Egg Freezing: What You Need To Know

Recent statistics show the number of women freezing their eggs has soared. Seen as a way to protect fertility and press pause on your biological clock, it's no wonder. If you’re considering this as way to insure your chances of becoming a mother, here’s what three of the UK’s leading fertility experts had to say…

It’s Increasingly Popular

Statistics show egg freezing is one of the fastest growing fertility trends in the UK. As Alison Campbell, head of embryology at Care Fertility, says, “National data suggests around 2,000 women elected to freeze their eggs in 2018. It’s expected this number will continue to grow as there’s increased awareness and continuously improving practice in clinics.” Statistics also show elective egg freezing for social reasons (i.e. to offset concerns around age-related fertility and fertility decline) is the main reason why women are opting for the procedure. In such cases, egg freezing enables a woman to preserve her current rates of fertility. For example, if you freeze your eggs when you’re 32 and use them when you’re 39, you’ll be attempting conception with the eggs of a 32-year-old, giving yourself a better chance of pregnancy. 

Age Matters

The younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the better your chances. “The age that women choose to freeze their eggs varies considerably, but the highest chances of success are achieved when women store their eggs under the age of 36. The chances of success decline as female age increases,” Alison says. Zita West, one of the UK’s leading fertility experts, recommends freezing your eggs before the age of 35. “It can be misleading as many women look and feel great for their age, but this is not necessarily reflected in your ovaries. Many women aged 38-40 who undergo egg freezing require more than one session to harvest enough quality eggs, which can be expensive – each round costs around £5,000.” And when it comes to paying for egg freezing, it’s unlikely your insurance will cover it, although some companies do offer the procedure as an incentive to employees. In short, getting treatment earlier will give you a higher success rate, and will save you serious pennies.

You’ll Need A Fertility MOT

If you decide to get your eggs frozen, the first step is a fertility MOT to ascertain whether your eggs are suitable for freezing. “There’s an initial consultation where you have your egg reserves assessed by blood tests looking at levels of anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) and an ultrasound scan (often referred to as an antral follicle count), which counts the number of follicles on the ovaries,” Zita explains. “This gives doctors an idea of how likely you are to respond to treatment. It’ll also help your doctor work out which drugs to use and a rough indication of how you will respond to the treatment.”

It’s An Intense Procedure

Egg freezing may sound straightforward, but it’s quite a full-on procedure, says Zita. “Many women underestimate what is involved. I’ve had women ask me if they can come in on their lunch break, when in reality you’ll probably need to take a couple of days off work.” The egg freezing treatment begins similarly to IVF – a course of injections to stimulate the ovaries, followed by the egg collection procedure, but, unlike IVF, there’s no embryo to put back. “The procedure involves a woman stimulating egg production, giving herself injections daily for around ten days. During this time, she will have blood tests and scans to assess how stimulation is going. She will then be given what is called a trigger injection to release the eggs and will then undergo a procedure in theatre under anaesthetic where the eggs are collected, assessed for their maturity (this is called grading) and are then frozen. Depending on how many eggs have been produced, you may be quite sore abdominally after the procedure and will need to rest for a day or two.” When it comes to using your frozen egg when the time is right, the process is also similar to IVF: “We would then thaw the egg when needed and treat the process as IVF with either your partner’s or a donor’s sperm,” says Zita.

There Can Be Side Effects

“Modern techniques make the risk of over-responding and hyper-stimulation negligible and a thing of the past,” says James Nicopoullos, clinical director and consultant gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic, referring to a reaction that can happen from the fertility drugs that promote ovulation. “However, the egg collection itself does have a small risk of infection and bleeding, so women are given antibiotics post-procedure. Your menstrual cycle will likely return within ten to 14 days of the procedure, too.”

The age that women choose to freeze their eggs varies considerably, but the highest chances of success are achieved when women store their eggs under the age of 36.
Zita West, Fertility Expert

It’s Not An Insurance Policy

While egg freezing may be temporarily reassuring, it’s not necessarily a sure-fire way of preserving future fertility. As James explains, freezing your eggs doesn’t necessarily equate to a live birth further down the line. “Data from our clinic, which matches the national data, suggests one in 15 frozen eggs achieves a live birth in women under the age of 35. This rises to one in 20 in women between the ages of 35-40 and considerably less thereafter. Therefore, you’re realistically looking at more than one cycle to freeze enough eggs to have a higher chance of a live birth.” However, James explains there are anomalies to this data, with some women only having two or three eggs collected and achieving a live birth, while others have many more frozen and are unsuccessful. Alison says if you are under the age of 36, you should be looking to freeze around 20 eggs for your best chances of conception.

