Freezing your eggs is a big decision under normal circumstances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it may feel even more confusing as you take new factors into consideration.
There are questions about whether it’s safe to visit fertility clinics, if this is a particularly good or bad time for egg freezing, how the pandemic has shifted family planning timelines, coronavirus precautions to take and more.
“While egg freezing is not a guarantee, it does provide women with more reproductive options,” said Dr. Salli Tazuke, an OB-GYN specializing in reproductive endocrinology and infertility and the co-founder of CCRM Fertility San Francisco.
So how should you go about making this decision for yourself? Below, Tazuke and other experts share their advice for determining whether egg freezing is right for you and how to navigate the process during the pandemic.
Consider your age.
One of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether or not to freeze your eggs during the COVID-19 pandemic is your age.
“Women are born with all their lifetime supply of eggs, and that number declines slowly over time,” said Paula Brady, a fertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center. “Beginning around age 35, egg quality begins to decrease, which is the proportion of eggs that are genetically normal and able to result in a healthy pregnancy. This is why miscarriage and infertility rates are higher in the later 30s and particularly into the 40s.”
Some people, particularly those over 40, may want to move forward with the process during the pandemic so they don’t lose significant egg count and/or quality by waiting, Brady added.
“I typically recommend starting to think about egg freezing between the age of 30 to 35, and it’s best to complete the procedure before age 37 (and most ideally before the age of 35),” said Banafsheh N. Kashani, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist in Orange County, California.
Due to the higher quantity and quality of available eggs, women are usually able to retrieve and freeze more eggs in one cycle during this time.
Consult a doctor.
“Women interested in egg freezing would ideally not delay their consultation and evaluation, and should then decide with their physician regarding the urgency of freezing eggs given the pandemic,” Brady said.
The process can be complex, so it’s best to seek a consultation with a fertility specialist with egg freezing experience so you can at least get educated about what it entails.
“With telehealth appointments readily available, it’s the perfect time to schedule a consult with a fertility doctor to discuss your reproductive health,” Tazuke said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn, take care of yourself, find out which options are available, etc. It’s all meant to empower women, because information is power.”
Assess your fertility.
Although age can be a big factor in fertility, it’s certainly not the only metric ― and there’s a lot of disparity, even among women of the same age.
“Each woman is unique, and this is why it is important to have fertility tests to assess your ovarian reserve,” Kashani said. “This can be done through simple tests, such as an ultrasound or bloodwork, to gauge your fertility. Some women will find their egg number is average for their age or above average. Some women may find their egg number is below average for their age. All of this information is empowering and helpful to decide what is best for you and when is the best time to proceed with an egg freezing cycle.”
Examining your hormone levels, your uterus and your ovaries can also give doctors a sense of your reproductive health. Your family history and certain health conditions, such as endometriosis or having smaller ovaries, can also impact your ability to conceive. Knowing you have a lower ovarian reserve or other issues may compel you to pursue the egg freezing process before the pandemic is over, when you otherwise would have opted to wait.
Calculate your budget and timeline.
As you assess factors like your age and ovarian reserve, think about how this information works into your reproductive timeline and family planning goals.
Depending on your age and the number to children you’d like to have, you may have to go through multiple cycles to freeze enough eggs to make your goals more attainable. This can be very expensive and time-consuming, so consider your budget and schedule. Between the tests, injections and retrieval, an egg freezing cycle takes at least two weeks and costs anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000, although that can vary based on where you live. On top of that, storage fees typically start at $600 annually.
Many women are facing major financial challenges and job insecurity amid the pandemic, while others have found the work-from-home lifestyle gives them more flexibility to pursue something like egg freezing.
“In my experience, the number of women opting to freeze their eggs hasn’t changed since the pandemic started, but what has changed is the reasoning behind the decision,” Tazuke said. “Some women are freezing their eggs as a form of self-care. They’re focusing more on themselves and taking control of their health. Also, with more women working home and traveling less and going out less, they have the flexibility and resources to undergo egg freezing at this time.”
Check on COVID-19 protocols.
Since many fertility clinics have implemented coronavirus safety measures, “there is no reason why a healthy woman without any underlying risk factors couldn’t move forward with egg freezing during the pandemic,” Tazuke said, though she added that people who have preexisting health conditions or are otherwise at high risk for COVID-19 may want to delay egg freezing.
If you live in an area with particularly high case counts and new lockdown measures, make sure to do your research before committing to a new cycle.
“The cases of COVID-19 are higher than ever in the United States,” Kashani said. “Women should ask their providers about any restrictions in the area that could impact your egg freezing cycle.”
Take extra pandemic precautions.
If you decide to go forward with freezing your eggs, it’s important to be extra cautious about social distancing and following other coronavirus safety guidelines to avoid testing positive during an egg freezing cycle.
“If a woman contracts COVID during her cycle, it will be canceled, as the anesthesia required for retrieval requires normal lung function,” Brady cautioned. “Currently, COVID testing is required within a few days of any planned anesthesia, so patients are being universally screened before egg retrieval.”
Kashani said she tells her patients to essentially remain in full quarantine during egg freezing cycles to ensure there is no risk of transmission and subsequent cycle cancellation.
“Also, it’s important to ensure you are in your best state of health prior to the cycle and procedure,” Kashani added. “This is a nice time to focus on things like diet, exercise, stopping smoking cigarettes or marijuana and minimizing the use of caffeine and alcohol.”