AUSTIN (KXAN) — For a variety of reasons, delayed families and pursuit of a career among them, more American women than ever are freezing their eggs now to have a baby later. In fact the number of “cycle” attempts to harvest those eggs has increased ten-fold in the past decade to nearly 20,000 cycles a year. It is expensive, with no guarantees but new technology does give them a better chance.
Dr. Thomas Vaughn at the Texas Fertility Center explains, “It’s much harder to get pregnant when you’re in your forties. When the eggs are frozen, the woman gets older but the eggs do not.” A woman’s supply of eggs dwindles throughout her life. The best, most viable eggs may be in her twenties, but if she does not want a child then, that can be an option.
A cycle of harvesting means self-administered shots for a couple of weeks, with periodic clinic visits. Dr. Vaughn says, “During that time she will be seen by us every two to three days. So for a period of about two weeks she needs to stay in town. The day of the egg retrieval the woman is sedated, she can’t drive a car that day, she has to miss work and can go back to work the next day.”
Thanks to a relatively new flash freezing technique called vitrification, those harvested eggs have a 97% chance of being viable later. There is still no guarantee however they will be fertilized and take inside the mother. Dr. Vaughn adds, “This technique is revolutionary. Now women who have delayed child bearing have a really good chance of becoming pregnant, certainly a better chance.”
Mica Odom is in her early thirties, with a career and unwed. She learned she has a condition like premature menopause. Her eggs are diminishing quickly, so she decided to save some. “You give yourself shots twice a day, so someone could say that’s a huge undertaking but if you want to have a child it’s a very small price to pay.”
Because of her condition Mica went through half a dozen expensive cycle attempts to harvest her eggs. She says, “I went through several cycles to freeze eggs I was told would be scientifically impossible, but I have been able to freeze five eggs.”
Remember those frozen young eggs can be kept indefinitely, until the woman is ready for a family. Dr. Vaughn says his cutoff age is 55 for the woman to then take the unfrozen eggs. Mica is engaged now and the couple intend to marry next year then begin a family. Thanks to vitrification her harvested eggs have a better than 40% chance of fertilizing and being borne by her. She smiles, “We want to have two kids and we hope they will be our children and the eggs will come through. If they don’t there is always Plan B.”
All this is not cheap. Each harvest cycle costs approximately $10,000. The cost to store your eggs is about $800 a year. Up to the age of forty, fertility doctors still encourage the natural way to conceive. By age 45 they think frozen younger eggs give you a better chance.