The Art of Conception

Thanks to modern technology, having a child is more possible—and more complicated—than ever

Photo: Shutterstock.

Should Young Women Freeze Their Young Eggs?

Should women evaluate their fertility options while they are young?

Because more and more women are starting their families in their mid to late 30s and into their 40s, the possibility of having infertility issues rises. Guest poster Cristina Schreil, who is in her 20s, explored the question of young woman freezing their young eggs. She talked to others in her age group and older women who wished they had frozen some of their young eggs. On one hand it’s expensive to extract, freeze, and store eggs. On the other, perhaps it should be considered a preventative procedure, like mammograms, and be covered by insurance.

Here’s what Cristina discovered:

When I asked 22-year-old Angie Giammarino whether or not she would consider freezing her eggs, her answer echoed other young women I’ve consulted: “It’s basically like asking, ‘Should I replace my car engine before it dies suddenly while I am on the road?’ Yes, but that's expensive. I'll take my chances."

In a time when experts say that 50,000 reproductive-age women are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, evaluating your fertility options at a young age is essential — and may become routine for women before age 35.

Evaluate Your Options Early

It’s something no young woman wants to think about—and most don’t. But, many women have the possibility of encountering any number of medical twists or complications that may lead to a struggle for motherhood.

A woman in her fifties—who elected to keep her name private—described her eight-year difficult road to become a mother. “It was a pretty long and arduous journey,” she said, recounting her discovery at 38 of what she came to call “the uterus of death,” the subsequent attempts at IVF and eventual miscarriages. She added, this journey “Consumed me and cost me personally and professionally. Looking back, on those eight years, I felt like I was a salmon swimming up stream to spawn my young!”

One of the most emotional aspects of her plight was that like many women who have difficulty conceiving children past 35, she never expected it would happen to her. “I was so self assured,” she said, noting that she was always healthy and athletic as a younger woman, always assumed she was fertile even if she never actually had anyone confirm it. 

Her advice? Evaluate your options while you’re young to preserve your reproductive health. “If a young woman had the resources and had serious career ambitions, I would advise her to take this step. I know several women who learned they were in perimenopause at 35.”  

As a young woman in my 20’s, I wonder—Is it time for me to assess my ova?

Egg Freezing for Peace of Mind 

As I ponder what’s brewing down under, women are taking action. With the recent announcement of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) that egg freezing is no longer marked as “experimental,” many are praising the possible opportunities it grants women to have children later in life. The Boston Globe says that it’s a new standard of preserving fertility, a surer investment than freezing sperm. 

Fertility specialist at IVF New Jersey Dr. Marcus Jurema says that freezing eggs at a young age, “still prevails as a strategy to preserve a woman’s fertility potential.” He adds, “It is important to keep in mind that aging of eggs (not sperm) has been proven to have a much greater impact on the genetic health of an embryo than any other factor ever studied including the age of the sperm.  Furthermore, the age of the woman (not the man) is also the most powerful predictor of the probability of becoming pregnant.”

Dr. Jurema thinks, “Women are feeling celebratory about this breakthrough technology that allows them to preserve their individual gametes (unfertilized eggs) and not having to rely on storing embryos (fertilized eggs) which required the selection of a sperm source even when there was not one yet available.”   

He told me that the average age of an oocyte freeze patient is 35.9. Younger women, who are as young as 19, tend to opt for egg freezing due to circumstances like cancer. Other women advocate for the sense of security that egg freezing provides.

Thirty-six-year-old TJ, a marketing consultant in Los Angeles, said that deciding to freeze her eggs has given her tremendous peace of mind. TJ, whose husband suddenly passed away two days before the egg retrieval procedure for the IVF they were undergoing, was encouraged to freeze her eggs by her husband’s family.

“They were smart enough to know that I was still young and had more life left to live (despite my feeling the opposite),” TJ wrote me. “Women unfortunately feel so much pressure and it’s not fair! I am very content that my eggs are frozen and I can turn back the hands of time should I feel the need to have children later.”

Who Should Pay for Egg Freezing?

Do many young women view egg freezing as a great idea and a smart investment? Of course. But, it’s not realistic at around $10,000 a pop. Isn’t egg freezing in many ways a preventative measure? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Under the Affordable Care Act, women’s preventive health care services – such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, and other services – are already covered with no cost sharing under some health plans.”

There are circumstances that any woman may encounter throughout her life — some she may have no control over — that can interfere with fertility. Why isn’t a one-time egg freezing, which may ultimately protect a woman if she were to have infertility problems, seen in the same way as a mammogram?

Dr. Jurema also explained that even if women have the option, egg freezing isn’t as simple as storing sperm. “Women should understand that freezing eggs involves hormone injections that can have side effects, an invasive surgical procedure to harvest the eggs, and anesthesia. Therefore, it is not a risk-free procedure,” he says.

In a recent NPR piece spotlighting ovarian freezing, Sherman Silber, a surgeon at the Infertility Center of St. Louis, explained: “We have a known success rate with egg-freezing. We do not have a known success rate with ovarian-tissue freezing."

Dr. Jurema added: At this point, I think it would be fair for insurance companies to provide coverage for egg freezing for medical reasons. It will be difficult to arrange universal coverage for egg freezing for social reasons when the cost of each attempt may be as high as US$10,000.” 

It’s hard to plan for the future, but by freezing your eggs it’s not impossible. Why should women pay a high price for healthy options and peace of mind?

Resources:  

Anonymous. "Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women." HealthCare.gov. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1 Aug. 2011. http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2011/08/womensprevention08012011a.html

Anonymous. "Egg Freezing Oocyte Cryopreservation." EggFreezingCenter.com. Santa Monica Reproductive Technologies Inc. http://www.eggfreezingcenter.com/egg-freezing/egg-freezing-for-efc.html

Anonymous. “Female Infertility.” AmericanPregnancy.org. American Pregnancy Association. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/femaleinfertility.html

Kotz, Deborah. "Egg Freezing Works to Preserve Fertility, New Guidelines Say." Boston.com. The Boston Globe, 19 Oct. 2012. http://www.boston.com/dailydose/2012/10/19/egg-freezing-works-preserve-fertility-new-guidelines-say/5XCEX40MlM1DRkyKYe2sVL/story.html 

Newman, Susan, PhD. "A Baby At Last!—Fertility Experts Weigh In." Psychology Today. 15 June 2010. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201006/baby-last-fertility-experts-weigh-in 

Newman, Susan, PhD. "Should Young Men Freeze Their Young Sperm?" Psychology Today. 8 Nov. 2012. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201211/should-young-men-freeze-their-young-sperm  

Richards, Sarah Elizabeth. "We Need to Talk About Our Eggs." The New York Times. 22 Oct. 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/opinion/we-need-to-talk-about-our-eggs.html?_r=0

Copyright 2012 by Cristina Schreil  

The Art of Conception