30 Apr Dr. Maas’s Personal Egg Freezing Experience
Our fertility doctor froze her eggs years before the current upswing in women electing to preserve their fertility, but the underlying reasons remain the same.
When patients enter our clinic with questions about fertility preservation, they may feel uneasy about what lies ahead. Being able to say, “I have been there. I have gone through what you are about to face,” eases their mind. They realize their doctor can relate to what they are experiencing and has first-hand knowledge of the treatment they are about to receive.
My egg freezing experience
I was in my 30s working in the field of reproductive endocrinology, seeing firsthand the devastating emotional impact of infertility on couples and individuals. I had witnessed the incredible amount of time and money they invested in trying to build their family.
In this field I am also acutely aware of ovarian physiology and a woman’s finite supply of eggs, or oocytes. I know how quickly that supply diminishes with age. Because of this, I decided to electively freeze my eggs and store them (cryopreservation).
I have been in training for longer than some of my patients have been alive, and although having children during these rigorous years of training is possible, it presents some very real challenges. At the time I decided to freeze my eggs, I knew I wasn’t ready to have children, but I thought about myself ten to 20 years down the road wanting to grow my family. I knew I would regret not preserving my fertility so I could make that choice when the time came.
What we don’t teach young women in sex education
In sex education classes and discussions, young women are almost always instructed or cautioned not to have sex for fear we may get pregnant at the first sexual encounter. But we are almost never counseled regarding the other side of reproduction — that it can be hard to get pregnant when you want to. In fact, 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. This is one of the reasons I became a reproductive endocrinologist.
Typically, young women’s sex education stresses not to have intercourse due to the risk of unintended pregnancy. But in reality, at our peak fertility age of 20 years old, our probability of pregnancy is 22% per month. My point isn’t that women shouldn’t take precautions when having sex, but that this number is much lower than the average sex educator would lead you to believe. However, it declines from that point on, and by age 40 a woman’s probability of becoming pregnant is down to a staggering 5% or less.
The facts of fertility
Fertility is a person’s ability to conceive children. In general, fertility declines over time for men and women, though it is more pronounced in women. Both female and male fertility is affected by a number of factors like age, hormonal changes and lifestyle choices.
The numbers on declining fertility don’t lie
As an engineer I am very data-driven, and in fertility the numbers are startling. Time is very important for female reproduction. Preserving your eggs stops the clock and gives you additional time to determine your own reproductive timeline.
These days women are seeking higher levels of education, starting businesses and seeking out enlightening experiences through travel. We are delaying childbearing for professional development and personal/financial stability.
While we delay, our fertility declines. Preserving that fertility through cryopreservation allows for additional time to achieve personal and professional goals while not rushing family building.
Here’s what’s involved in freezing eggs
The egg freezing process takes two weeks and requires self-administered injections. These definitely are not fun but are totally tolerable. The egg retrieval process itself was much less uncomfortable than I expected, and I actually felt better after retrieval because my ovaries were smaller.
The eggs are retrieved for freezing in the same way they are retrieved for in vitro fertilization (IVF), through a transvaginal ultrasound aspiration. Women are given anesthesia and do not feel or remember the procedure. A thin needle guided by ultrasound is inserted through the vaginal wall and into the ovary to collect the eggs.
The eggs are then flash-frozen using a method called vitrification, which safely bathes the eggs in cryoprotectant then rapidly cools them to -320 degrees Fahrenheit in liquid nitrogen. This suspends all biological activity, and the eggs are then stored for future use.
Advice from a fertility specialist & her egg freezing experience
I encourage women to investigate fertility preservation and learn more so they can determine if this is the right option for them. Egg supply and quality start declining from birth and decrease more significantly in the late 30s. If this is something a woman is thinking about, I recommend consultation, assessment, and fertility preservation in her 20s or by her mid-30s, if possible.
Women should know that freezing their eggs is not a guarantee. Not every egg becomes an embryo and not every embryo becomes a baby.
Additionally, there is limited data on outcomes of elective egg freezing. This is due to the fact that few patients have returned to use their eggs. Cryopreservation is a great back-up form of family building, but it has yet to become a guaranteed one.
The biggest takeaway from my experience is this: If someone wants to have a baby, great. If they don’t want to have a baby, great. But either way, it should be that individual’s or couple’s choice, and educating yourself regarding fertility options is always the right answer.