We spoke with Caitriona McPartlin to find out everything there is to know about egg freezing – from age to costs to success rates
Women's priorities are changing.
In decades past, it seemed a biological time bomb was ticking for women and their reproductive systems. Having children was time-dependent and women may have felt under pressure to have children before a certain age threshold passed — regardless of whether she felt ready. But, with the progress of science and reproductive laws in Ireland, things are changing.
In the past 10 years, egg freezing has quickly become a feasible option when it comes to family planning. More and more women are freezing their eggs for personal, social and health reasons. It's easy to forget that egg freezing is a relatively new medical concept and we are still learning about the process and the aftermath.
We spoke to Caitriona McPartlin, the Chief Operating Officer of IVF and fertility clinic ReproMed, to discover everything there is to know about egg freezing.
"It's a procedure that a female can undergo to basically preserve some of her eggs until a time that she wants to or is able to use them in order to have a baby in the future."
Who is getting it done?
"There's a couple of different cohorts of people doing it. There are people who may feel they have to do it because of a medical reason — for example, if they were undergoing treatment for cancer. The other one is people doing it for a social reason, which is women wanting to defer having children until it is suitable for them a little later in life.
We are seeing an increase in demand here in ReproMed. The numbers of women freezing their eggs with us has doubled year on year steadily since 2015. This is partly due to increased media coverage about it. It also helps that VHI offer it as a benefit for some of their members. This is being further bolstered by some companies starting to offer it for their female employees."
"First off, it begins with a medical consultation with one of our doctors and some basic tests to make sure the woman is an appropriate candidate for the procedure. Approximately 10 or so days of medication (normally injections) is taken to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, rather than the individual egg that we normally develop each month during our menstrual cycle.
Eggs are then retrieved during a minor out-patient procedure in our clinic, under sedation.
The eggs are then assessed in our lab and prepped for rapid freezing (or vitrification). Vitrification of the eggs rather than slow freezing allows the eggs to be preserved while minimising any damage being caused to the integrity or viability of the egg. Eggs are kept in storage in our clinic for the woman until such a time that she wants or is able to use them in the future.
When she wants to use them, they are thawed and we carry out ICSI (similar to IVF) in order to fertilise them and attempt a pregnancy."
Are there physical and mental effects?
"Physically, it is difficult to inject yourself and to choose to undergo any type of procedure even though this is a really simple procedure – it typically lasts 10 minutes – you need to be comfortable with your choice and doing it for the right reasons. Women recover very quickly — most are ok to go to work the next day."
"There is the mental aspect of why are they doing this and are they doing it for the right reasons. Are they freezing their eggs because they have no choice or are they freezing their eggs because they are truly taking control of their own lives? If women are fully informed about what is involved and are entirely comfortable with their decision, that really minimises the mental impact of it."
The success rate
"It depends on so many different factors. It is quite complicated. When freezing eggs we would expect when we thaw the eggs that between 90 and 95% of them will survive. It depends massively on what age the woman was when she froze her eggs. The younger the woman was when she froze her eggs, the better the chances at success. If you froze your eggs at 25, you have a better chance at a successful live birth using those eggs than you do using the eggs that were frozen at the age of 40."
What percentage of women return to use their eggs after they have been frozen
"Because the process is relatively new, not a lot of women have come back. Our clinic stats from last year showed only three women came back and used the eggs they had frozen previously. I would imagine this number is similar across all clinics. Very few are coming back to use them, yet. We might see a surge in people coming back in the next five years for whom we froze eggs for in 2016 and 2017. Or they could let us know that they don't want to keep their eggs frozen anymore because they have had a baby or they have decided they don't want to use them."
"It costs €3,000 for the treatment. Some VHI members can get a fertility benefit which will take €1,000 off of the price. There are also storage fees every year, and a fee when you come back to actually use the eggs."
Advice to women
"Educate yourself even before you get to the consultation so you know what kind of answers you need in order to get comfortable with the process. Be aware of the costs also. Be realistic about your expectations and when you expect to use your eggs. Think about all the outcomes — if you are single, and don't meet a partner, would you be then ok to use donor sperm, etc."
"At what point will you decide that you don't want them frozen any longer and would you be happy to let them thaw or for us to dispose of them? Also, be aware that just because you freeze your eggs it isn't a guarantee that it will give you a baby on the other side. We are always very honest with our parents about the fact that there are no guarantees."
To find about more about egg freezing visit www.repromed.ie or visit your GP.
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