Delayed motherhood made easy through egg freezing
For women choosing to defer motherhood, there has never been a more liberating option. Ovary or egg cell banks are here to assist those who are bent on beating the biological clock. Oocyte Cryopreservation (Egg Freezing) is a concept which is aimed particularly at women who plan a baby at a later stage in their life. Egg freezing helps their future ability to have children. It also provides more fertility chances for women who are under radiation therapy for cancer or are facing a medical or surgical treatment to the ovaries. This offers a chance for them to preserve their eggs to ensure having children in their future, in the likelihood that eggs decline in both quality and quantity as they age.
With the option to fertilize limited number of eggs, the process of retrieving the eggs is the same as that for IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) which is conducted under anesthesia. On an average, a woman ovulates one egg monthly and hormones are injected to ensure multiple formations of oocytes during the process. The eggs are monitored with the help of ultrasound and hormone testing to ensure good quality. During egg freezing, ovum retrieval takes place and the ovum is stored at the bank. It is an invasive process under short General Anesthesia and the egg can be stored for multiple years. The number of years the egg can survive depends largely on the quality of the freezing system. Chances of conception vary between 10% and 15%. Once the egg has been stored for five years, it is needed to be reviewed before further storage. The process takes 10-15 days from injecting hormones to stimulate ovulation, egg retrieval and preservation at minus 196 degree Celsius for future use. During egg freezing, a woman has also to go through the entire process of egg retrieval, banking and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection).
Initially egg freezing was used for medical reasons where women suffering from diseases like cancer used to freeze their eggs before going in for chemotherapy, which affects the ovulation process. However, this technique is now being used for lifestyle reasons too. Women in their mid- to late-twenties are taking recourse to the method that lets them focus on their careers, without having to bother about the perils of a late conception. Or, worry about turning infertile by the time they are ready for pregnancy. Those afflicted with a disease that could lead to infertility are opting for it as well. Since the motherhood age coincides with the time when their careers are taking off, women face a dilemma. They are often scared of late conception and force themselves into motherhood even if they are not ready for it. Many women presently face Polycystic ovarian syndrome which may hamper the quality of the egg. To avoid complications in future, they opt for egg freezing. Now, with egg banking, many are deferring pregnancies to early, even mid or late-thirties.
The option of egg freezing has made ground breaking advancements in India and this technology has gained acceptance and momentum among Indian women. Although it is not a popular technique yet, the trend will increase in a few years. Gone are the days where egg freezing was limited only to celebrities or the elite. It has now become a universal concept where all women can resort to egg freezing. The cost of egg freezing in India can vary from centre to center for egg banking system. This procedure is available in India in a few multi specialty hospitals for IVF’s.
For women this is a life altering decision due to the challenges they face while making a living, attaining career goals, finding a suitable partner and childbearing. This is a social choice as it can be interpreted as another form of family planning for women or couples. This must benefit them and further the development of future life plans as women continue to try and balance the demands of work, family and love, an increasing number may find an unlikely ally in technology.
The writer is Dr. Swarnalatha, Consultant Gynecologist, Apollo Cradle, Bengaluru.