Hollywood star Jennifer Aniston is rumoured to have frozen her eggs, and in a recent episode of the U.S. reality television show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Kim injected herself with hormones in preparation for doing the same.
Women are delaying childbirth as never before…the average woman now has her first child at 31, compared to 24 in 1962.
There’s no doubt that fertility wanes dramatically after the age of 35…beyond 40, the chance of a woman getting pregnant using her own eggs is about three in ten. But the reality of egg freezing is a long way from the hype.
The chances of conceiving a baby from a frozen egg are low, and preparing for it is a painful, costly process involving potent fertility drugs, chemicals and surgery.
When the first baby was born from a frozen egg, it seemed technology had finally delivered the ultimate blow to the biological clock. However, since then, just 12 babies have been born from frozen eggs in this country.
Nevertheless, a report by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says egg freezing is no longer experimental technology and has recommended that women freeze their eggs in their 20’s and 30’s to help them conceive later in life.
Astonishingly, American egg-freezing facilities hard-sell ‘fertility preservation’ to the parents of single 30-something women, who pay for egg-freezing cycles for their daughters to increase their chances of having grandchildren.
Relying on meeting the right man in time to have children seemed too uncertain, so women often have a consultation at fertility centres.
About 6,500 eggs have been stored in the decade since egg freezing was licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
Many eggs are harvested from women whose fertility has been impaired by cancer treatment, but increasing numbers are stored for those who are waiting until later in life to start a family.
If a woman chooses to thaw her eggs, an IVF procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) is used to insert a single sperm into the egg, which costs around $4,000.
But delaying having children by egg freezing is a gamble against huge odds, and there are fears that women might be lulled into a false sense of security about their future chances of having a family.
‘Saying something is no longer experimental is a far cry from saying it’s going to work,’ says Professor Robert Harrison, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, former president of the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS) and author of The Smart Guide To Infertility.
‘Women who are fertile and freeze their eggs to delay having a child could be putting themselves through pain, risk and expense, and be unlikely to get a baby at the end of it.’
‘A frozen egg from a 38-year-old will be better than a fresh one from a 42-year-old, but pregnancy is still not very likely.’
‘Biologically speaking, the ideal age for a woman to start thinking about freezing her eggs is 30,’ he says. ‘Then she has a 50/50 chance of having at least one baby later.’
He explains that the chance of a woman having a baby from eggs she freezes at the age of 40 is only 10 per cent.
Even freezing your eggs at 30 could have its downsides and there are concerns that the freezing and thawing process may damage egg quality.
Chemicals applied to the egg wall during flash-freezing could potentially damage the egg. Only eight out of ten eggs survive the thawing process. There is also some evidence that egg freezing may be risky for healthy women.
In around five out of 100 cases, for example, ovaries over-react to fertility drugs, resulting in Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS). This is a condition where ovaries can swell to several times their normal size.
by Susan Floyd