When you think about someone freezing her eggs to insure against infertility later, you might picture a woman in her 40s fighting against time and a depleting egg reserve. But the face of fertility treatment is changing. Women in their late 20s and early 30s are seeking information, asking questions, and looking at their family plans at a much earlier age.
Progyny is an NYC-based start-up that offers patients access to a network of fertility doctors who specialize in egg freezing as well as IVF treatment options. They even have informational meet-and-greets where women can ask questions. Its CEO, Gina Bartasi, thinks younger women taking a closer look at their fertility is all due to the resources now available to smart, millennial women on topics that were once taboo.
"Millennials are much more educated now with information right at their fingertips," she says. "They aren't afraid to talk about anything. Their life is an open book, and that makes them incredibly empowered when it comes to reproductive health."
Bartisi even says that in the last 18 months, her egg freezing "parties" have seen more and more late-20-something women come through the doors—as much as 15 percent of the total audience. These events, which are open to all women who are curious about egg freezing, typically include fertility doctors speaking on the procedure and taking questions from the audience, and it's not uncommon for a former patient to share her story. This opens up the conversation between interested women and medical professionals. You can even sign up at the event to get started on your own egg freezing journey. (Read more about why egg freezing parties are the latest fertility trend.)
To get a candid look at what egg freezing looks like for the younger generation, we asked real women to share their questions on the process. Our expert, Jeanette Tomasino, M.S., R.N.C., M.N.N., director of clinical education and quality at Progyny, shares her insight.
"Is there any potential for the freezing [process] to cause some kind of health issue down the line for the child? The science of freezing something seems too amazing to be true or safe."—Sarah, 27
Jeanette Tomasino: Success rates using frozen eggs are dependent on the quality of eggs and the ability of the clinic to perform effective freezing and thawing. That being said, in a quality program, success rates with frozen eggs are comparable to that of fresh. In fact, the largest published study to date looked at 900 babies born from frozen oocytes and results showed no increase in birth defects as compared to babies conceived the natural way.
Takeaway: While there will always be risks associated with any type of conception, pregnancy, and birth, with a well-trained doctor and proper facility, eggs that have been previously frozen pose no greater threat than "fresh."
"Is there an age when you should get your eggs checked to see if they are healthy and fertile before it's too late?"—Megan, 25
Tomasino: You can always check your ovarian reserve now to have a better understanding of your fertility potential. The testing process requires a blood test and an ultrasound. Together they measure levels of three different fertility-related hormones, which can paint a picture of the quantity of eggs, but not necessarily the quality.
Takeaway: It's never too early to get a status check. Testing is simple and painless (unless you're squeamish with needles), and your doctor can explain what the results mean for your long-term prospects for conceiving.
(What about exercise? Find out how your fitness level and workout routine affect your fertility.)
"How many women a year freeze their eggs, and what's the average age at which women have this procedure done?"—Kylie, 24
Tomasino: Currently the average age of women proactively freezing their eggs is 36. The more women learn about the procedure and how it provides an option for those who may find themselves struggling to conceive, the more they're choosing to freeze at a younger age. Overall, women freeze their eggs at different times for different reasons, but their goals are the same—to have a baby.
Takeaway: There's no time like the present, so whether you're just curious about your options or have already done your homework and are ready to start the process, talk to your doctor now. Information is powerful.
"Can I go to work the next day? I think there might be a stigma around taking time off work to have this potentially unnecessary medical procedure (if you even disclose the circumstances to your boss in the first place)."—Heather, 28
Tomasino: The majority of women do indeed return to work the next day, as this is an outpatient procedure that requires only light sedation and rest on the day of egg retrieval. That being said, you should never be ashamed to discuss your reproductive health. Most people know that a woman's ability to conceive and the quality of her eggs decline with age, but few know the statistics. A healthy 30-year-old woman has only a 20 percent chance of conceiving naturally every cycle and that number dramatically declines with age. So enlighten your boss if you feel she's questioning you.
Takeaway: Freezing your eggs is actually a pretty smart way for you to be able to put the baby idea on hold while you pursue your career—your boss will appreciate that. P.S. Bartisi says a big misconception about the process is that the procedure hurts. But it doesn't. And the whole thing takes about 10 minutes, she says. Check out these other fertility myths and truths.
"Do the eggs expire? If I decided to have this done at 22, but don't use them until I'm 40, will the eggs degenerate over time?"—Lauren, 22
Tomasino: There isn't much research available on this. Doctors have typically seen success with eggs that are anywhere from three to seven years old, but there's no reason the health of the egg wouldn't stay intact far beyond that.
Takeaway: More research needs to be done to know for sure. But Tomasino says there has been a successful transfer of an embryo that had been frozen for 15 years, so the results are promising. Consider a general timeline of when you think you may want to use the eggs before you freeze them if you are concerned about their longevity.
"How much does the procedure cost? Even if I wanted to freeze my eggs, I don't think I could afford it right now, could I?"—Samantha, 26
Tomasino: The cost of an egg freezing cycle varies by clinic, but typically falls within the price range of $5,000 to $10,000. There are additional costs associated with pre-procedure medications, which may cost a couple thousand, and storage fees will run you between $500 and $1,000 annually. While egg freezing can be costly for women at any age, you should consider it an investment in your future. Ask your doctor or facility what financing options are available to you.
Takeaway: Crunching the numbers can seem daunting, but you can get creative with how you pay for the procedure. Tomasino says she's seen cases where family members will help finance the process through monetary gifts for birthdays, graduations, or other holidays. And yes, a loan or line of credit is an option, but keep in mind the debt that could be involved.
"My ob-gyn has never brought up the ideas of freezing my eggs. So, to be honest, I never really thought about it. Should I?"—Priscilla, 29
Tomasino: It's always a good idea for a woman to check her ovarian reserve and start asking the right questions. I strongly believe in being proactive and educating women on their fertility options.
Takeaway: Don't wait for your doctor to start the conversation. If you're curious to learn more, ask. Educating yourself on all the possibilities both now and later in life will help you make an informed decision on your own fertility choices.
"My sister is at a high risk for ovarian cancer. Her doctor suggested freezing her eggs, but she never went through with it. Did she make a mistake?"—Noelle, 29
Tomasino: If your sister were ever diagnosed, she would still have this option, as it's not uncommon for women to freeze their eggs before going through chemotherapy or radiation. These types of cancer treatments can cause genetic changes in ovary cells that can be temporary or permanent. There is a range in the severity of the potential damage to the ovary and to fertility.
Takeaway: It's always smart to see a doctor to discuss fertility options, especially under special circumstances such as high cancer risk. It may be comforting, however, to know that your sister didn't miss her one and only opportunity to freeze her eggs.