A woman’s fertility begins to decrease at age 30, according to Pacific NW Fertility. By age 40, the chance of spontaneous pregnancy is less than half of what it was at age 30. That’s why increasing numbers of women are opting to keep their childbearing options open by preserving their eggs.
Called elective fertility preservation, or “egg freezing,” it’s a choice so popular that last year, Pacific NW Fertility (PNWF), which has offices in Seattle and Issaquah, opened the Center for Fertility Preservation to meet the demand from women wanting to freeze their eggs for future pregnancy, essentially pausing the biological clock. According to Julie Lamb, M.D., a specialist in obstetrics/gynecology and fertility at PNWF, success rates for this type of procedure have been improving dramatically over the past decade.
In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine dropped the “experimental” label the process had been carrying, and since then, interest has soared. “I see two to three patients a week who are interested in discussing egg freezing, compared to maybe one a month two years ago,” says Lamb. “The majority of patients that come to see me to discuss elective egg freezing are ages 35 to 40, although from an egg perspective, the success rates are better when you consider this option before then.” The younger a woman is, the better chances her eggs will have of successful eventual implantation, she notes, adding that the center recommends egg freezing for women younger than age 38.
Tech companies have been among the first to embrace egg freezing as an option for their female employees. In 2014, Facebook—and a year later, Apple—began to offer $20,000 toward the cost of egg freezing. The procedure, not typically covered by insurance, costs in the range of $10,000 to harvest eggs, $500 a year to freeze and store them, and then, in a process called in vitro fertilization (IVF), $5,000 to thaw, fertilize and transfer the egg to the uterus.
But despite company benefits and trends such as “egg-freezing parties” (these are events held by doctors or clinics during which women meet fertility specialists and learn about the process), egg freezing is not easy or routine—nor is it recommended for everyone. And because the procedure is so new, there is little data on successful pregnancies. PNWF has one of the few donor banks in the country and some of the highest rates of success, currently counting almost 200 live births from donor eggs.
“As women continue to delay childbearing for educational, professional and personal pursuits, [freezing their eggs] provides them an option to take charge of their fertility,” says Lamb. “It is one of the largest advances in reproductive health since the oral contraceptive.”