A once-experimental technology edges into the light.
With every passing year, the phenomenon of women freezing their eggs becomes less of a taboo. Celebrities like Olivia Munn and Sofia Vergara have done it. Others like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Aniston have reportedly considered undergoing the process, too. Paging Dr. Mindy Lahiri.
The benefit, of course, is that if you want kids but don’t want them right away, you can wait. Research shows there’s an increase in spontaneous miscarriage in women over age 35, according to the non-profit Mayo Clinic, as well as a higher chance that your baby could be born with a chromosomal abnormality. Putting your eggs in the icebox for a few years means you can focus on other things while you’re young and healthy.
“I feel like I was dating people just because I was on a deadline,” Whitney Cummings, the creator and co-star of the sitcom 2 Broke Girls, told Vanity Fair in February. Cummings had her eggs frozen at age 32.
In some ways, egg freezing is still an experimental technology, and is not without its share of risks and disadvantages. The first thing to know if you’re considering delaying pregnancy is how expensive it can be. San Diego gynecologist and fertility specialist Lila Schmidt told Dose the egg freezing process costs about $14,000. Obviously that’s prohibitive for many people; on the other hand, the average cost of daycare is approaching $12,000 a year.
“The process is about 13 days from start of medications to finish?—?which is referred to as ‘egg aspiration,’” said Dr. Schmidt. “It is surprisingly easy with about six doctor’s visits and one outpatient procedure to retrieve the eggs.”
If you can afford the cost, take the time to learn exactly what the risks are. First, there can be side effects from the drugs you have to take in order to stimulate your ovaries to produce more eggs than they normally do. (Why is it necessary to stimulate your ovaries? Because if you’re hoping to use your eggs later in life to conceive, you’re going to want to freeze more than the one egg that your body typically releases each month). Those side effects are minor, though, and according to Mayo Clinic, they rarely occur.
There’s also the risk that the needle used to extract eggs from your ovaries could damage or even infect a blood vessel, your bowel or your bladder on its way there. Again, Mayo Clinic says the risk of this happening is very small.
Perhaps more worrying is the risk of birth defects. The possibility that your child could be born with a heart problem or Down syndrome seems like a high price to pay for the privilege of choosing to put off getting pregnant until age 40.
But with egg freezing, birth defects are an undeniable risk. Even fertility clinics?—?who tend to downplay the hazards of egg freezing and other assisted reproductive technologies?—?admit that it will take many more years of follow-up research before anyone can say for certain whether infants born from once-frozen eggs are more prone to birth defects than infants born by other methods. That said, the first baby born from a frozen egg is now 30 years old and so far there is no evident increase in babies born this way having such issues, according to EggBanxx, a national network of fertility experts who specialize in egg freezing.
Of course, there’s also the risk that the whole shebang simply won’t work. Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, a California-based author, penned an essay for Wired in 2014 that described her own failed egg freezing experience. In the essay, Tsigdinos cites data saying the failure rate for a frozen egg resulting in a live birth for women aged 30 is as high as 77%. Nevertheless, success rates are increasing every year. The USC Los Angeles Fertility Center says it has cryopreserved the eggs of more than 150 women. Of those who have returned to the clinic to retrieve their eggs, 65% have had successful births.
A 35% chance that you could go through the whole egg freezing process only to end up childless is, well, pretty high. But because all the other health risks are miniscule, it’s a chance more and more women are willing to take, because it’s a small price to pay for reproductive freedom.