It's an unfortunate reality that for women fertility often decreases before you are financially and mentally ready to have a child. It might take you until you are 35 or 40 to settle into a good job and a steady relationship, but by that time, your body has stopped ovulating consistently or the quality of your eggs has gone down. Fortunately, modern technology and medicine have devised a solution to this troubling dilemma: freezing your eggs.
The concept is pretty simple on the surface. A doctor extracts some of your eggs and freezes them. At a later date, you decide you want to have a child. Your egg can be fertilized with your partner's sperm and then implanted into your uterus (or even the uterus of a surrogate mother). Nine months later, you have a healthy baby boy or girl.
The decision to freeze your eggs is a big one, and you're bound to have a lot of questions as you consider this option. Here's a look at some of those questions -- and their answers.
How young should you be when you freeze your eggs?
Once you are in your 20s, you are considered to be of age to freeze your eggs. Ideally, you want to have them frozen before you reach the age of 35, as this is when fertility begins to decline significantly in most women. If you are over the age of 35, do not fret. Most women can still freeze their eggs at this point, though your doctor may have to extract more eggs in order to find a few "healthy" ones to freeze.
Where are the eggs kept?
Some women have visions of keeping their eggs in their home freezer, but in fact, this is not how freezing your eggs works. Once your eggs are extracted and prepared by your doctor, they are kept in a specialized facility called a biorepository. Here, the temperature and humidity levels of the "freezers" are closely monitored so that your eggs do not decline in quality over the years. The freezers at biorepositories are much, much colder than your home freezer. As a result, they can keep the eggs viable for at least 10 years, and often even longer if needed.
What is the process for extracting the eggs?
The process of retrieving eggs from your ovaries is pretty simple. You'll need to inject yourself with a special mixture of hormones for a week or two leading up to your appointment. This will cause several eggs to mature. When the eggs are mature, you will be put under general anesthesia or sedation, and a specialized needle will be guided into your ovaries to aspirate the mature eggs. You may have some soreness after the procedure, but this is easily managed with pain relievers and should subside shortly.
What happens when you decide you want to utilize one of your eggs and become pregnant?
When you decide you want to utilize one of your eggs, you'll need to contact your fertility specialist. They will obtain your eggs from the biorepository and fertilize them, outside of your body, with your partner's sperm. (A donor's sperm can also be used if needed or desired.) This will create several embryos, which will be implanted in your uterus. The hope is that at least one of the embryos will then implant itself in the uterine lining, resulting in a successful pregnancy, even if you are past the age at which you would have conceived naturally.
Freezing your eggs gives you the option of becoming pregnant later on when you are more prepared to be a parent. Talk to a fertility specialist if you have additional questions about this procedure.