According to new research by anthropologists at Yale University, a “lack of stable partners” is the main reason women freeze their eggs. So it’s no surprise that, in a year that’s made dating and financial planning extremely hard, some fertility clinics say many more single women are considering their reproductive options.
“We’re seeing a lot more single women freezing their eggs,” says Caitlin Dunne, a fertility doctor at Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Vancouver, one of the largest clinics in Canada. With dating becoming more difficult, and furloughs and pay cuts disrupting career paths, more women are looking to buy some time.
But of course, egg freezing was popular before before Covid. Around 2018, there was more interest in egg freezing among single women as well as couples, according to Karen Buzaglo, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Procrea Fertilité in Montreal. “Couples are waiting longer to start their family, whether it be for career reasons or not being ready or able to settle down.”
Below, Buzaglo shares what you need to know about freezing your eggs during the pandemic and beyond.
It’s very individualized. I’d look at how old a patient is, what the ovarian reserve testing shows, and what her personal plans are. Then I’d counsel based on the patient, and what’s good for her. For example, if a patient is in her late 20s, has good ovarian reserve, and hopes to have a baby in the next three years I’d probably tell her to wait. If she were 35-36, and wanting to wait until 39-40 to have a baby, I’d tell her it might be a good idea to freeze her eggs, because around age 37, in general, fertility drops rapidly.
The expert opinion is between the age of 30 and 35, and that’s because when you’re under 30, there’s a good chance you may never need to use those eggs, because you have more time to conceive naturally. And at 35, the quality starts to decline. If you’re between 35 and 40, we would consider it. That’s because the older you are, the more cycles of stimulation you would have to do because you need more eggs to freeze to have potential for baby.
An ovarian reserve is the number of eggs a woman has. No lifestyle factors-like eating healthy, exercising, yoga-will have an impact on fertility outcomes. But smoking and illicit drug use may have an impact on egg quality. It’s important to note that you could have a very low ovarian reserve and still get pregnant naturally. It’s not a marker of your fertility-trying to get pregnant is the best marker of your fertility.
It’s about 10 to 12 days of injection medication, which you would administer to yourself. The medication is used to stimulate the ovaries for follicles to grow to maturity-each follicle contains an egg. During those 10 to 12 days, you’d come to the clinic about three to four times to do monitoring by ultrasound and blood tests. The monitoring is done until there are enough mature follicles, then we trigger the ovulation of that cycle. Thirty-six house later, we do an egg collection, which is done under ultrasound guidance with a little needle at the tip of the probe and under local anesthesia and conscious sedation through IV. Once we retrieve the eggs, they’re frozen that day, with a process called Vitrification -also known as flash freezing.
Typically, there’s bloating-just from the ovaries becoming larger. Soreness the day of the egg retrieval. But the procedure itself shouldn’t be painful. When you go home after the retrieval, you may feel tired-it takes 24 to 48 hours to feel back to normal.
It can last for a few days and there’s medication we can give to diminish the bloating if there have been signs of hyperstimulation of the ovaries. By the next period, which usually comes within two weeks after the egg retrieval, you’re back to normal.
Now, there’s probably a one- to two-month delay in getting that initial appointment. If you are interested in egg freezing, you may want to book your appointment sooner than later to start the process.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.