What is Egg Freezing?
Commonly known as “egg freezing,” oocyte cryopreservation is a medical process used to harvest, freeze, and store an adult woman’s reproductive eggs. While the process is becoming more and more popular — partially because it’s become much more accessible to a larger group of women — it’s not at all new.
In fact, oocyte cryopreservation has been around for decades, with the first successful birth from frozen eggs occurring in 1986.
While there’s a lot of scientific jargon involved in oocyte cryopreservation, you should know that freezing eggs is a relatively straightforward process. The procedure is focused on harvesting unfertilized eggs from a woman’s ovaries, then freezing and storing the eggs at super cold temperatures for preservation.
The eggs can then be used whenever a woman is ready to have a baby; one of the biggest perks of freezing your eggs is that it allows you more flexibility in starting a family, which can be especially helpful for women who know they want children but have certain health concerns or life and career goals they want to accomplish first.
Why Egg Freezing is Done
There are a variety of reasons why women consider freezing their eggs. But the most common reason women consider oocyte cryopreservation has to do with age. That’s because age can drastically impact how easy it is for a woman to conceive.
How Age Affects Fertility
A woman’s “biological clock” is often the punchline of jokes or used to explain why some women feel the impending, sudden need to have children — but there’s some truth to the importance of time in relation to parenthood. Age is a major factor in how easily a woman may get pregnant.
That’s because unlike men, who continue to produce sperm throughout their entire lives, women are born with a certain number of eggs, and that reservoir of eggs actually decreases with age.
It’s impossible to know just how many eggs a woman is born with, though fertility specialists know that number varies from woman to woman. Generally, fertility researchers believe that a 20-week female fetus has an astonishing 7 million eggs.
But, by birth, that number has dropped to about 2 million eggs, a quick decrease of about 30 percent. By the time a girl hits puberty and begins menstruating, she’ll only have about 300,000 to 500,000 remaining eggs.
The number of eggs a woman has decreases each year of her life, more and more rapidly as menopause approaches. But even though most women still have far more eggs than they’ll ever need to use, time doesn’t just reduce the number of available eggs.
It also diminishes their quality. As a woman gets older, so do her eggs. Older eggs are more likely to have genetic abnormalities that could lead to miscarriage, the inability to conceive, or other fertility issues.
Fertility research shows that as a woman ages her egg quality is reduced; while a woman in her 20s may have mostly healthy eggs with few abnormalities, a woman in her 40s is more likely to have a larger percentage of abnormal eggs than normal eggs.
Who is Egg Freezing For?
Technically, any woman who has eggs can choose to undergo egg freezing, but you may have noticed that the bulk of advertising and marketing regarding egg freezing targets women under the age of 30. Knowing that age is a major factor in a woman’s chances at conceiving is part of the reason so many women choose oocyte cryopreservation with the hopes of using their higher-quality eggs later in life.
Still, there are other reasons some women choose to freeze their eggs, including:
- They’re having difficulty conceiving and plan to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- They require medical care that could impact their fertility, such as chemotherapy or radiation
- They have a family history of early menopause or infertility
- They are potentially a carrier for a genetically inherited disease and want to freeze genetically tested eggs for future use.
Choosing to freeze your eggs is a big decision and one that’s very personal. There’s no right or wrong reason to freeze your eggs if you feel that you may need them in the future.
The Egg Freezing Process
Oocyte cryopreservation sounds technical, but it’s a fairly straightforward process. Like any medical procedure, there’s medications and testing involved before the procedure is performed, but in general, it’s minimally invasive.
How does egg freezing work?
The egg freezing process can be broken down into three main stages: preparation, egg retrieval, and cryopreservation.
The preparation stage includes all the consultations, testing, and application of fertility drugs. During this phase of the process, your fertility specialist will work with you to evaluate the health of your eggs, estimate how many eggs you have left, and then help you get ready for the egg retrieval process.
