You’ve seen the Instagram ads, heard whispers of friends of friends doing it and even read entire news articles about its rise in popularity. No, this isn’t the latest TikTok dance or miracle anti-aging beauty treatment. It’s freezing your eggs.
If you’re curious about the egg freezing process, read on – here are six common questions about it, answered.
What is egg freezing?
The egg freezing process is a fertility preservation technique that involves harvesting your precious little eggs and putting them on ice (in a medically controlled way, of course) for you to fertilise and hopefully get pregnant… when you like.
Think of it this way; freezing your eggs “insures” your options for starting a family later in life.
Why might you freeze your eggs for fertility?
There are many reasons why people consider the egg freezing process. And the loud ‘tick, tick, tick’ of their biological clock is just one.
Sure, they might still be waiting for the perfect baby daddy or baby mummy to come riding in on their white steed. Or they might want to tick a few more things off their bucket list before trying to get pregnant and becoming a mum (though take it from us, you absolutely can scale the career ladder, travel the world AND raise kids).
But, they might also need to undergo medical treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation that can harm fertility. They might need to have surgery that could damage their ovaries or even need to have their ovaries removed. Or, they might have or be at risk of having a medical condition that can affect fertility, like premature menopause, sickle cell anemia, or lupus.
Long story short: there are many motives a gal might have for freezing her eggs.
What is the process to freeze your eggs?
Newsflash: it’s not as ‘easy-peasy’ as those Instagram ads make it out to be.
We’ll explain: how to freeze your eggs in four steps…
- Initial consultations – you’ll meet with a fertility specialist at a fertility clinic. They’ll explain the process of freezing your eggs, you’ll be screened for infectious diseases (like HIV and Hepatitis B), and you might even have a review of your fertility and suitability for egg freezing (we’ll touch on this below).
- Ovarian stimulation – when you’re ready to hit ‘go’ on freezing your eggs, you’ll take a course of synthetic hormones that are designed to encourage your ovaries to produce multiple eggs rather than the single egg you produce each month. (These will be delivered in the form of daily injections – ouch.) Your doctor might also prescribe you medication to prevent ovulation (so they don’t miss those little eggs), and you’ll be monitored on the reg’ via blood tests and ultrasounds.
- Egg retrieval – once your eggs are matured (generally 10-14 days after you started on the hormones – freezing your eggs is actually a pretty quick process), you’ll undergo an ultrasound-guided procedure at the fertility clinic to retrieve them. In terms of the procedure itself, you’ll be lightly sedated, an ultrasound probe will be inserted into your vagina to identify the matured follicles, and then a needle with a suction device attached to it will be guided through your vagina to remove the eggs from the follicles.
- Egg freezing – your eggs will be frozen shortly after they’re retrieved, through a process called vitrification (otherwise known as ‘fast freezing’, it’s said to be the most effective method of freezing your eggs and helps avoid issues like the formation of ice crystals and damage to the eggs that can be seen with slower freezing). Then, they’ll be stored in liquid nitrogen at the fertility clinic.
And what happens to your eggs until you want to use them? From a biological standpoint, your eggs can be stored indefinitely. Though your fertility clinic or the country or state you live in might have regulations or laws about how long they can be stored – it’s essential to find out.
And when you’re ready to use those eggs? The fertility clinic will thaw them and fertilise them with your partner’s or a donor’s sperm. If any healthy embryos develop, one will be implanted into your uterus.
Are there risks associated with the egg freezing process?
The egg freezing process is mostly safe. But, there’s a (very small) risk of a reaction to the hormones given during the ovarian stimulation phase – you know, the ones that are used to encourage your bod’ to produce multiple eggs. It’s a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), and it can be pretty serious (think enlarged ovaries and fluid in the pelvis and abdomen). There’s also a (really rare) risk of bleeding and infection during the egg retrieval procedure.
We should also touch on whether there are any risks to babies born as a result of freezing your eggs. More research is needed, but it seems there are no risks, with their health appearing similar to that of other children at birth.
The above aside, the process of preparing your body for egg retrieval can feel hard (you’re dealing with daily injections), and you can experience discomfort after the retrieval itself. There’s also the emotional rollercoaster of the whole thing: will it work, or will it not? These are all important considerations and things to discuss with your doctor.
How much does it cost to freeze eggs?
We’ll be frank, freezing eggs can cost, well… a lot. Like, thousands of dollars.
In Australia, you’re looking at anywhere from $4,900 – $10,000 to freeze your eggs; the cost varies from clinic to clinic, as does what it includes – the fertility clinic you engage might charge extra for things like medication or anaesthetist fees. Storage fees are on top of all this again (you’re looking at about $400 – $500 a year), and yep – you guessed it – you’ll be paying more for thawing, fertilising, and implanting those eggs too. But, in good (?!) news, there is a Medicare rebate available if you’re freezing your eggs for medical reasons (so there’s a little relief there).
But ultimately, this sh*t isn’t cheap.
Does freezing your eggs work?
We’re about to get real with you, girl: freezing your eggs doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to fall pregnant and have a baby. (We’re so sorry to say.)
Not every egg retrieved will be suitable for freezing, some eggs might not survive the thawing process or might not fertilise, and some might have chromosomal abnormalities. Then, some of the embryos that are transferred may not result in a pregnancy. And that’s even without considering pregnancy loss.
Basically, the more eggs you can store, the better. And the better quality of the eggs you can store, well… the better. Because – and here’s nature’s sick joke – the number of eggs you have and their quality decline as you age (even though age is what you might be trying to beat). Sadly, our ovarian reserve (the number and quality of the eggs we have) starts to decline in our early 30s and declines even more so after the age of 35. So the younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the higher chance you have of seeing success.
We know this seems very doom and gloom. But here’s our take: if freezing your eggs is something you’re interested in, don’t delay.
All we can say is women’s fertility and egg freezing is a whole thing. If you think you want to freeze your eggs for fertility, the first step is always to speak to your doctor or ob-gyn. They can give you tailored information on the best age to freeze your eggs and how to freeze your eggs for fertility. Whatever you decide – to freeze or not to freeze – make sure to do your homework, ask questions, and find a doctor or specialist you trust.
The information in this article does not replace medical advice. Always speak to your doctor, ob-gyn, or a specialist for personalised advice.