If you’re think you probably want kids someday—just maybe not, like, today—you might want to consider egg freezing. Women who choose to freeze their eggs can find it really empowering, but it’s also a big personal and financial investment. We spoke with an expert to gather the basic info you’ll need to decide whether egg freezing is right for you.
What’s the egg freezing process like?
The whole point of egg freezing is to trick your ovaries into sending a whole crop of eggs out into the world in one go. This starts with nearly two weeks of at-home prep work on your part. Here’s how it all plays out:
1. Shots/ultrasounds/more shots
Starting on day 2-3 of your period, you’ll give yourself daily injections of follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH). In a natural cycle, your brain makes smaller doses of these hormones on its own to signal to the ovaries that it’s time to make a single egg ready for ovulation. With this treatment, the brain’s natural process is overridden by the injections in order to encourage the ovaries to release as many eggs as possible.
But not so fast, ovaries! You’ll also be given a third drug in combination with these that will keep your eggs from releasing before the doctor is ready to catch them. Depending on which one you’re prescribed, you’ll start taking this at the same time as the stimulants, or about halfway through the stimulant cycle. Don’t worry, you’ll receive specific instructions on all of these and before you know it, you’ll be an expert at giving yourself a shot. Look at you go!
You’ll take these daily injections for 10-12 days, during which time you’ll also be carefully monitored by the clinic with trans-vaginal ultrasounds that examine your follicles (the ovarian sacs that release the eggs), and blood tests to track your hormone levels. Your medications will be adjusted based on the info from these tests.
When follicles are nice and plump, you do a trigger shot and then go into the center for your egg retrieval. This actually triggers ovulation and it’s what’s needed for the DNA to become mature, but your eggs will be retrieved right before they’re released from the follicles.
2. Egg retrieval
An egg retrieval is a minor surgical procedure. Most centers use anesthesia, so you’ll be under sedation through an IV, but breathing on your own. The doctor performing the egg retrieval will insert a trans-vaginal sonogram. Now, here’s the kinda weird part: on the tip of that sonogram wand is a small needle, which pierces the vaginal wall, and then enters the ovary on the other side (the doctor is watching all of this happen on the sonogram screen). The needle drains the fluid (containing the microscopic egg) from each of the mature follicles. Now, your job is mostly done. Phew!
In the lab, each egg is isolated from the fluid by an embryologist, then stripped of its surrounding cells, and checked under microscope for maturity. Mature eggs are frozen, post-mature eggs are discarded, and immature eggs may be observed overnight, to see if they are ready to be frozen the next day.
According to Dr. Sheeva Talebian, a reproductive endocrinologist at Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) in New York, “most centers only freeze mature eggs, because you can only use mature eggs on the other side of it.” Meaning, if you need to use those banked eggs for IVF further down the line, you’ll want them to be mature.
Depending on how many eggs are retrieved, getting over the procedure might be no big deal, or it could feel like the worst PMS of your life. During the luteal phase (the phase of your cycle that follows ovulation – in this case, a super intense ovulation), estrogen and progesterone are both very high, and you can experience bloating, cramping, nausea, and potentially see some weight gain for one to two weeks after the procedure. Time to stock up on coconut water and get cozy with some Netflix.
How many eggs will I get?
“People always ask, ‘why can’t you just give every woman enough drugs so that everyone makes 20 eggs?’ But that’s not how it works. Our ovaries have a set number of follicles every menstrual cycle,” explains Dr. Talebian. And of course, each woman is different, so the expectation for egg retrieval has to be set on an individual basis.
“You can have a 30-year-old who has 30 follicles and produces 30 eggs; and you can have a 30-year-old with 4 follicles and produces 4 eggs.” Before you begin the process and once you start, your doctor will regularly monitor your follicle count as well as a blood test of your anti-Müllarian hormone (AMH), which are both good predictors of how many eggs you can expect. It’s super personal and varies case-by-case.
Once your eggs are frozen, the next important number to seek when interviewing a clinic is their thaw rate. This number indicates the percentage of frozen eggs actually survive the warming process in order to be used for IVF. Beyond that, there isn’t really enough data to provide success rates for pregnancy using a woman’s own frozen eggs (versus frozen embryos, for example.
“Anyone who says they can give success rates based on egg freezing is probably not giving an accurate answer,” says Dr. Talebian. “We can give you success rates for healthy donor eggs, but most women who come in to freeze eggs at ages 30-35 have not come back to use those eggs. So there isn’t enough data to give a success rate.”
At what age should I freeze my eggs?
As we’ve said before, everyone is different, but Dr. Talebian provided some basic guidelines.
- If you have no fertility risk factors: between ages 30-34
- If you have some fertility red flags: consider testing at an earlier age, if, for example, if you have a history of endometriosis, family history of early menopause, or any history of radiation or chemotherapy exposure
“Unfortunately, there’s no magic blood test or ultrasound or MRI that says ‘oh you could wait until you’re 38, or you need to do it at 28,'” says Dr. Talebian. What the centers do have are the stats for the average infertile women at each age, plus your personal history and the follicle counts they can take when you come in for your first appointment. Based on all this information, you can have a straightforward convo with the doctor about your likelihood of success, so you can make the best call for your future.
How much will it cost?
It can totally vary, depending on where you live and from center to center.
Top centers in large cities may go up to $9,000-10,000, but some centers have costs as low as $5,000. However, you’ll want to make sure you’re going somewhere legit—somewhere that you can see yourself being thawing the eggs and utilizing them in the future if you needed to go through the IVF process. Also, keep in mind that these initial expenses cover only the medication and the procedure. You’ll then need to pay storage fees of up to $1,000 per year for as long as you keep those eggs on ice.
How do I know if egg freezing is right for me?
So, there’s no magic eight ball to tell you if the time is right to freeze your eggs. But if “signs point to yes” or you’re in or nearing your 30s, we hope this guide provided some food for thought.