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If you've ever felt like biology is a little sexist, you're not wrong: While a man can father a child well past middle age, a woman's fertility window starts to close in her late 30s and tends to hit a hard stop by the time she's in her mid-40s. But for a myriad of reasons, a lot of women just aren't ready to have kids in the years when they're most fertile. Maybe they haven't found a partner yet, or maybe they'd rather focus on getting some career milestones out of the way before committing to starting a family. Luckily, modern science now has a revolutionary solution to this problem: Women can now put their eggs on ice until they're ready to use them.
Thousands of women freeze their eggs every year, and that number is only growing. But how much should women bank on egg freezing as a way to preserve their fertility, and what is the process actually like? We chatted with James Grifo, MD, PhD and Program Director NYU Langone Prelude Fertility Center — here's what he had to say.
Egg freezing Is Effective, But There's More To It
If you're thinking about freezing your eggs, the good news is that recent research has shown that egg freezing is pretty successful. "My team and I at NYU Langone Fertility just released findings from a 15-year study on egg freezing that found that nearly 75% of eggs survived the freezing process and nearly 70% of those surviving eggs were successfully fertilized," says Grifo. "Essentially, the success rate of delivery with frozen eggs is comparable to the success rates of a fresh IVF cycle."
Not too shabby, right? But there's a catch: If you think egg freezing is a good option for you, it's probably smart to do it before you're ready to even start thinking about having kids — like when you're in your 20s or early 30s. "Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, and their quantity and quality decreases as they age," explains Grifo. "Ideally, the prime age to freeze your eggs is in your late 20s and early 30s, as fertility health for women tends to decline once they reach 35."
Meet the Expert
James Grifo, MD, PhD is program director at NYU Langone Prelude Fertility Center and Chief Executive Physician at Inception Fertility. As a practicing physician-scientist, Dr. Grifo has extensive experience in the treatment of couples with infertility. Since August 1995, Dr. Grifo has been the Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at the NYU School of Medicine, where he also holds the faculty appointment of Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
How Much Does it Cost?
If egg freezing is starting to sound like a sound and smart option for you, you're probably wondering exactly how much cash you're going to have to shell out to make it happen.
The good news? More and more employers are starting to cover the cost of egg freezing as a benefit. "For some patients, the cost of egg freezing is covered by health insurance," says Grifo. "For others, health insurance does not cover the cost of fertility preservation for reasons unrelated to a medical diagnosis, although this is beginning to change. Regarding cost, fees can vary due to a host of factors including medication and number of cycles."
If you're looking for an exact number, according to Fertility IQ, egg freezing patients will spend on average between $30,000 and $40,000 on treatment and storage as egg freezing tends to cost $15,000 to $20,000 per cycle, and most women do two cycles.
What Does the Egg Freezing Process Look Like?
While cost is a consideration when it comes to egg freezing, the actual process is, too: It's a lot like IVF, except that the egg isn't fertilized. The first step is a consultation, which is followed by ovulation and induction. "In the course of a natural menstrual cycle, the brain produces hormones that stimulate one of the ovaries to release an egg," says Grifo. "During egg-freezing treatment, those same hormones are prescribed, known as fertility medications, to stimulate the ovaries to mature numerous eggs at once."
This is followed by egg retrieval, which is performed under sedation. "With the aid of ultrasound visualization, a needle is guided through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries to gently suction the eggs from their follicles and into sterile test tubes," Grifo explains. "After eggs are retrieved, they are transferred to the embryology laboratory. The retrieved eggs are evaluated, and generally, three- quarters are considered mature enough for freezing or fertilization."
Long story short: The process isn't exactly easy on your body, and depending on your insurance, it may not be easy on your bank account, either. But if you want kids down the road and aren't ready to commit yet for whatever reason, it's probably an option worth exploring.