31st May 2012 | by Dr. Janet Takefman
I am a single woman in my mid-thirties. I think I want to have children but I don’t yet have a partner and I’m not comfortable doing this on my own. What can I do to keep my options open?
Written by our mental health expert Janet Takefman, Ph.D.
You are fortunate that this is 2012 as your options are considerably more reliable than they would have been just a few years ago. Fertility preservation for women for non-medical reasons is a relatively new clinical procedure that many clinics are now offering. Egg freezing, as it is commonly known, has been far more difficult to achieve than sperm freezing has, which we have been doing for nearly a century. The complications with eggs is that they are primarily water-based and when they were frozen in the past they crystallized just like our frozen food does, however this damaged the DNA when warming and thawing them, thus making them unusable. For several years now, most clinics use the Vitrification technique, which is a fast freeze method with the best results being reported in the journals in the past year or two showing that 70—80% eggs frozen with Vitrification survive the thaw and have an equal chance of fertilizing and becoming an embryo as do fresh eggs.
That’s the good news! The not so good news is this is still a relatively new technique and thus we do not know much about the babies born from frozen-thawed eggs and different clinics have widely varying success rates as some have far more experience with this procedure than others. As well, the procedure itself is quite costly usually about $4,000 -$6000 per cycle which does not include medication to mature the eggs. As well, there are annual storage fees. Finally, depending on the baseline number of follicles you have (pockets that contain the eggs) it may be necessary to do this procedure several times as collecting a larger number of eggs to freeze improves your chances of having a child (children) when you are ready.
It is commendable that you are thinking about this while in your mid-30s. The younger you are the better your chances to have children eventually with frozen eggs. Much of the research on this subject indicates that the average age a woman decides to freeze her eggs is around 38, a time when a significant number of her eggs will have genetic anomalies. And like your case, our research shows the number 1 reason why women freeze eggs is because they have not yet met Mr. (or Ms) Right, or similarly they are in a new relationship and it is too early to begin a family, or they are with a partner who is not ready to have children.
On the good news side, women who have frozen their eggs report many positive psychological benefits.
They are proud of themselves for taking charge of their fertility and not being dependent on a partner, they are reassured that for the moment anyway their fertility is good and they find they put less pressure on a new relationship because they have in a sense ‘bought themselves some time’. My concern is, on the negative side, that women may see egg freezing as an insurance policy and thus wait too long to start a family the old fashioned way thinking they can always rely on the frozen eggs. As is the case with most insurance policies, most of us find them reassuring to know they are there, but rarely cash in on them and when we do they don’t usually pay out the way we had hoped. So it is important not to engage in false hope. Egg freezing is an option with some benefits and some risks and costs and you need to do a cost-benefit analysis to decide if this is right for you. Most clinics that offer this service will refer you to a mental health professional to help in the decision-making process and I encourage you to take advantage of that service.
You also have the option of freezing embryos with donor sperm, which is far more reliable, as we have been freezing embryos for decades. The disadvantage of this option is if you meet Mr. Right and use these embryos because your fertility has declined he will not be the genetic parent.
I applaud you for being aware that this is the time to think about your options because whatever your decision the fact that you addressed it now will leave you with no regrets later on. For more information on preservation, please click here.