As part of the preparation stage, your doctor will prescribe you synthetic hormones that help stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs at one time. These injectable hormones are normally taken for several weeks, and about eight days to two weeks before the egg retrieval procedure, your doctor will prescribe a round of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that helps eggs mature so that they can be collected.
Next comes egg retrieval, which usually happens about 36 hours after HCG has been injected. During the egg retrieval process, you may be fully or partially sedated to minimize any discomfort you may feel.
Your fertility doctor will use a transvaginal probe to determine the location of your follicles (which house your matured eggs) before retrieving them. For the eggs to be collected, a needle attached to the ultrasound wand will puncture the selected follicles and then suction out the eggs and fluid. Those eggs are then prepped for storage.
The oocyte cryopreservation process, the collected eggs are dehydrated to remove water that could actually damage them during storage. The water is replaced with a solution that prevents ice crystals (which destroy the egg’s cells).
Your eggs are then flash-frozen in a process called vitrification, which quickly drops the temperature to about -196 Celsius. From there, your eggs will be stored in a facility that maintains their frozen state until you’re ready to use them.
How long can the eggs remain frozen?
Modern egg freezing techniques have increased the lifespan of frozen eggs, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how long you can keep your eggs frozen for. Many people use their eggs within five to 10 years, though some successful births have come from eggs closer to 15 years old.
How long you choose to keep your eggs frozen mostly depends on when you plan to have a child and the age at which you store them.
The Costs of Egg Freezing
If you’re considering freezing your eggs, it’s important that you know the full cost of the procedure as well as storage. Over the long-term, egg freezing can be a hefty expense.
The cost to harvest and freeze eggs isn’t a one-time expense, and for some people, years of oocyte cryopreservation can lead to thousands of dollars. Overall, the cost to freeze eggs 2019 averages around $12,000 and increases by region.
Costs of egg freezing based on what type of patient you are
One of the biggest factors that increases the cost of egg freezing is age. While the egg freezing general cost is an approximate $12,500, you should know that the number of eggs you have and how many rounds of egg retrieval are required can increase this amount.
Women who choose to harvest and store their eggs at a younger age may require fewer rounds of egg harvesting, making the cost to harvest and freeze eggs relatively cheaper. But for women who are older or have additional fertility concerns, the price can drastically increase.
Women who choose to freeze their eggs in their 20s may require fewer rounds of egg harvesting, while a woman who chooses to harvest and freeze her eggs in her mid-30s may need more rounds to collect enough eggs.
The annual fees of egg freezing
Egg freezing pricing exists on a wide spectrum. That’s because the cost to harvest and freeze eggs varies by clinic and region.
While the preparation and retrieval stages may cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, storage of your eggs can range anywhere from $200 to $1,300 per year, with an average of $500-$600 in annual fees. Many people consider freezing their eggs outside of the country to reduce price.
If you’re looking for the cheapest country to freeze eggs, you may consider medical tourism in Ukraine, Cyprus or the Czech Republic, where egg freezing is cheaper than the U.S. and the UK.
The costs of using the eggs
When thinking about the cost of freezing your eggs, you should also consider the additional expense of actually using your eggs. While the egg freezing general cost ranges between $10,000 and $15,000, there are hefty costs associated with actually using your eggs.
The cost of IVF, which is the process frozen eggs are used for, can range between an additional $10,000 and $17,000 per cycle.
Payment Options for Egg Freezing
Many women wonder “how much to freeze eggs,” not fully understanding that this elective procedure can set them back thousands of dollars. The cost of egg freezing can be daunting, but there are some strategies to seek out for financial assistance.
Does insurance cover egg freezing?
In most cases, private insurance, unfortunately, does not cover egg freezing because it is often considered non-medically necessary. So, is egg freezing covered by Medicare?
Just as with private insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid often do not cover the cost of egg freezing, though it may help with some medically necessary fertility treatments based on a doctor’s recommendation.
If you’re wondering “Does Aetna cover egg freezing,” or if private insurance providers such as Blue Cross help with the costs, you should know that some insurance companies may share the cost with you if a doctor determines egg freezing is medically necessary — for example, if you are undergoing chemotherapy that could impact your fertility.
