Information from an expert about your ferility timeline.
Millennials are planning their families at an earlier age without sacrificing their careers thanks to a safe, less invasive cryopreservation (egg freezing) process called Oocyte Vitrification. Many young, professional women in the United States have grown up with the idea that they can have it all, and this dream is finally becoming reality.
Having a successful career, fulfilling marriage, and adoring kids used to be virtually impossible. For many ambitious young women, post-graduate years were once spent acquiring wealth, pursuing success, and finding Mr. Right while delaying the start of their family well into their 30’s. Unfortunately, while our culture viewed this as an acceptable family planning strategy, our biology does not.
Physically, we haven’t changed much since ancient times. However, our female ancestors commonly gave birth to their first children while in their teenage years! Young mothers would have more childbearing years, giving birth to more children in the hopes that a few would survive childhood disease and reach adulthood. Today, the average age for the first child in the United States has increased from 21.4 in 1970 to 26+ as of 2013. The birth rate for women 30-34 years old is up 21% and a staggering 70% for 40-44 year-olds. Societal changes have have made waiting longer to start a family highly desirable while our technology has made it possible. Freezing young, healthy eggs via cryopreservation has changed the way women can plan their family and direct the course of their future.
It’s common knowledge that as women age, their chances of getting pregnant decreases and their risk of a miscarriage rises. Statistical data from the Center for Disease Control reveals that fertility rates for healthy women aged 20-29 are ~10-25% per month but only 5% for women over 40. Similarly, miscarriage rates are 5-10% for women in their 20’s and rise to 33% for women in their early forties. Finally, disorders like Down’s syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities occur in about 1 out of every 1200 pregnancies for women in their twenties. That number for women in their forties? 1 out of 38.
These eye-opening facts demonstrate what happens to eggs as they sit in the ovaries as we age. Women have all the eggs they will ever produce in their body at the time they are born, about 1 to 2 million eggs. Throughout her lifetime, a woman naturally loses these eggs and by the time she reaches puberty, only has ~400,000 eggs left. Women will then lose up to 1000 eggs per month for the rest of their reproductive lives.
To make matters worse, those fewer eggs that are left as a woman ages will dramatically decrease in health, viability, and genetic vitality over time. Recent studies show that about 60%-80% of a woman’s eggs are healthy between 20-29 years of age, but this figure plummets to 10%-20% by age 40. his high percentage of abnormal eggs explains why women who are older have more difficulty getting pregnant, experience miscarriage more often, and have a greater chance of having babies with chromosomal disorders.
So, what is a young woman to do? Have children when it’s physically optimal even though she’s not ready, wants to focus on a career, or isn’t financially prepared? Maybe she should just roll the dice and hope that she will be one of the very fortunate older women who retain genetic viability and enough healthy eggs while also pursuing a fulfilling career and after finding “Mr. Right”?
For a long time, yes. Thankfully, this is no longer necessarily the case thanks to the scientific marvel of cryopreservation. An alternative that should be considered by ANY young woman is the choice to freeze her eggs while young and keep them for the future. Advancements in medical science have made the process of egg freezing so noninvasive and affordable that it’s now a commonly used way for women to always have the option of starting a family. The most successful way to freeze eggs today is a revolutionary process called Oocyte Vitrification. Once eggs are vitrified, they are likely to be viable for decades. With cryopreservation, eggs can be frozen when a young woman will have the lowest chance of chromosomal problems and her vitrified eggs would then be available for her use whenever she decides the time is right.
Freezing eggs is not without a certain amount of risk and cost. The egg freezing process requires a woman to go through the initial steps of an In Vitro Fertilization cycle. She will have to take medicine to stimulate growth of her follicles and rescue many of the eggs that would normally undergo atresia. She will require an egg retrieval procedure to remove them from the follicles. Finally, not all eggs will survive the thawing/warming process. These procedures can cost about $10K-$15K, but this price is decreasing over time and is now covered by several company health insurance plans. Despite the cost, frozen eggs tucked away in cryostorage can be more valuable than anything else in the world. They provide a great reproductive option for young women who want children in the future and sometimes, a life-changing safety net for women who decide this later in life. Finally, women of the millennial generation have that choice...whether Mr. Right has appeared or not.
“An alternative that should be considered by any young woman is the choice to freeze her eggs while young and keep them for the future.”
This article is an updated version of "Young, Hip & not Ready for Kids: Oocyte Vitrification written by Marlane Angle, PhD. in the Spring/Summer issue of Lane Fertility Magazine.
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