You’ll Need To Pay A Monthly Fee

It’s worth bearing in mind that once your eggs have been harvested, you’ll need to pay for storage. This can be several hundreds of pounds per month, but many of London’s top clinics offer egg freezing packages, which include storage for two to three years. While you may decide to use your eggs within this time, it’s also worth noting you can’t legally keep eggs on ice for more than ten years. “The standard legal storage period is up to ten years, but in some cases, such as with cancer patients, they can be stored for longer. The egg freezing limit has also just been extended for two years due to the current pandemic, so it’s worth exploring this with your clinic, too.” Alison says. Alison also stresses that freezing does not affect egg quality, however long your eggs have been frozen. 

It Could Be Worth Freezing An Embryo

If you’re in a relationship and in a situation where you know you want children further down the line, the experts say there is an argument for freezing embryos over eggs. “Frozen embryo transfer has a lot of success, but it can be complicated on a personal level,” Zita says. “If you are freezing your eggs, the chances are you’re not in a position to have a baby – perhaps you are single and haven’t met a partner. If you are single and freeze an embryo, then meet someone further down the line, it’ll get complicated as you’ll have a frozen embryo with someone else’s sperm or from a sperm donor.” Alison adds that embryo freezing has been established for longer than egg freezing, explaining why some women choose to go down this route. “To do this, of course, partner or donor sperm is required so this decision very much depends on personal circumstances.”

It Could Be Worth Exploring 

Egg freezing may not be a topic at the forefront of your mind, particularly because so many women start to think about babies later than previous generations, but it’s for precisely this reason that Zita thinks it could be an option worth exploring. “In my opinion, egg freezing is a good solution when it comes to protecting fertility,” Zita says. “It offers women options they haven’t had before. So many women are ambivalent about having a baby, or haven’t met the right person, and then wake up at 40 and decide they do want a baby. In this light, egg freezing can offer some hope. The biggest factor to get across to women is delays in fertility – on average, it can take eight months to get pregnant and miscarriage is quite common, meaning a year can easily slip by. It’s all about looking ahead, being strategic with your fertility and doing what works for you. I do think it’s an option worth exploring.”

MY EGG FREEZING EXPERIENCE: Liz Beardsell from Diary, She Wrote.

Liz Beardsell is the name behind the renowned podcast Diary, She Wrote. Since 1994, she has written over 9,000 diary entries, covering topics such as dating, sex, grief, fertility and friendships, all of which are documented in the podcast. Now 38, Liz made the decision to freeze her eggs three years ago.

“In 2017 I met a great guy called Jack* who I dated for a short period of time. This had been the closest thing to a relationship for me in five years. And despite not having a huge maternal desire when I was single, it had made me realise that when I do meet the right person it is likely I will want kids to be part of our future. While we were dating, a friend had begun the process of freezing her eggs. I quizzed her about the medical research, the injections, the blood tests, the clinics she had researched and the costs. It all sounded a little daunting, but as I was approaching 36 and in a financially stable position to use my savings, it felt like a sensible investment. 

My egg freezing process lasted four months. My clinic closely monitored my menstrual cycles, there were endless blood tests and scans, they prescribed the relevant medication to first get my hormones to the optimum level and to then stimulate my egg growth. I had to inject my own medication, which was an alien and terrifying concept for someone not in the medical industry, but it soon became part of my daily routine. The closer it got to my egg removal date, the more I had to do – some days I'd have two blood tests and I'd do three injections at various points throughout the day. My ovaries felt heavy and full and I was often exhausted. The process was an upheaval on my body both physically and mentally. However, the clinic managed to extract 17 healthy eggs and I pay an annual fee to keep them frozen. 
 

The process was an upheaval on my body both physically and mentally. My ovaries felt heavy and I was often exhausted.
Liz Beardsell

Although freezing your eggs is not a guarantee of conception, for me, they feel like a comforting security blanket, so I don’t regret it. I am now 38 and single and only intend to thaw them if I meet someone in the next eight years and we decide we would like to try for a family, but are unsuccessful via the traditional method. 

I would absolutely recommend other women in their twenties and thirties to consider getting their eggs frozen. If you know you want children or think you might do one day then I don’t imagine you would look back on your younger self with regret knowing you did everything you could in order to give yourself the best chance of having your own family unit.”

*Name has been changed. 

To hear more about Liz’s experience, tune into episode 10 of series 2 (‘Another Blood Test’) as well as episode 1 of series 1 (‘Dexter Turner’) and episode 9 of series 2 (‘Hold My Hand’); listen here. For more information on Zita West, visit ZitaWestClinic.com; Care Fertility works closely with the Zita West Clinic, visit CareFertility.com. The Lister Fertility Clinic is based on Harley Street but has other locations, visit ListerFertility.co.uk.

 
*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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