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In a time when major career moves, serious relationships, and “baby fever” come later in life, the biological clock hasn’t gotten the memo that 40 is apparently the new 30.
The limited lifespan of the female reproductive cycle can take a major mental toll once the panic sets in that time isn’t slowing down. So, women are taking the pressure off by putting their eggs into a deep freeze until they’re ready for them. Some workplaces—like Facebook and Apple—even cover the cost of doing so.
In addition to preserving fertility for those seeking to “stop the clock,” egg freezing is a popular choice for women who have been diagnosed with cancer, as chemotherapy can cause infertility. The common goal is peace of mind.
Thinking about freezing your eggs? Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Earlier, the Better.
While a girlfriend froze her eggs just shy of her 40th birthday, it’s widely advised to do so before the age of 35. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility revealed that the best time for a healthy woman to freeze her eggs is 32 and 33. It warned of little point in taking the plunge after 35– but it depends on individual cases. Candice Sinclair, a luxury event planner, froze her eggs at 34. “I didn’t want the pressure of finding ‘Mr. Right;’ I did it for peace of mind,” she says. “I was also getting older and knew the quality of the eggs are better at a younger age. It’s a choice I’m proud of.”
2. You have options.
Fertility clinics are now commonplace across Canada. “The ease of accessibility to these options here in Ontario is what surprised me,” says Catherine Sugrue, 34, a Toronto media professional who has gone through all the steps short of the actual egg freezing procedure. “I was able to see my doctor to discuss my options and then she referred me to a fertility clinic, where most of my appointment and testing was covered. I had no idea that I was able to go down this route. Many single women like myself, who eventually want a family, may feel lost or alone. But, in reality, there are options. That was a big step forward for me, and one that could help others in my position.” You’ll have the option to fertilize the eggs – something that produces a higher success rate – or freeze them alone.
3. It isn’t cheap.
Unless it involves a medical condition like cancer, the cost of egg freezing isn’t covered because the choice is seen as non-medical. “For me, the cost was at least $10,000 because my results came back fairly unfavourably with a lower than average egg count, so I required the procedure a minimum of two times. There are also storage fees, possible further testing fees, or other potential costs that could come up along the way – it's quite daunting.” says Sugrue. “That part left me feeling like an old baron woman who will forever be alone unless I whip out a whole whack load of money at a chance to conceive one day. Dramatic, I know, but it wasn't great for my mental health.” One cycle of egg freezing will typically cost $5,000 to $10,000, in addition to $300-$500 per year for storage fees. Hormones and medications can range from $3,000 to $6,000. Then there’s the $3000 tab for IVF, once you’re ready.
4. It requires mental prep.
Many Canadian fertility clinics require women to participate in an initial counselling session. After diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017, Katrina Durst, now 35, decided to freeze embryos with her husband. “The most challenging part for me was the unknown and feeling a bit out of control about the whole process. I always hoped to be a mom (and still do), but cancer put a big wrench in our plans and has potentially taken away our ability to be parents,” says the insurance professional. “I'm so thankful we were able to freeze some embryos and can try to get pregnant in the future, but the freedom to just try on our own has been taken away, and if these embryos don't work, then we likely can't get pregnant on our own. That thought is upsetting and a challenge.”
5. It takes a toll.
The process involves injecting fertility drugs each day to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, and these eggs are retrieved in an often-painful procedure using an ultrasound-guided needle. “The daily needles you have to take in the abdomen and the time commitment you need to give to waiting in the doctor's office during cycle monitoring is consuming,” said Durst, who, remarkably, did the egg retrieval the same day she started chemo. “It’s about two weeks of 'pain' for hopefully some long-term gain.” The experience, however, varies for women. “I actually felt fine the whole time,” says Sinclair. “I had cramping the two days before extraction and a day after but my experience wasn’t as terrible as it was for some of my friends.”
6. It takes time.
Determining eligibility involves a verification process that includes ultrasounds, blood tests, and other medical tests to assess the state of the ovaries. This can take months. Then there’s the actual process. “The process took longer than I thought,” said Sinclair. “My eggs took longer to grow than normally, so I was doing the needles for almost 16 days, which isn’t totally normal, but everybody is different. I also didn’t know that it might be advised to do two rounds, which in hindsight I wish I would have, but I had a trip planned and the timing didn’t work.”
7. There are no guarantees
Naturally, success rates vary depending on individual experiences. “I was naive and thought that doing IVF and freezing embryos would almost 'guarantee' your chance of having kids and that only few couples had issues with infertility,” says Durst. “I've since learned that it's not like that and many couples don't even get any embryos from doing an IVF cycle. Of course, there is the flip side; I know someone that got 17 embryos from one cycle. After going through this, I am a huge supporter of women freezing embryos or eggs because you never know what life will throw you.”