Recent breakthroughs in egg-freezing technology may be a game changer for age-related infertility. As a woman profiled in a recent Vogue article on the topic says, “oocyte cryopreservation” is freeing her from the “tyranny of the expiration date” of being able to have children.
How does it work? What are the pros? What issues does it raise? Check it out.
How it works
A woman can spend about $15,000 to be injected with hormones to stimulate the release of lots of eggs. The eggs are frozen with a flash-freezing process called vitrification, then put in a cryogenic vat until she wants to use them. When she does, she will go through the IVF process, but with younger eggs, thus enhancing the chances of getting pregnant.
And it seems the odds are good. Recent studies indicate that the “birthrate in IVF procedure using frozen eggs extracted from women under the age of 36 is now close to 50 percent.”
More women are waiting longer to start having kids, which often creates fertility problems. At age 40, more than half will not be able to conceive without help, and by 44 even with IVF, only about 5% end up being able to conceive. In a word, the eggs just get old.
But freezing the eggs keeps them young, and when you use them in the IVF process, it creates better odds of conceiving.
Some doctors worry that it may give women too much of a false sense of security. It may take more than one hormone injecting cycle to produce enough eggs to be “reasonably sure” of a single pregnancy. And even when the woman uses them down the road, there is no guarantee they will be able to make viable embryos.
Say a woman chooses to freeze her eggs in her 20s, then goes to use them in her 40s. According to reproductive endocrinologist Samantha Pfeifer M.D., to date there is “no data on how long eggs can be frozen.” Only preliminary studies indicate the eggs may last ten years.
But the biggest issue goes to a larger question. If a woman has her younger eggs, and her uterus is able, she could start to have children not just in her 40s, but in her 50s. It’s also possible with hormone treatments that uteruses can be ready to carry a child even in postmenopausal women, so the age could be even higher—into a woman’s 60s!
Egg freezing making women able to have biological children at advanced ages begs the question: At what age does it become irresponsible to try and become a mother? Or said another way-How old is too old to become a mother? At what age is it “too late” when you think of the child first? A child, that could have, say a 65 year old mother at the age of 12?
Egg freezing may help women have better chances of conceiving if they wait until they are older to have children, but at what point is it a selfish act, one that will truly not be in the best interest of the child?
Egg freezing could take us into new realms of craziness when it comes to the lengths women will go to have their own biological children. And those kids’ lives could look crazy too, like having to tend to aged parents in high school, or finding a way to pay for nursing home care before they graduate college.
How far will a pronatal society let “fertility preservation” go??