No Kids Yet. Should You Freeze Your Eggs?

Not that long ago single, young women worried a lot about getting pregnant. Abortion was illegal and out-of-wedlock pregnancy was characterized by shame and stigma. Then along came the birth control pill, and the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, and everything changed.

These days, many single, young women worry that they will NOT get pregnant – if and when they are ready to try. They worry that the lifestyle choices of their twenties and thirties (career, travel, casual dating) may have pushed them into the land where pregnancy may no longer be a given for them. And some of them are kind of freaking out.

Recently, we received a question from a reader that pretty much sums up how a lot of them are feeling. It really got to us and we wanted to respond:

Dear Mamas,

I turned 27 years old this year. At my annual exam, my doctor not-so-kindly reminded me that if I wanted to have children in the future, I should know that my reproductive health would start to decline at age 30. I don’t currently have a mate that I would consider having children with and I don’t know if I will before my reproductive health begins to decline. I don’t even know if I’ll ever want children in the future. Yet, I worry. Should I freeze my eggs? What are my options? My doctor wasn’t very friendly, and I will be looking for a new one, but I’m just seeking some guidance here.

Stacy

First of all Stacy, I am so sorry about the way your doctor treated you. He blew it. He behaved in a less-than compassionate way and I can only imagine how alarmed you must have felt. But it’s always good to know the truth in a situation like this so that you can wrap your head around it, gain some perspective, and make a plan.

So here are the facts regarding fertility:

  • Girls are born with all the eggs they will ever have, unlike boys who will manufacture sperm from the time of puberty until they die. From puberty onward, an egg (sometimes more than 1) is released with each ovulation cycle, and it’s thought that the “ripest,” most viable eggs are released first.
  • It is true that once you hit your 30’s your fertility begins to decline. A healthy woman in her 20’s has an 87% chance of getting pregnant over the course of a year. By the time she is 35, her odds of getting pregnant in any given year decrease to 52%.
  • A recent study published by the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University in Scotland found that by age 30 women have already lost 90% of their eggs and by 40 have only only 3% left.
  • According to fertility specialist Sherman Silber, after age 30, a woman has about a 15% chance of getting pregnant in any single ovulation cycle. At 40, the chances that she will conceive on her own, without help, in any given ovulation cycle is about 10%.
  • As we age, so do our eggs. In an article for NPR, Dr. Allen Cooperman of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York says that by 40, 90% of a woman’s eggs are abnormal. These abnormalities can make it more difficult to conceive and increase the likelihood of miscarriage.
  • Miscarriage risk also rises throughout the 30s, but slowly. From ages 30 to 34 it’s about 12%. From 35 to 39 it goes up to 18 percent.
  • At age 30, the risk of carrying a child with Down syndrome is one in 759. But by the time you hit 35, that risk has increased to one in 302.

So it seems pretty clear that when we’re talking about starting a family, age does matter. But that has always been the case. People do get pregnant in their thirties! I had my first at 30, my second at 33 and my third at 37. How things might play out for anyone in particular will, of course, vary. But knowledge is power and knowing the facts can help you make the best plan for yourself.

But what if you, like Stacy, are already worried and wondering about your future? What are the facts regarding freezing your eggs? To be honest it’s a bit of a mixed bag:

  • Thanks to a new flash-freeze method called vitrification, frozen, unfertilized eggs have a much higher rate of survival than before. We have been freezing fertilized eggs for some time but freezing unfertilized eggs is fairly new.
  • Due to advances in in vitro fertilization and egg freezing, many women are now able to conceive at older ages. But the procedures are challenging, do not guarantee success, and can be very expensive.*
  • According to a report by Jennifer Ludden for NPR, “The whole process — a week of hormones, plus the procedure to collect the eggs — runs $12,000 to $14,000. And because it takes 10 to 20 eggs for a reasonable shot at success, some may need to do this several times. Plus, there are annual storage fees. Then, when you’re ready to use your eggs, you’ll need in vitro fertilization, another pricey procedure. All told, costs can easily exceed $40,000.”
  • Unless the freezing is being done because of upcoming cancer treatment, insurance will most likely NOT cover the costs.
  • We don’t yet know how long frozen eggs remain viable. The assumption is that those coming from younger women will be okay for years but we really do not know.
  • The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which sets the guidelines for this new industry, still sees the whole business of freezing and harvesting eggs to be experimental. Not all eggs that are harvested will tolerate the freezing process. And of those that do, not all will fertilize later, when thawed and exposed to sperm.
  • They (SART) also say that as far as we know, the babies who have been born using frozen eggs (only 1,000 to 2,000 world-wide) seem to be fine. But they caution that it is still early and hard to tell what the long term effects may be.

So now that you have some of the facts, how do you plan? Well, even though there isn’t anything you can do to slow Father Time, there are things you can do to impact your fertility in a positive way. For example, if you smoke, stop. If you are overweight, lose the extra pounds. And do whatever you can to control stress in your life. All of these actions can slow the loss of fertility.

Try not to worry about whether you will get pregnant one day in the future but do what you can now to increase the likelihood that when you are ready, things can fall into place pretty quickly.

For example: If you know that you really want children someday, don’t waste your time in a relationship with a man (or woman) you would never want to have children with. If the thought of him as a spouse/life partner/father leaves you with questions and concerns, do yourself and him a favor and cut it off. Don’t wait for him to change. He probably won’t and when you start to dream about babies, you may well wish you had acted earlier and found someone more appropriate to be the daddy.

Think about the kind of life you want to have. Be realistic. If you know that you want children some day, work that wish into your plans, realizing that your ability to conceive will get harder as you get older. And if you aren’t sure, keep thinking. Don’t just stick your head in the sand. By the time you pull it out, you may be surprised by the facts that greet you.

If your dream is to be a surgeon/live on a mountaintop in Nepal for 5 years/climb Mt.Everest/run for president, then definitely go for it! Dream big and follow those dreams wherever they lead you.

But at the same time, remember that you are making choices here. And one choice may cancel out another choice. It’s all good as long as you are aware of this and are conscious about what you are choosing.

And don’t forget that if, one day in the future, you can’t get pregnant, adoption and in vitro fertilization are also options to consider.

At the end of the day though, you do the best you can and keep the faith. Live your life as fully as possible and try not to worry about the future. Things usually have a way of working themselves out, regardless of how they might look now.

*For more on the specifics of what’s involved check out this article from Forbes Woman.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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2 responses to “No Kids Yet. Should You Freeze Your Eggs?”

  1. Freeze My Eggs, Part 2

    […] year we posted a question from a reader who was worried about her fleeting childbearing years and wanted information about […]

  2. Five Myths About Having it All « Working Self by Rebecca Fraser-Thill

    […] instance, freezing eggs is a lengthy process that involves hormones and minor surgery, that costs about $40,000 all told, and that was just taken out of “experimental” status in 2012. Even after all that, […]

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