As the average age of first-time mothers continues to creep upward, more women have questions about future fertility and fertility-extending technology. According to the CDC, this average age has reached 27.3 years (2021). And women sometimes delay their pregnancy plans far beyond this age for professional and personal reasons.
“Should I freeze my eggs?”
We hear this question in the office more frequently as more women become aware that the technology exists. In fact, the number of women seeking oocyte cryopreservation (freezing eggs) has increased dramatically over the last decade. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine no longer calls the procedure “experimental.”
Helping a woman to find an answer she is comfortable with starts with understanding the reasons for her fertility concerns. Sometimes a specific medical problem, such as cancer treatment, severe endometriosis, or a family history of early menopause threatens a woman’s future fertility. Non-medical reasons why women consider fertility preserving technology (FPT) include educational plans, career timing, or not having a partner.
On one side of the decision, a thirty-something woman should be aware that she will never have more eggs or better-quality eggs than she has today. The rate of successful pregnancy—whether natural or via technology—is higher if she is younger at the time the egg is released or removed from the ovary. On the other hand, only a small percent of women who choose to freeze eggs will actually attempt a pregnancy using the stored eggs. And some will get pregnant naturally.
Women who are exploring fertility preserving options may also consider freezing eggs which are fertilized in the lab to become embryos. In the past, successful pregnancy rates with embryos have been higher than with cryopreservation of eggs alone. Fertility specialists have a much longer history with embryo preservation and, therefore, much more data is available about outcomes. But improvement in egg freezing technology has reduced this difference. Ethical considerations may influence this choice for many women and their partners.
Assisted reproductive technologies are unfortunately expensive, and many or most insurance plans do not provide coverage, especially if there is not medical reason for needing the procedure. Expenses include the cost of the medical procedure and the ongoing cost of storage. Be aware that fertility preservation technology is not an insurance plan for delaying pregnancy.
Fertility issues are sensitive, personal, and complex. If you have concerns about future fertility, we encourage you to discuss your questions with your ObGyn sooner rather than later. We will review your reproductive and general health, and any family history that may affect your future fertility. If the time is right to consult a fertility specialist, we will refer you one of the excellent reproductive endocrinologists available here in Birmingham. This specialist will give you information about your options and explain the medical procedure to retrieve and store eggs or embryos.
As always, having accurate information is important as you make these choices.