Mature oocyte cryopreservation (the fancy medical term for freezing your eggs) is a procedure done to preserve a woman’s eggs for fertilization at a later date. There are many different reasons women undergo this procedure, from fertility issues to future planning – no two fertility journeys are the same. Here’s what you need to know before starting down the path of freezing your eggs.
What Do you Mean by “Freeze My Eggs”?
Similar to the procedure of in vitro fertilization, freezing your eggs involves “harvesting” mature eggs from the ovaries (if the word harvest doesn’t pique your interest, we don’t know what will.) This therapy involves taking hormonal medications to accelerate the maturation of your eggs, extracting your eggs, then freezing them for later use. Science!
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The Process of Freezing Your Eggs
Egg freezing comes in three exciting phases: ovary stimulation, retrieval, and freezing.
To stimulate egg maturation, medications for ovary stimulation (injected hormones) and medications to prevent premature ovulation (yet again, more hormones) are started. Your doctor will monitor you to keep an eye on the progress – so get ready for a couple (or lots) of check-up appointments. Bloodwork and ultrasounds will be done to assess the maturity of your eggs and to guide the timing of egg removal.
Once your eggs are ready to go, it’s time to go get them. This is often done in a doctor’s office or clinic under intravenous sedation (medications to take the edge off, and then some.) A transvaginal (through the vagina) ultrasound is done to identify the eggs. Once identified, a needle is guided through the vagina to the ovary, and the eggs are collected. Up to 15 eggs can be mature and ready to go at once, so this does not need to be done repetitively (thank goodness).
There are two methods of freezing eggs – slow freezing or vitrification (flash-freezing). Both are safe, but flash-freezing has proven to have higher success rates of egg survival after thawing (up to a 97% chance of egg survival!) Your eggs are then stored in temperature control freezers until you are ready to use them.
Benefits to Freezing Your Eggs
While this procedure may seem overwhelming, there are many benefits to moving forward with freezing your eggs. Some situations where freezing your eggs may be beneficial include:
- Women receiving treatment for cancer during reproductive age. Treatment options for cancer often cause damage to reproductive cells like eggs and sperm. Freezing your eggs before treatment can help prevent infertility issues after cancer treatment.
- Women who are transitioning genders. Women who are using hormones and surgery to transition genders may wish to preserve their eggs prior to starting these altering treatments to maintain their ability to have biological children.
- Women looking to save eggs for a later date. Some younger women freeze their eggs to save until they feel ready to become pregnant. It’s different for everyone!
Risks of Freezing Your Eggs
Like all things in life and medicine, freezing your eggs has risks. Each stage of the mature oocyte cryopreservation process poses risks, such as:
- Reactions to the ovary stimulating medications. The hormones used for freezing your eggs cause the ovaries to swell – and once the eggs are removed, they may remain swollen for weeks (hyperstimulation). This can cause cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
- Surgical complications when removing the eggs. All surgery comes with risks. During the procedure, your ovaries can become injured, bleeding can occur, or you can get an infection.
- Risk of non-successful pregnancies. The percentage of successful embryonic implantation into the uterus from this procedure is 41%. This is important to know before beginning this often emotionally charged journey.