Many people wonder if egg freezing costs are covered by FSA accounts; while there’s no specific provision that allows or denies you to use FSA funds, using FSA funds for medically necessary fertility treatments is usually allowed. If you have an FSA account and want to use those funds for egg freezing, it’s recommended that you contact your FSA administrator.
Financial programs for egg freezing
There are some companies that cover egg freezing costs, such as IntegraMed, LendingClub and Prosper. These companies offer loans to cover egg freezing bills.
In addition, egg sharing programs are one option at reducing the cost of egg freezing. To reap the benefits of an egg sharing program, you agree to donate some of your stored eggs to other patients.
Is Freezing Your Eggs Worth the Cost?
Because every woman places a different value on parenthood and having children, it’s hard to say whether or not freezing eggs is worth the cost for every woman. The biggest factors in determining whether or not you should freeze your eggs have to do with your fertility health, your family’s health history, your age, as well as your future plans for starting (or adding to) your family.
For women with no known fertility health issues and a family history of later-in-life menopause, freezing their eggs may not make financial sense. It also may not be the best financial option for women 35 and younger who are considering having children in the near future.
While there’s no egg freezing age limit, many fertility specialists find that there’s minimal benefit to freezing eggs in a woman’s late 30s and 40s.
Still, women who aren’t sure if they want children may benefit from egg freezing, as well as those who are undergoing a health procedure that could negatively impact their fertility.
The Pros and Cons of Freezing Your Eggs
As with any medical procedure, there are pros and cons to oocyte cryopreservation. If you’re thinking about freezing your eggs, here’s the positives and negatives of long-term egg storage:
- Freezing your eggs lets you plan a family based around major life events or goals that you want to pursue.
- Choosing to freeze your eggs means that you’ll have better quality eggs at an older age, which can boost the chances of a successful pregnancy.
- Planning for oocyte cryopreservation means that you can choose to have a baby in the future with or without a partner.
- The cost of egg freezing — including retrieval and storage — can be a major deterrent.
- It’s possible that your eggs may not survive the freezing and thawing process.
- It may be necessary for you to undergo multiple rounds of egg retrieval to increase the odds of having viable eggs after thawing.
- Plans change — some women who choose to freeze their eggs find partners and end up conceiving naturally without using any of their frozen eggs.
- Freezing your eggs doesn’t mean that you’ll easily get pregnant in the future. As you age, your fertility health can change drastically. Some women who freeze their eggs may attempt to use them, but not successfully conceive based on other factors.
Is Egg Freezing Right For Me?
Many women who explore egg freezing wonder if the procedure is right for them, especially when factoring in their life plans and the cost. If you’re thinking about egg freezing, you may want to ask yourself these questions to determine if the procedure is right for you:
Why do I want to freeze my eggs?
The reason why you choose to freeze your eggs is a major factor in the decision to do it. As egg freezing becomes more popular and targeted at women under 30 as a backup plan, it’s important to consider why you want to freeze your eggs, and if you really would benefit from doing so.
Would I want to have a child regardless of my marital status?
For some women, egg freezing equates freedom, meaning they don’t have to feel pressured to find a spouse and settle down. If you want to become a parent regardless of your marital status, freezing your eggs may be of benefit in the future.
What would I do with my frozen eggs if I don’t end up using them?
Many women who freeze their eggs end up becoming pregnant without using their stored eggs. In these cases, they may choose to discard them or store them for a bit longer in case fertility issues arise.
But, considering the cost of oocyte cryopreservation and storage, some women feel pressured to use their eggs even if they don’t need IVF or other fertility treatments.
Can I plan ahead for the costs of egg storage?
Egg storage costs can be hefty, so it’s important to remember that the upfront costs of oocyte cryopreservation aren’t the only associated bills you’ll have to pay. How much you pay to store your eggs long-term depends on how long you choose to store them, how many you store, where you live, and the storage facility you choose.
Keeping all the costs of egg freezing in mind is important when you make this decision.