New egg freezing technology is giving Irish women the chance to buy time for their fertility.
It’s not breaking news to any woman in her thirties that by age 35, the chances of conceiving naturally reduce dramatically. Figures from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have shown that it is after this age that there is a steady decline in the numbers and quality of eggs in the ovaries, which makes for uncomfortable reading for many. In Ireland, the average age of the first time mother is steadily on the increase and a quick study of most of our own peers and friends would show that more often than not, women are waiting until their thirties to start a family.
Getting on the career ladder, the property ladder and becoming financially independent have become priorities for women in this generation, where they were never before. While they haven’t become more important than starting a family, it is a truism in the 21st century that it is often not until our early thirties that we start to think about having babies – after all, we see celebrity after celebrity successfully conceive well into their forties, promoting the ideal standard of delaying motherhood. Geena Davis has just become a mother at 46, Halle Berry gave birth at 42, Nicole Kidman was 41 and Celine Dion also conceived and had a baby at 41.
Most of these high profile women have chosen not to comment on how they conceived, but it’s a fair guess that at least some have used donor eggs. While it may be refreshing to see older women getting pregnant and starting a family strictly on their own terms, for every 40-something celeb sporting a bouncing baby there are many more women facing up to the harsh reality that they may have left it too late.
Now, however, there is an option available to women in Ireland who want to delay motherhood. Still unavailable in the Republic of Ireland (due to heavier regulations by the Irish Medicines Board), egg vitrification is a reality for those attending Origin Fertility Care in Belfast, the first clinic in Ireland to routinely offer egg freezing to those who want to preserve their healthiest, youthful eggs, with a view to starting a family later down the line. It is the first step towards controlling what time of her life a woman can become pregnant, with many women who want to continue their career or those who are currently single choosing to freeze their eggs until the time is right for them. Similarly, women who have been diagnosed with cancer and are about to embark on chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or even facing the trauma of having ovaries removed, can choose this form of what is referred to as ‘suspended animation’ for their fertility options.
Kildare woman Justine McGrath, who became a fertility coach after personally experiencing fertility issues, considers egg freezing as one of the most important factors in giving women more choice over their fertility as research in the area progresses. “Like many women, I felt my career was important in my 20s and I wasn’t even going to think about having kids until my 30s. But if I was made aware of egg freezing it would have been something I would have given serious thought to. Education is the key.” A woman’s fertility is at its highest in her mid 20s, but egg freezing technology means preserving youthful eggs, even as we continue to age.
We already know that implanting younger eggs increases the chances of success when it comes to conceiving – IVF success in an older woman using donor eggs from a younger woman is dependent mainly on the age of the donor – so this leap in treatment offers a brand new set of choices for the woman of today.
The window for egg freezing is not confined just to the twenty-something. Anyone aged 18-36 can avail of the service (at this particular clinic), with exceptional cases outside of this range considered on an individual basis. The eggs themselves can be stored for ten years, possibly longer in some cases. The process of egg freezing begins in a similar way to an ordinary In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) method, by stimulating the ovaries to mature a number of eggs simultaneously. The eggs are then harvested, and evaluated for their individual health
before being frozen. The number of healthy eggs harvested and frozen depends on the age of the woman and her individual response to the treatment, but you can expect anything between one and 20, with an average of 10. “Eggs are then examined by the embryologist to check quality and maturity and only mature eggs are quickly frozen by a process called vitrification,” says Origin’s Managing Director Jenny Hall.
“Frozen eggs are stored in the cryo laboratory in specialist containers called dewars in liquid nitrogen at -180ºC. The initial storage period is 10 years but women can choose to have the eggs thawed for use at any time.” Once frozen, it is simply a matter of choosing the time you would like to start trying for a family. Origin currently has a number of women on their books at various stages of treatment, with the main reasons for egg freezing being social choices – to continue a career, or for women who have no partner at present – as well as women
who have a family history of premature ovarian failure.
The process currently costs from £2,500 (€2,999 approx), including the drugs to stimulate the ovaries, harvesting and freezing. Storage costs an extra £20 (€23.99 approx) per month.
“Attitudes in society may have changed considerably, but the biological facts remain the same,” added Hall. “The longer you leave it the higher the risk of complication
and the less the chances of a successful pregnancy. Egg freezing technology at least ensures that the age of the egg favours you. “The most lost message on women is that it’s the age of the egg that matters, not the age of the woman and we can actually control this.”
If you feel that egg freezing might be for you the staff at Origin would be very pleased to see you. If you would like more information contact the clinic on +44 28 90761713 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. originfertilitycare.com