There’s a lot to consider when thinking about having children, like finances, career planning, and relationship stability, among many other factors. It’s not uncommon to want a family but to realize that now is not the right time. But as you age, egg quality and quantity decline, which makes getting pregnant more and more difficult. One way to preserve the opportunity to conceive in the future using your own eggs is through egg freezing.
Here, we go through the basics of what you need to know about freezing your eggs and if it's right for you.
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a treatment process that allows for the growth, retrieval, and freezing of eggs in order to preserve future fertility. The process gives the option to delay childbearing while preserving the quality of eggs from the age you were when the eggs were retrieved. The entire process takes 2-4 weeks: usually 1-2 weeks of prep-time and 2 weeks for the actual treatment cycle.
A Dewar vessel with liquid nitrogen, used to store frozen eggs and embryos.
Egg freezing isn’t right for everyone. Patients in their 20s and early 30s are optimal egg freezing candidates. These patients respond better than older patients to the stimulation medications because they have a better Ovarian Reserve and because they have higher quality eggs to freeze. Age at the time eggs are frozen relates directly to the likelihood of the frozen eggs successfully creating a future pregnancy, so your fertility specialist will take your age into account in advising you on your options.
Most clinics have a cut-off age at which they will no longer do egg freezing. This age is often around 40 years old, due to the steep drop off in egg quantity and quality that occurs around this time. Check with your clinic for their specific policy.
Other factors that play into the feasibility of egg freezing include the time and cost of the process. You will need to be able to dedicate about a month of your time to the preparation and the treatment cycle. The prep entails a consultation and medical assessment by the doctor, arranging payment, and purchasing medications, which all can take a week or two. The treatment cycle itself takes about two weeks from the start of medications through the egg retrieval. It’s important to take your schedule and availability into consideration when thinking about freezing your eggs.
Cost is another thing to consider. Do you have the financial resources to afford to freeze your eggs? Just how expensive is it to do the treatment?
One of the main concerns about any fertility treatment is cost, and egg freezing is no exception. According to FertilityIQ, most egg freezing patients can expect to pay anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 per treatment cycle. This is an all-inclusive cost that includes all appointments, ultrasounds, bloodwork, medications, the egg retrieval procedure, and anesthesia. You should also take into account that based on your age and ovarian reserve, you may want to do more than one cycle to freeze enough of your eggs to meet your future family goals. Another cost to consider is yearly storage fees. The clinic typically will charge around $500-$600 annually to keep your eggs frozen in storage until you are ready to use them.
Look into the health benefits provided by your employer. You may have some benefits that cover the costs of treatment, medications, or both. This can help cut costs, so be sure to enroll if you have the option!
Keep in mind when planning that thawing, fertilizing, and transferring an embryo incur additional costs.
Consultation and Assessment
The egg freezing process begins with a consultation and assessment by a fertility specialist. They can walk you through your specific odds of success and how many cycles they recommend based on your current health, age, and ovarian reserve.
When you get started with the treatment process, you can expect about 10-12 days of injectable fertility medications followed by an Egg Retrieval. These medications are used to help your ovaries stimulate many eggs to grow and mature so that they can be retrieved and frozen. Throughout the 10-12 day treatment, you will go into the doctor’s office regularly for ultrasound and bloodwork appointments to see how you’re responding to the treatment. Once your doctor determines that your eggs are ready, you’ll be instructed to take a Trigger Shot and be scheduled for the egg retrieval procedure.
Egg freezing steps.
When your eggs appear to be mature (based on the size of the Follicles in your ovaries), your doctor will let you know that you’re ready for the egg retrieval. The egg retrieval takes place precisely 36 hours after the trigger shot administration. The egg retrieval consists of a short surgical procedure done under IV Anesthesia. The procedure is done using a needle guided by a Transvaginal Ultrasound to withdraw each egg from the follicle where it has been growing throughout the cycle.
The doctor will retrieve every single egg possible. Once removed, the eggs are delivered directly to the lab. In the lab, the embryology staff will sort through the eggs under a microscope to determine which state of cell division each egg is in. Only eggs in a phase known as Metaphase II or MII will be frozen because it’s the only stage where an egg will be able to be fertilized in the future when you choose to use your eggs to get pregnant.
Egg freezing outcomes work like a funnel, starting with a large number of antral follicles and moving to smaller numbers of eggs (and eventually embryos) as the process moves forward.
An example of outcomes during and after the cycle
Egg Freezing can be a controversial topic when it comes to success because freezing your eggs does not guarantee a baby in the future. It takes a lot of energy, time, and money to go through the process, so it’s important to know your odds of success. Of course, those odds depend on your age and the quality of your eggs.
In general, according to the results of a study done at NYU Langone Fertility Center, there is a 39% chance of a live birth resulting from frozen eggs. That being said, the younger the patient is at retrieval and the more eggs they freeze, the better chance they have to successfully create a pregnancy in the future using their frozen eggs. Taking success rates into account is one of the main factors in determining if egg freezing is right for you.
Ask your doctor for an estimate of your live birth rate given your age and potential number of eggs frozen.
Thawing and fertilizing your frozen eggs to get pregnant can happen on your own timeline. Your eggs stay frozen as long as you continue to pay for the yearly storage. When you’re ready, you’ll reach out to your clinic to set up a call with your doctor to discuss the thawing and fertilization of your eggs and the ultimate transfer of an embryo back into the uterus. An egg thaw and embryo transfer both take some planning to coordinate, so it’s helpful to reach out a month or two in advance of wanting to get pregnant to give ample time to complete the preparation.
Egg freezing is an amazing resource for those looking to delay starting a family. Now that you're armed with basic knowledge about the process, you can make educated decisions about your future fertility journey and what’s right for you.
Cascante, Sarah Druckenmiller, Jennifer K. Blakemore, Shannon DeVore, Brooke Hodes-Wertz, M. Elizabeth Fino, Alan S. Berkeley, Carlos M. Parra, Caroline McCaffrey, and James A. Grifo. 2022. “Fifteen Years of Autologous Oocyte Thaw Outcomes from a Large University-Based Fertility Center.” Fertility and Sterility 118 (1): 158–66.
Medicine, Dr Jamie Grifo Medical Director NYU School of. n.d. “The Costs of Egg Freezing.” FertilityIQ.