovaries might be used to get a complete picture of the function of ovaries. The woman will also be screened for infectious or genetic diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and C, and more.
After tests, the doctor will keep you on fertility medications for some days. As per your health, cycle, response to medication, and such other factors, the doctor will decide a day for egg retrieval. At the time of egg retrieval, the women will be sedated.
The treatment takes place in the doctor’s clinic or office. Commonly, a transvaginal ultrasound is used for this. For identifying the follicles, the ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina. After this, a needle is then guided through the vagina opening, towards the follicle. A suction device is already connected to the needle. It is used to remove the eggs from the follicle.
The doctor tries to retrieve multiple eggs. Studies have shown that the more eggs retrieved— up to 15 per cycle — the better the chances of birth. After egg retrieval, the women might feel cramping or feelings of fullness. This might last for a week as the ovaries remain enlarged.
As soon as the eggs are retrieved, they are frozen. The preparations to freeze them are already made, they are to be kept in subzero temperatures.
Usually, the structure of an unfertilized egg makes it a bit more challenging and use it for pregnancy than a fertilized egg. Vitrification is the process that is most commonly used for egg freezing.
There are some surprise elements also, which are used in high concentrations; they prevent the ice crystals. If the ice crystals are formed, it can damage the egg.
Note if after your egg retrieval process, if you experience any of the following, contact your healthcare provider:
- Fever higher than 101.5 F (38.6 C)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Weight gain of more than 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) in just one day
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Any difficulty in urinating
Egg freezing doesn’t affect your lifestyle much. Studies show that women/couples remain stress-free after getting the eggs frozen. Typically after the retrieval takes place, max by a week, women can start indulging in all their normal activities.
Dr Priya Banerjee
M.D. (Obs. & Gyn.)
Have been practising for three years, an online consultant with Femicure, along with it, have written medical articles and blogs for four years. Also an infertility specialist with IVF, IUI, ICSI, and infertility related surgeries.