Freezing your eggs may stop your biological clock, but is it worth it?
For millions of women all over the world, the worst enemy ever is their biological clock. There it is, tick-tocking away, leaving them with a huge dilemma. To have a baby in the optimum early to mid-twenties, which means climbing off the career ladder for a while, hopefully to return with a full and focused mind after maternity leave? Or to get to as high a position as possible career-wise, leaving a baby for later when physical complications may arise that could affect the infant?
This has been a puzzle for decades, so it comes as a bit of a shock when two doctors in Delhi advise Indian women to just shove the whole dilemma aside because there’s an easy (though not cheap) solution: freeze their eggs (technically called oocyte cryopreservation), zip up the career ladder, and have a baby at their pleasure.
According to Sagarika Agarwal, an IVF expert at Delhi’s Indira IFV Clinic, “Egg freezing could be a boon for working women in India.”
The process to delay pregnancy reasonably safely is used by 30-40 per cent women in western countries, Agarwal told the news agency IANS, but in India only 5 per cent of women take advantage of it.
Agarwal’s contention was backed by Dr Naina Raichand, a gynaecologist at Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, who told IANS that egg freezing is the best alternative for working women to ensure pregnancy even when they are above 35 years old. She said: “If a couple is not financially stable and prefer to attain some monetary comfort before welcoming a new member, then this technique is best.”
In the US, companies like Facebook, Apple, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup are paying for egg freezing for women employees who want it, says Time.com. There are several ethical arguments about this: for instance, are women now being pushed even further to put their personal lives on hold? But since the decision still lies with the woman concerned, these arguments aren’t going very far as yet.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here are the pros and cons of freezing your eggs.
- It is a process similar to IVF, Agarwal told IANS. “The patient is injected with hormonal drugs for 10 to 12 days to stimulate her ovaries to produce more eggs than normal. During this, she could experience menopause-like symptoms. So doctors monitor her to ensure that her ovaries are not dangerously overstimulated.” Once there are a sufficient number of eggs, they are harvested while the patient is sedated, using an ultrasound-guided needle that sucks the eggs from each follicle. The eggs are then frozen and stored till the woman decides to have a baby, whereupon they are thawed, injected with sperm and left to fertilise on a petri dish. If successful zygotes are formed, then two or three of these are placed within the patient’s uterus, where at least one will hopefully develop.
- According to Dr Angeline Beltsos, medical director and clinical research director at the Fertility Center of Illinois, US, freezing your eggs does not guarantee that you’ll have a baby. “…but it offers a reliable insurance plan,” she told ‘Huffington Post’. “When you are ready to use your frozen eggs to have a family, they must complete several steps prior to pregnancy. Eggs must survive the thaw, fertilise, implant and hopefully result in a baby. Along the way, any of these steps may not happen. Until eggs are used for treatment, physicians cannot know the outcome.” Unfortunately, according to Mackenzie Dawson, writing in ‘The New York Post’, the success rate is not very good. Dawson quotes the American Society for Reproductive Medicine which says that “when a woman 38 or younger freezes her eggs, the chance of one frozen egg yielding a baby is between 2 and 12 per cent.”
- The Los Angeles-based USC Fertility clinic in its FAQs says that egg freezing as a technique can be used by women who want to delay pregnancy due to personal goals, women undergoing treatment for cancer as chemotherapy and radiation could lead to infertility, and women with a family history of early menopause.
- The best time to freeze eggs is when a woman is in her twenties and early thirties, which are the optimum childbearing years, says USC Fertility. That’s because a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, and as times passes, the eggs deteriorate in quality till menopause is reached.
- Since only about 2,000 babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs, there is not much data available about risks to the child, says choicemoms.org. However, women who have children later in life, whether via natural pregnancy, IFV techniques or egg freezing, have the same higher risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, placenta previa, miscarriage, and early delivery because of preeclampsia than younger pregnant women.
- You could spend up to USD 5,000 on the procedure (about Rs 3 lakh) in the first year, including medicines, according to fertility expert Dr Aniruddha Malpani on his website. Thereafter, different clinics offer different annual rates for keeping the eggs frozen.
Feature image credit: extremetech.com