Egg freezing buys women time for motherhood

  • Article by: MARTHA ROSS , San Jose Mercury News
  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 5:16 PM

New technology gives women more options for starting a family.

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Containers in a room at the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Clinic in Palo Alto, Calif., where eggs are stored in their cyrogenically frozen state.

Photo: Patrick Tehan, Mct - Mct

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Facing the biological threshold of age 35, when a woman’s fertility takes a steep dive, she went to the California Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco and had 14 eggs removed and frozen for future use.

For Manning, those eggs represent an insurance policy. Even though she’s not sure if she will ever use them. Even though there’s no guarantee any of the eggs will one day provide a baby. Even though she paid dearly for them.

That $12,000, she says, bought peace of mind. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like I can look back years from now and know no matter what happened, that I did what I could,” she said.

Manning is among a small but growing number of women who have seized on advances in “oocyte cryopreservation” to widen the window of time for starting a family.

Over the past decade, clinics that provide reproductive services such as in vitro fertilization have offered egg-freezing to women facing chemotherapy for cancer or other medical issues that could affect their fertility. In the past few years, however, the technology has improved to the point that it’s no longer deemed “experimental,” and clinics have begun touting it as an option for women who delay starting families in order to pursue advanced degrees, build their careers or meet a suitable partner.

“Fifty years ago, women would graduate high school or college, go ahead and have kids and be done with childbearing by age 40,” said Dr. Phillip Chenette of the Pacific Fertility Center. “Now women’s careers are taking off in their 30s, but that’s also the time when fertility is declining in a straight line.”

About half of all women over 40 have fertility problems, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and older eggs carry increased risks of chromosomal abnormalities that can cause miscarriage and birth defects. For this reason, women in this age group have much more success using donor eggs when undergoing in vitro fertilization. Egg-freezing allows women to preserve their eggs for in vitro fertilization, giving them more control over their reproductive futures.

“The technology has come so far that we think it’s like [the introduction of] birth control pills in the 1950s,” said Dr. Mary Hinkley of the Reproductive Science Center in San Ramon, Calif.

Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center works with a gradually increasing number of patients, 50 to 60 over the past year, said Dr. Lynn Westphal. Women who wait until their 40s to bear children face the likelihood that “probably half their eggs will be chromosomally abnormal,” she said. “Any woman in her early 30s who is not sure when she wants to have her children should think about it.”

  • related content

  • Fertility expert Dr. Lynn Westphal says women over 40 face a much higher chance their eggs will be abnormal.

  • EGG-FREEZING Breakdown

    18 to 31

    Age of optimal fertility

    150 percent

    Increase in percentage of women 35-39 having babies since the 1970s

    1 million

    Number of eggs women have at birth

    300,000

    Number of eggs women have at puberty

    Around 1,000 per month

    Number of eggs women lose at age 40

    Source: Dr. Lynn Westphal, Stanford School of Medicine

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