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A Spike in Egg Freezing Interest in the Era of COVID-19

COVID-19 has upended everyone’s lives and forced people to consider alternative options to all sorts of aspects of life, like education, the workplace, and also the process of conducting fertility treatments.

November 25, 2020
Alisha Chunara

What exactly is the egg freezing process?

Microscopic image of a needle being inserted into an egg
Freezing eggs is considered when women want to delay conceiving children. There are various reasons for delaying, but freezing eggs can ensure women that they can conceive children who share their DNA when they are physically and mentally prepared to raise children. Image courtesy of PBS.

The freezing of eggs, also known as cryopreservation, is a relatively new procedure that tries to achieve the goal of creating a pregnancy and live birth at a time when the fertility of the patient may be compromised. In addition, it has an adequate success rate depending on the woman’s age and the quality of eggs when they are thawed. The procedure involves the beginning of the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, which stimulates the ovaries of a woman in order to produce eggs which are then surgically removed and fast-frozen using a technique called “vitrification.” This technique converts the eggs into a glass-like state, so that they can be thawed and fertilized in a laboratory in the future.

There is a 30% to 60% chance of becoming pregnant after having the defrosted eggs implanted. However, this chance decreases the older the patient gets at the time of the freezing. Therefore, it is recommended that women over the age of 38 carefully evaluate the implications of the egg freezing process, as the condition of their eggs will disintegrate significantly after this age.

There are a couple of reasons why women consider freezing their eggs in general, although in these present times, the health conditions that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic have overwhelmingly been a major reason why women have decided to put their pregnancies on hold and freeze their eggs. Some of those reasons include:     

  • To maintain fertility ahead of other treatments which may affect the ovaries, such as chemotherapy for cancer.
  • To secure eggs before preparing to undergo certain types of surgery, like gender reassignment surgery.
  • To secure eggs due to a pre-existing health condition that affects fertility, like sickle cell anemia and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
  • To prepare to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. (Note: During the IVF process, some people prefer to freeze eggs rather than embryos for ethical or religious reasons).

Furthermore, there are some risks to freezing eggs, like:

  • Negative reactions to fertility drugs, which can be rare, but should be considered. Using fertility drugs that are injectable, like the synthetic follicle-stimulating hormone or luteinizing hormone, can cause ovaries to become swollen and feel agonizing soon after ovulation or egg retrieval, otherwise known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Signs and symptoms of this condition include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Developing a more severe form of the syndrome that can be life-threatening is an even rarer possibility.
  • Complications in the egg retrieval procedure, which can also be rare, but should also be considered. Sometimes, the use of an aspirating needle to retrieve eggs can cause bleeding, infection or damage to the bladder, bowel, or a blood vessel.
  • Effects on mental health, like feeling anxious about the fact that there is no guarantee that egg freezing can definitely help in producing a successful pregnancy.

Now it is time to look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rise in people considering the option of egg freezing.

Why are people thinking about freezing eggs during the COVID-19 epidemic?

Image of blue virus molecules
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many deaths and has compromised the health of countless vulnerable people all around the world. For this reason, it can be valid for people to consider delaying giving birth to children while this disease is ravaging the world population. Image courtesy of Fertility Centers of New England

Fertility clinics have reported that they have received inquiries from women about egg freezing because lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused these women to reflect on their futures as potential mothers, especially given that opportunities to meet potential life partners have been greatly diminished. Basically, these women want to choose the option of “social” egg freezing, which means that these women want to freeze their eggs because of reasons related to their lifestyles rather than their medical conditions. 

In addition, people are scared to conceive the artificial way during the COVID-19 epidemic, as there is not an accessible vaccine available yet to inoculate people against COVID-19. Therefore, because of this fear, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has issued recommendations that fertility clinics should suspend elective surgeries and non-urgent diagnostic procedures (such as ultrasounds or blood work to determine any fertility issues) and the initiation of new cycles of treatments, including intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) and IVF treatments. In addition, ASRM has also advised clinics to consider canceling all transfers of embryos (frozen and fresh). However, women who are already considered “in-cycle,” or are taking ovary-stimulating medication and are in need of imminent retrieval and cryopreservation services, could continue to receive care, as long as there are added precautions and an effort to limit in-person interactions in place at the fertility clinics.

Images of a doctor inserting a test tube into a freezer, a needle inserted into an egg, and a pregnant woman holding her stomach
The process of egg freezing gives some women hope that they can become mothers in the future that they desire. Image courtesy of NBC News Digital.

We do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, or even if it will end. However, life will go on, and it should go on. You should have the opportunity to want to conceive a child on your terms, and at a time when you are prepared, with the help of the process of egg freezing.

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