As women, we are often tasked with making complex decisions about our bodies, our health, and our future. Among the myriad of choices, one of the most significant is the decision of whether or not to freeze our eggs. But once you've made the decision and plan to go through the process, you now may be wondering, "What exactly happens to my eggs after I freeze them? Where do they go? How long can they remain frozen?"
Egg freezing, also called oocyte cryopreservation, offers a chance to focus on other stuff now while planning for your future family. But how does it work, and what happens to your precious eggs once they are safely frozen? Let's delve into this fascinating, sometimes bewildering world of fertility preservation.
The egg freezing process: a quick recap
Before we venture further, let's refresh our understanding of the egg freezing process. It starts with hormone injections that stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. These eggs are then retrieved through a minor surgical procedure, and once retrieved, they are immediately frozen in a state-of-the-art laboratory. Following the retrieval and freezing process, your eggs are stored in a secure and carefully monitored cryo-storage facility.
Egg freezing and preservation
Vitrification is a newer and more effective method of freezing eggs that has largely replaced older methods such as slow freezing. With vitrification, eggs are quickly frozen using a high concentration of cryoprotectants and then plunged into liquid nitrogen for storage. This process creates a glass-like state that preserves the eggs in a nearly perfect condition. In fact, vitrification ensures a very high rate of survival of the eggs, typically 95% or above.
Compared to slow freezing, which can damage the eggs and reduce their viability, vitrification has a higher success rate of producing healthy embryos for later use. It has become the preferred method of egg freezing for most fertility clinics and has allowed more patients to successfully preserve their fertility.
If you have any doubts about your clinic, you can ask them what type of method they use for egg freezing. It's important to do your research and choose a reputable fertility clinic with experience in vitrification if you're considering egg freezing.
Long-term storage and monitoring
Once the eggs are frozen, they are stored in liquid nitrogen. Some clinics keep those frozen eggs stored at an onsite lab, but in most cases they are shipped to an offsite facility. As soon as you’re ready to use them, they can be safely shipped back.
In either case, the frozen eggs' care doesn't end at storage. They are monitored regularly to ensure the liquid nitrogen levels remain constant, and the facility's temperature control and security systems are working correctly. A well-maintained facility prioritizes meticulous record-keeping, tracking the storage duration and any other pertinent details about each egg.
Cofertility members can take advantage of our partnership with TMRW Life Sciences, a fertility technology company that has developed the world's first automated solution for storing and managing frozen eggs and embryos.
TMRW's technology platform digitally identifies, tracks, monitors and stores patients' frozen eggs and embryos with safety, accuracy, efficiency and transparency. TMRW's platform sets a new standard of care by reducing potential points of failure by 94% compared with manual systems.
So what is TMRW doing differently?
- Digital labeling - instead of handwritten labels, TMRW uses digital labeling and RFID tracking. With this tracking system, clinics always know exactly where your eggs and embryos are and can easily find them when you’re ready to use them.
- Automated management - instead of relying on manual processes, TMRW has a new fully-automated digital system that helps eliminate 94% of potential failure points
- Real-time inventory - TMRW has gone the extra mile by creating a 24/7 cloud-based monitoring system with real-time inventory updates to provide new levels of safety, transparency, and peace of mind.
- Active monitoring - TMRW provides 24/7 digital monitoring (thousands of daily checks!) and expert human oversight to identify potential issues before they become a problem.
Will my eggs survive the thaw?
Several factors can impact the success of egg thawing, including your age when the eggs are frozen, the number and quality of the eggs, the technique used to freeze the eggs, and the quality of the clinic’s laboratory.
The quality of the eggs is also a crucial factor in egg thawing. Good quality eggs have a higher chance of survival and fertilization. However, even with good quality eggs, there is no guarantee of success, and the process may need to be repeated to achieve pregnancy.
If and when you decide to use them
When you decide the time is right to use your frozen eggs, they are thawed in the lab using a warming solution.
But keep in mind that thawing is just the first part. The eggs will then need to be fertilized with sperm and grown into embryos. The surviving eggs are then fertilized using a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm is injected directly into each egg.
After fertilization, the resulting embryos are monitored for a few days as they begin to develop. The most viable embryos are then transferred to your uterus in a procedure similar to a pap smear. If successful, the embryo implants in your uterus and grows, leading to pregnancy.
Generally, the younger you are when freezing your eggs, the better the chances of success. Eggs frozen in your late 20s or early 30s have a higher chance of survival and successful fertilization compared to those frozen in your late 30s or 40s.
If you decide NOT to use them
What if, down the line, you decide not to use your eggs, or you have more than you need?
One study of egg freezing patients at UCSF found that 89% believed they would be glad they froze their eggs, even if they never used them to conceive a child. So if you don't end up needing your frozen eggs down the line, there are a few options for what to do with them.
- Keep them in storage. Most storage facilities offer long-term storage options (our partnership with TMRW includes plans up to 10-years long), allowing you to keep your eggs frozen for as many years as necessary. This may be a good option if you're not yet ready to use the eggs but want to keep them as a backup plan.
- Donate the eggs to someone else who may need them. Egg donation is a process of donating eggs to another person or couple who needs them, such as LGBTQ+ families or those suffering from infertility. This can be a wonderful gift for those who may not be able to have a child otherwise. If you go through our Split program, you will have already been cleared as a donor and can easily donate these additional eggs. If you’re not part of the Split program but think you may be interested in this down the line, talk to your doctor as they may be able to do some additional donor-related screening during your egg freezing process.
- Dispose of them. If you decide that you no longer need your frozen eggs and don't want to continue storing them or donate them, simply request that they are disposed of by the clinic or storage facility.
- Donate to science. Many research studies rely on donated eggs to investigate new techniques and treatments for infertility. Ask your clinic if this is an option.
Aside from the practical aspects, it's important to acknowledge the emotional journey involved in egg freezing. It's normal to feel a mix of emotions – relief, hope, anxiety, or even sadness. Know that these feelings are common and valid. Don't hesitate to seek support, be it from a trusted friend, family member, a professional counselor, or the Cofertility community.
Summing it up
The journey of your eggs from freezing to potential future use is complex and exciting, underscored by sophisticated science and meticulous care. Deciding to freeze your eggs can be an empowering choice, giving you autonomy over your fertility and future family planning. Knowing what happens to your eggs after freezing them can provide comfort and clarity as you navigate your fertility journey.
In the end, egg freezing is an investment in your future, offering an opportunity to expand your family when the time is right for you. It's a testament to the advancements in reproductive science and a tool for you to take control of your fertility. Trust in the process, seek support when needed, and above all, know that your choices are valid, and your feelings are heard. After all, the journey to parenthood, in whatever form it takes, is a voyage of hope, love, and extraordinary potential.
If you’re ready to freeze your eggs, we’re here to help. Reach out or learn more about our Freeze program.