Egg harvesting can help you wait for the right time to start a family
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2019
(c) Marc Debnam
There are many and varied reasons for wanting to delay starting a family. The team at Reproductive Health Group in Daresbury are here for you to help you make it happen.
Female fertility drops significantly from the age of 38. For many women today, this draws a line in the sand that there’s no getting past. For women for whom it just isn’t the right time, or who haven’t met the right person yet, or who are facing medical treatment that is likely to damage, or destroy, their fertility, there is a solution – egg freezing.
‘Egg freezing is a treatment that we offer to all women who want to take steps to preserve their fertility until they feel the time is right for them to start a family,’ says Karen Schnauffer, laboratory director at Daresbury-based Reproductive Health Group (RHG) ‘We recommend that women considering the treatment have eggs harvested and frozen before the age of 35, for the best chance of preserving fertility.’
Egg harvesting sounds as if it could be a rather scary process, but actually it’s much more straightforward than I had imagined.
‘First we do some tests,’ says Karen, ‘including a hormone analysis. This allows us to establish exactly what level of hormone stimulation is required to stimulate the follicles to ready themselves to produce eggs.’
I ask for a quick biology lesson at this point, to be sure I fully understand.
‘Females are born with up to 2 million eggs in their ovaries,’ Karen explains. ‘From puberty, each month, should normal processes occur, hormones stimulate the ovaries to ‘wake up’ a number of the follicles within, which each grow in size with an egg ready to be released into the fallopian tube where it could then be inseminated and pregnancy occur. While multiple follicles are made ready to release an egg, only one (or very occasionally two, in the case of fraternal twins) is ever released.
‘We monitor the follicles via ultrasound scan, then when they are at an appropriate size – using a very, very fine needle – we harvest all the follicles there, so collecting multiple eggs from one cycle.’
Freezing the eggs maintains them in a form of suspended animation, you might say, until the woman is ready to start the process of insemination and implantation. It starts in exactly the same way as IVF, in fact, but with a pause between stages as directed by the client. Women can then, when they’re ready, start the next steps content in the knowledge that they have done their best to preserve their fertility.
I ask Karen how long the average gap is, between freezing the eggs and starting the process of insemination.
‘Here it’s around two to three years. I think sometimes that taking that first step triggers the whole thought process, leading women to make the decision to proceed even if they are still not ‘ready’ as they had defined that point previously. We have many clients who return to start the process who haven’t found the perfect partner yet, for example, but decide that’s less important than becoming a mother. We work with them to source the sperm that best suits their characteristics, using a sperm bank.’
It’s a marvellous thing, science. While the success rate using frozen eggs might be fractionally lower than that of standard IVF, it still gives women a higher chance of having a child than they do once they hit 38 and over – nothing can turn back the clock, but this process has to be the perfect back up plan for any woman for whom the time just isn’t right…yet.