Fertility Preservation During COVID-19
COVID has made many people reevaluate their family-building plans. One trend we’ve seen since the pandemic started is a rise in fertility preservation (egg or embryo freezing). A study published in Fertility and Sterility, which compared rates of egg freezing cycles before and during the COVID pandemic, found that retrieval volume for egg freezing increased by 39% post-pandemic. The reasons for this trend are likely numerous, including:
- Deciding to delay having a baby due to concerns about the coronavirus
- Increased flexibility due to working from home
- A decline in dating due to lockdowns
Why Should You Freeze Your Eggs?
While you may have known that the number eggs declines as you age, did you know that the quality of your eggs also diminishes? That’s right – the biological clock is real. Eggs that have diminished in quality are less likely to implant and are more likely to result in miscarriage. Most women in their teens and 20s have an 18-20% chance of getting pregnant each month. By 35, your chances drop to 10%. At 45, you only have a 1% chance of getting pregnant each month.
If you freeze your eggs now, you can increase your chances of having a baby later in life when you’re ready. Let’s explore the egg freezing process to help you decide if egg freezing is the right option for you.
What is the egg freezing process?
Fertility Testing & Assessment
In order to freeze your eggs, you’ll first meet with a fertility doctor to discuss your medical history and family-building goals. You will also undergo a series of fertility tests to evaluate your reproductive potential. This includes a vaginal ultrasound and blood work to assess your hormone levels.
Based on your hormone level test results and current ovarian reserve, your doctor will create your individualized treatment protocol. Your nurse will educate you about your medications and corresponding treatment calendar, will help you order medications, teach you how to self-administer any injectable medications, and will inform you of what to expect next during your egg freezing cycle.
When you’ve been cleared to start treatment, you’ll give yourself daily injections to begin the stimulation phase of your egg freezing cycle. Your injectable medications consist of hormones that your body produces to develop and ovulate an egg. During a typical menstrual cycle, your body matures one follicle that releases one egg. Stimulating hormones helps the follicles grow and release multiple mature eggs at one time. The antral follicle count performed during your initial evaluation is a good general predictor for how many eggs we’d retrieve.
After you start your medications, you will begin regular monitoring appointment. This involves going to your fertility clinic for an ultrasound and blood work. During these appointments, your doctor will measure how many follicles are growing and how big each follicle is. Your doctor will also review blood levels to determine how your body is responding and if any medication adjustments are needed. You will typically complete monitoring appointments either 3 or 4 days after the start of your stimulation medications and either daily or every other day thereafter depending on your response to the medications until your eggs are ready for retrieval. When the eggs have reached the correct size, you will be instructed to inject a “trigger shot.” This shot will release the mature eggs to be retrieved by your doctor.
About 34-36 hours following the trigger shot, you will go to the fertility clinic for your egg retrieval. During the egg retrieval you will be under anesthesia or conscious sedation while the doctor collects your mature eggs. It’s a minor surgical procedure performed vaginally under ultrasound guidance. Since you will be sedated, you must have someone come with you for procedure and remain with you until following day. You will be able to return to work 24-48 hours following retrieval.
Then, the eggs will go to the laboratory and the mature eggs will be frozen using a special procedure called vitrification that flash freezes the eggs. If you’re freezing embryos, the eggs will be fertilized with your partner’s or donor sperm, and the embryos and will be safely stored for later use when you need them.
How successful is egg freezing?
One of the largest studies of egg freezing success showed that for approximately 1,500 women 35 years and younger who froze their eggs, the chance of a live birth was 61% for those who froze 10 eggs. For those women who froze 15 or more eggs, their chances were increased to 85%. Freezing your eggs doesn’t guarantee a baby in the future. But advances in egg freezing technology improve the process for women.
CCRM Fertility patient, Jenny, froze her eggs when she as 35. “A decade ago, I made the decision to freeze my eggs. At the time, I’m not sure I truly acknowledged to myself what a brave and thoughtful decision that was. I could have never imagined it would be ten years before I used one of these precious frozen microscopic cells. Ten years later, 45 years old and pregnant with my 35-year-old genetics. Science is insane and I’m so grateful every day for the strength I had to have made this decision before I had ANY idea what would happen with my life.”
The bottom line
Freezing your eggs puts you in the driver’s seat of your own reproductive choices—and that can be liberating.
Make an appointment with one of our CCRM Fertility Specialists if you’re considering fertility preservation. They can help answer questions and come up with a personalized treatment plan for you.