According to the CDC, more US women are having children in their early 30s now than ever before. For the first time, this age group of moms surpasses the number of women giving birth in their late 20s. As more women wait to have kids to instead travel, focus on their career, or accomplish what they can before motherhood, fertility preservation becomes a more important option.
To find out exactly what the process entails and get all your questions answered, we spoke with Dr. Monica Best of Prelude Fertility.
Fertility Options For Women and Men
Men have the option of preserving fertility through semen cryopreservation, while women can opt for egg cryopreservation (aka egg freezing). Best shared that you can also cryopreserve embryos via in vitro fertilization (IVF), which would be ideal for couples who plan to defer having children for one or more years. Eggs collected from the female patient are combined with the male's semen sample to manually create the embryo to be frozen. But egg cryopreservation is a great option for any woman, single or not, since the process doesn't require a partner at the time.
Best Age to Freeze Your Eggs
The younger you are, the more eggs you have, the better your pregnancy rate, and the lower your chance of miscarriage when you return to utilize those eggs. Best says your early 30s or even late 20s would be most ideal, but it's also important to know how your current egg bank is looking. If you're in your early to mid-20s and already have a diminished number of eggs, you may want to consider fertility preservation sooner.
"In your mid-30s you see the most rapid decline in ovary reserve, so you should be targeting it before then," Best said.
When Eggs Expire
Thankfully, never! The amount of time your eggs stay frozen does not affect your chances of getting pregnant, which means you can preserve them for as long as you need. "There isn't any data that says that if you came back 10 years or five years from now your odds of pregnancy success would be any different," Best told POPSUGAR. "So if you freeze in your 20s or 30s and you don't meet the man of your dreams until you are 45, your pregnancy rate is associated with that of when you were in your 20s or 30s."
However, keep in mind that the risk of birth complications only increases with age.
What the Process Looks Like
Typically, the process involves daily injections for 12 days of a medication called gonadotropin, which stimulates the ovaries to generate mature eggs. Once all the eggs are at the appropriate size, a trigger shot is given to help the eggs undergo the final stages of maturation. 36 hours later when the eggs are ripe, they're then extracted for freezing in a 20-minute procedure, in which the patient is usually under anaesthesia.
"The way we extract the eggs — there are no incisions — so there's a transvaginal ultrasound with a needle tied on the end of that that goes through the vagina and into the follicles on the ovaries," Best said. "We drain the follicular fluid from that and then the lab isolates the eggs from that fluid."
According to Best, the average woman at reproductive age will have somewhere between 10 to 20 eggs if she has a normal ovarian reserve. From those 10 to 20 collected eggs, only a third to two thirds of those eggs will be mature.
"Not everything you collect will be mature, not everything will form an embryo once it's fertilized, and not every embryo will grow while it's cultured," she said. "So the more eggs you have, the more quality eggs you have, and you can sustain some of that attrition that occurs throughout the process."
How Much Pain to Expect
For the most part, you shouldn't experience a whole lot of pain post-procedure. Expect to have some heavy cramping and spotting, but Best said that most patients are back to work within the next day or two.
How Much It Costs
The average medication cost (to stimulate the ovaries) can range anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, depending on how much treatment you'll need. Those with a lower number of eggs will require more medications to stimulate those eggs, which equals a higher cost. The actual egg-freezing process will set you back an an additional $9,000 to $10,000. Unfortunately, most women pay out of pocket since insurance doesn't typically cover egg cryopreservation. If you're looking to generate and freeze your embryos, you're looking at $14,000 to $15,000.
Egg storage also comes at a price. Consider it like a renter's fee; patients normally spend around $400 a year to store their eggs. But remember that patient financing is also available and certain programs like Prelude Fertility offer ways to keep costs down, including free storage for the first three years.