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As the average age of childbirth rises, egg freezing is now often marketed as a solution to extend women’s so-called ‘biological clock’. There has been a noticeable increase in competitors in the egg-freezing market, and some companies, such as Facebook and Google, are offering to fund egg-freezing for their employees.

As with any medical procedure, egg freezing is not without risks. Before embarking on your egg freezing journey, it is important that you understand what egg freezing is, the risks involved and limitations of the treatment, and are also prepared for what to expect.

What is egg freezing?

Egg freezing (or oocyte cryopreservation) involves the retrieval and storage of unfertilised eggs from the ovaries. The eggs are then ‘frozen’ and using current technologies, can remain in storage for many years.

When a woman is ready to use her eggs, they are then thawed and fertilised through in-vitro fertilisation (“IVF”).

How do you freeze your eggs? The egg freezing process explained

If someone wants to freeze their eggs, they will first need a referral to see an IVF specialist to get the egg freezing process started. 

Ordinarily, the initial stage in the egg freezing process will be to consider your current fertility. Your doctor may investigate this through the performance of AMH-level testing (a blood test), as well as a transvaginal ultrasound to count the number of follicles present in the ovaries. You may also be asked to cease taking the oral contraceptive pill at this time, so that your cycle and fertility can be accurately assessed.

Following this, if you are deemed to be an appropriate candidate for egg freezing, you will be prescribed a course of hormone injections. These are used to stimulate the growth of eggs within the ovaries, so as to maximise the chance that a suitable number can be retrieved. Generally, you will need to self-administer these injections at home, or do so with the assistance of a friend or partner.

During this treatment, your clinic will continue to monitor your progress, and you will also likely need to undergo one or more ultrasounds to track how your ovaries are responding to the hormone treatment.

Once your doctor considers that you’re ready, you will undergo a procedure under sedation to have the eggs removed.  A round of treatment typically lasts between 10 and 14 days.

Questions to ask before you freeze your eggs

The egg freezing process is quite involved, and can be very costly. Here are a number of important questions to ask your specialist to help you decide whether egg freezing is appropriate for you:

1.  Am I a suitable candidate for egg freezing?

Not all people referred to an IVF specialist will ultimately need to undergo egg freezing. Whether egg freezing is suitable for you will depend on a number of factors, including your age, family history, fertility and even your plans around when you might want to start having a child.

2. What are the chances of having a successful pregnancy from egg freezing?

Before commencing egg freezing, it is important to understand that there are a number of factors which will contribute to the likelihood of a successful pregnancy using a frozen egg. It may be that not all of the eggs retrieved are viable, and some eggs will not survive the thawing process. The age of the woman at the time that she undergoes egg retrieval and the quality of the eggs retrieved will also be relevant.

It is therefore important to ask your doctor how many eggs they think you will require in order to achieve a pregnancy.

3. How many rounds of egg freezing will I need?

For some people, one round of egg freezing may be enough to retrieve a satisfactory number of eggs. Others, however, may require multiple rounds. Asking this question can assist with planning, and to manage your expectations around what can be achieved.

4. Should I freeze eggs or embryos?

An embryo develops when an egg has been fertilised with sperm. The chances of a live birth can be better with embryo freezing, and your specialist may therefore recommend, where appropriate, that you freeze both eggs and embryos. Again, this will depend upon your personal circumstances.

It is also important to know that if a couple separate after the creation of the embryo, there are laws in place which regulate whether one half of the couple can use the embryo. In general terms, the use of the embryo by one party is not permitted without the other’s consent.

5. How much does egg freezing cost? 

Unfortunately, Medicare funding typically isn’t available for patients undergoing egg freezing. The exception to this is where a person has medically diagnosed condition affecting her fertility.

There are a number of factors which can influence the price of egg freezing, and your clinic should provide you with detailed estimates of the cost before commencing your treatment. In Australia, it may cost approximately between $5,000-$10,000 per cycle. There are also annual costs associated with the ongoing storage of your eggs.

6. Will I need to take time off work for egg freezing?

It is very likely that you will need to take periods of leave from work during your egg freezing treatment. This is because you will need to attend a number of appointments and scans during the course of your treatment, and because you may suffer side effects as a result of the hormone injections which may impact upon your ability to work. You will also require leave on the actual day of the retrieval, and for some women, for a number of days afterwards. Speaking with your doctor about this can help to frame your expectations around how many attendances will be required, and assist you in requesting the required leave from your employer.

7. Am I seeing the best possible IVF doctor? 

If you’ve decided to proceed with egg freezing, it is important to know that you’re being treated by a doctor and clinic with a level of experience that you feel comfortable with. When making a decision, it can therefore be helpful to ask your doctor how many cycles they’ve performed, and if they can provide you with information regarding their success rates in terms of pregnancies from frozen eggs.

8. How often will I need to attend the clinic?

Because your doctor and the fertility clinic will need to monitor how your ovaries respond to the hormone therapy, you will likely need to attend the fertility clinic a number of times throughout the course of your treatment. It can therefore be helpful to have an indication of when this might occur, to ensure that you have access to sufficient sick or other personal leave, and to plan around any other commitments.

9. What are the risks associated with the egg freezing process and surgery?

As with any medical procedure, egg freezing is not without risks. It is the duty of a doctor to warn you about any risks before you proceed your egg freezing process. It is important that you have a fulsome discussion with your doctor about any risks and provide informed consent prior to commencing your treatment.

10. What happens to my eggs if I can’t use them?   

If you fall pregnant without relying upon your frozen eggs, or ultimately decide that you no longer want children, you are able to donate your eggs for use by a friend or family member, or to an organisation as an anonymous donor.

Payment for egg donation is illegal in Australia, however the person receiving the eggs is able to cover your treatment costs for the retrieval cycles where appropriate.

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