How egg freezing is catching up among Indian women

Maya (name changed), a 32-year-old IT professional in Gurugram, did not foresee herself getting married till she found the right companion, but wanted to ensure she could have a baby if she wished to at a later date. One of her colleagues told her about egg freezing and Maya decided to enquire about it at a fertility clinic. She completed the formalities and went for it this year.

For some it’s empowerment, for others career demands, late marriage, decision to delay having a child, or a medical condition, but egg freezing—a process wherein a woman’s eggs are extracted, frozen and preserved, allowing her to have a child later—has broken taboos and is gradually emerging as a viable option for many women in India. “Egg freezing allows women to postpone pregnancy until a later stage and gives them a reproductive choice wherein their biological clock doesn’t come in the way of having a child,” says Dr Gunjan Sabherwal, fertility expert at Nova Southend IVF and Fertility, Gurugram. She says she gets five to seven queries about egg freezing every month, which indicates that more women are open to the idea than before.

Called oocyte cryopreservation in medical terms, egg freezing is a fertility preservation option wherein eggs are extracted after prior stimulation of the ovaries and cryopreserved for use later. This is to ensure that the woman can bear her own genetic offspring whenever she wants. As fertility declines by the time a woman turns 35 and significantly reduces by 40, the best age to freeze one’s eggs is in the late twenties or early thirties.

Doctors say peak fertility is in the early twenties when pregnancy rates are approximately 25 per cent each month. “For women in their thirties, pregnancy declines to 15 per cent each month, and by the time they are entering their forties, pregnancy rates are, on an average, 5 per cent per month. While early menopause and premature ovarian failure can also affect egg supply, egg freezing ensures women will be able to use their own eggs and have biological children later,” says Dr Manju Nair, clinical director, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru.

Eggs become less abundant after a woman attains the age of 35, and by 40, the likelihood of miscarriage is about 45 per cent. By the time she is 45, the risk of miscarriage is as high as 75 per cent. Early egg freezing increases the likelihood of having a healthy baby later, say doctors. “Studies suggest women who freeze their eggs before the age of 35 have a higher probability of becoming pregnant than those who do it later,” says Dr Nair. “This is because the likelihood of a successful pregnancy increases with the number of eggs that are collected and frozen.”

The frozen eggs are considered to be usable for up to 10 years. The procedure, though, is quite expensive at the moment—Rs 1.5 lakh and upwards. There is an entire screening process as well before a woman can go for it. The mandatory screening consists of an ovarian reserve test to determine the quality and quantity of eggs produced by a woman, besides a few routine tests, including thyroid profile and haeomoglobin, and screening for infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Many women, while interested, are wary about the success rate. But doctors say the procedure has become more effective with medical technological developments. “Flash freezing or vitrification is now more likely to be done for the eggs to survive thawing at a later time,” says Dr Rita Bakshi, founder, Risaa IVF, New Delhi. “The eggs are frozen so swiftly that damaging ice crystals don’t get a chance to develop.”

The stimulation of ovaries, follicular monitoring (including blood tests) and egg retrieval are the three basic aspects of egg freezing. A minimally invasive process is used to harvest the mature eggs and the extracted eggs are immediately frozen for future use. “Similar to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), where ovaries are stimulated with hormone injections for 7 to 10 days to create eggs and hasten their ripening, ovarian stimulation and monitoring of the follicles are carried out. Follicles are routinely checked during the stimulation phase through ultrasound and blood tests, and the patient is given a medicine a day before the harvesting to induce ovulation,” says Dr Bakshi.

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