Many women worry about their biological clock ticking. Some have delayed pregnancy for career related reasons while there are other who want to wait to find the right partner to raise a family with. Egg freezing or oocyte cryopreservation has given a new hope to women who think of planning a family at a later stage in their life.
Egg freezing, also known as human oocyte cryopreservation, is a process of extracting a woman’s eggs and preserving them. The frozen eggs, in the future, can be thawed, fertilized as embryo(s) and transferred to the uterus. This procedure was at first introduced for the women diagnosed with diseases for which the treatment can be fertility reducing, such as cancer. However, this is now seen as a recourse by many to preserve the ability to have children.
While sperm freezing has been around for several decades, the process of egg freezing has gained huge popularity in India in the last few years, as many women are exploring this option which gives them the opportunity of delaying childbirth. Dr. Rita Bakshi, founder and chairperson of International Fertility Centre says that “Hundreds of clinics have come up in India with an option of Egg Freezing. These clinics offer counseling to people before opting for this process, give them plenty of clinical information, and help the couple to deal with mental health wobbles”. Moreover, celebrities like Sofia Vergara, Kim Kardashian and ex – miss India Diana Haydon have attracted people’s attention and familiarized them with this concept.
While assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Egg freezing increase the options for women to counter the biological clock, we must understand the drawbacks associated with it. Besides the whole process being hard on the pocket, the success rate isn’t 100 %. Only 70 – 80% of the extracted eggs survive and the chances of having viable pregnancies are just 30 – 35%. In a research it was reported that out of 18,000 eggs frozen in Britain till 2012, only 580 embryos were formed which eventually generated only 20 live births.
Although the treatment is a boon for infertile couples, the journey is tough. Women who opt for ART have to face physical and psychological stress as the process is unpredictable and repetitive. In an estimated of 1.5 million IVF procedures in the world each, 1.2 million fail. Coping with infertility failure can be distressing and many tend to suffer from depression and post – traumatic stress disorder. Moreover, the hormones which women inject while undergoing egg retrieval can affect their health in a long run, as well as the chemical used in the freezing process are absorbed by eggs and can be toxic to cell development. Furthermore, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine or ASRM practice committee has advised against the procedure as “there was still not enough known about the egg freezing procedure’s safety, efficacy, cost – effectiveness, and emotional risks”. They also state that the technique is to be used to simplify egg donation and “marketing this technology to defer childbearing may give women false hope and encourage delay in childbearing”.
Despite all the pros and cons, the procedure is gaining immense popularity in urban India. Many women have not found their partner or are too busy working and want to delay having a child. Meanwhile, many men are freezing their sperm to help conception. The option of egg freezing has become widely available only in the last two years. Before that it was an experimental procedure and even today we have limited data on Indian women. And egg freezing is expensive and an invasive procedure compared to sperm freezing. In India, there is also a social stigma associated with egg freezing. IVF has been accepted widely, but egg freezing has not gained approval or social acceptability in India.
Limitations are always there. Even after you freeze your eggs early, you have to get your IVF cycle done before you turn 45-years-old.