More women are freezing their eggs - here’s how the process works

Tthe pandemic has led to more women seeking out fertility services (Photo: Shutterstock)Tthe pandemic has led to more women seeking out fertility services (Photo: Shutterstock)
Tthe pandemic has led to more women seeking out fertility services (Photo: Shutterstock)

Fertility clinics across the UK have seen a surge in demand for egg freezing, after the pandemic has restricted the public’s ability to date.

The lack of dating options amid the ongoing health crisis, which has placed strict restrictions on social gatherings, appears to have prompted women to consider their options as they look ahead to the future.

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Doubled in demand

The anxiety and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has led to more women seeking out fertility services, with some clinics seeing interest increase by 50 per cent over the summer.

The London Women’s Clinic - which also operates in other areas including Darlington, Cardiff and Bristol - said interest was up to 30 per cent higher than anticipated.

Elsewhere, The Harley Street Fertility Clinic also saw inquiries rise by 20 per cent, while IVF London said the number of women seeking to freeze their eggs had doubled over the last few months.

Anya Sizer, from Fertility Network UK, told The Telegraph, “The whole uncertainty within the pandemic plays into the uncertainty felt by people experiencing infertility.

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“With egg freezing that plays into: 'What's life about? What's my purpose? What do I want?' Life is ticking by - all of those emotions. The pandemic has exacerbated that."

The majority of women who have chosen to freeze their eggs have so far all been single, according to Joyce Harper, professor of reproductive science at University College London. She said that many have wanted to have children now but have not yet met the right partner. The pandemic has hindered their chances of meeting that person.

How does egg freezing work?

The process of freezing eggs can cost thousands of pounds at a private clinic, as the treatment is not available on the NHS.

The treatment is often used by women who are not ready to become pregnant at the moment, but want to ensure they can get pregnant at a later date. The process has multiple steps, including ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval and freezing.

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Women must take synthetic hormones to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, rather than the single eggs that typically develops monthly. This may involve injecting medication, such as follitropin alfa or beta (Follistim AQ, Gonal-f) or menotropins (Menopur).

Egg retrieval is then done under sedation, typically in at a doctor's surgery or clinic, and the most common approach is transvaginal ultrasound aspiration, during which an ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina to identify the follicles.

A needle is then guided through the vagina and into a follicle, and the egg is removed using a suction device connected to the needle. Multiple eggs can be removed, with studies showing that the more eggs retrieved - up to 15 per cycle - the better the chances of conception.

Unlike with fertilized egg freezing (embryo cryopreservation), egg freezing doesn't require sperm because the eggs aren't fertilized before they're frozen.

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After the unfertilized eggs are harvested, they are cooled to subzero temperatures to preserve them for future use. The makeup of an unfertilized egg makes it a bit more difficult to freeze and lead to a successful pregnancy than it does compared to the makeup of a fertilized egg (embryo).

The chances of becoming pregnant after implantation are roughly 30 to 60 percent, depending on your age at the time of egg freezing. The older you are at the time of egg freezing, the lower your likelihood of becoming pregnant in the future.

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