Putting your eggs on ice has benefits for career-oriented women.

freezing your eggs for your career

Last year, Facebook and Apple made headlines when they announced a new employee perk: paying for female employees to freeze their eggs. The process, called oocyte cryopreservation, is becoming an increasingly popular option for fertile women who want to delay having a child to focus on their careers or wait to find the right partner. “A typical man has a lifetime to become a father, but a woman’s reproductive age lasts for 10 to 15 years, and this coincides with the most critical time to gain an education and grow a career,” says Dr. Seang Lin Tan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University.

Turning back your biological clock

Egg freezing is seen as a way to take the pressure off—a kind of insurance policy for motherhood—or so says Sarah Elizabeth Richards, author of Motherhood, Rescheduled. Richards spent $50,000 on several rounds of oocyte cryopreservation, freezing 70 eggs between the ages of 36 and 38. One round of egg freezing typically costs around $6,000, plus the cost of egg storage at about $300 to $400 per year.

Like many women in their mid-30s, Richards felt her biological clock ticking and worried that she would lose her fertility window. “I had a big sense of loss, of mourning, that this window was closing,” she says. Freezing her eggs was a way of putting power back into her hands while she waited to find the right romantic partner.

You must be asking: How is it done? Well, the process of egg freezing involves 10 days of self-administered injections and several ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor the body’s response. A procedure is then performed under sedation where a needle is guided into the ovaries and eggs are removed and frozen. This process of extraction takes only five to 10 minutes.

The overlap of the aging and freezing cycle

Age plays a major role in the success of egg freezing. Doctors will typically be able to extract 10 to 20 eggs from a woman under the age of 35. “For every egg that we freeze from a woman who is under 35, that egg has a five per cent chance of yielding a baby at a future date,” says Dr. Paul Claman, medical director of the Ottawa Fertility Centre.

For a woman under 35, one cycle of egg freezing provides her with a 50 per cent chance of having a baby. For women over 35, however, each egg holds a two to three per cent chance of yielding a baby. “If you’re 40 and want to gain a 50 per cent chance of having a baby, you’re looking at going through this [process] three, four or maybe five times,” says Dr. Claman. Why? Not all eggs will survive the freezing process. Most fertility clinics perform a slow freezing method in which only 50 to 60 per cent of eggs survive, though Dr. Tan pioneered a method of flash freezing called vitrification with a reputed 95 per cent egg survival rate.

A dwindling egg count

Egg freezing becomes increasingly difficult as a woman experiences ovarian aging, a natural decline of her egg reserve, that depletes with age. While men produce new sperm all their lives, women do not. “You’re born with a certain number of eggs, and the best eggs are used when you are young,” says Dr. Tan. Ovarian aging is the reason why all women in their early 30s who plan to wait until their late 30s or 40s to have a child should consider egg freezing, he says.

Not only does the quantity of eggs in our bodies decrease with age, but the quality as well. “The main cause of declining fertility with increasing age is the risk of abnormal embryos,” says Dr. Tan. “If you’re 35 years old, about one third of egg production is [chromosomally] normal, but by the time you’re 43 years old, only six per cent is normal,” he says. Because eggs don’t get better with age, freezing eggs when you’re young ensures that a woman who decides she wants a child in her late 30s or 40s will have the same chances of being a mother to a child of the same health as if she was in her 30s.

For Richards, freezing her eggs gave her a sense of empowerment. “It makes you feel like you’ve taken care of yourself,” she says.

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