Age becomes an issue for 30-something women when they're trying to get pregnant for the first time or for their second (or third child). You're worried about the ever-so-soft ticking of your biological clock, a reminder that your best chances of having a healthy pregnancy and children might be passing you by. It’s a scary thought and something many women today face.
One of the options available to women who may not be ready to start a family or have another kid is have her eggs frozen now. Not everyone is a viable candidate for egg freezing. It depends on several factors including a woman’s age, medical history, and test results from the consultation.
Dr. Virgilio M. Novero, Jr., head of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Medicine and Infertility (CARMI) at St. Luke’s Medical Center – Global City, shares the ideal age for storing eggs is roughly 30 years old.
“Age is a serious consideration for most women who choose to freeze their eggs,” shares Dr. Novero. “In fact, roughly 93.5 percent of our patients come in due to concerns about their age. They want to freeze their eggs while they are still young so as not to limit their choices later on in life. By 38, a woman’s quantity and quality of eggs decreases, but if you were able to store your eggs before that you at least have better options when it comes to getting pregnant.”
However Dr. Novero shares that it’s not just women getting on in years that store their eggs. Egg freezing is also an important option for women who are sick and fearful of how their treatments might affect their reproductive chances. “Women who have cancer and have to undergo chemotherapy also choose to freeze their eggs beforehand. This is just in case the disease or treatment affects their egg production and their ability to get pregnant and have a child in the future.”
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At CARMI women who wish to store their eggs must go through multiple steps. Here is a breakdown of the process:
Step 1: Pre-operative counseling Patients who are interested in freezing their eggs must undergo meticulous evaluation including age, medical history, blood tests, and ultrasound to determine if they are qualified to undergo the procedure. These tests are done under the guidance of fertility experts and once the results are in prospects are discussed with the patients. Depending on patient’s health, these tests can be done in two to three days.
Step 2: Hormone atimulation Depending on the findings from the tests and on clinical characteristics, hormone shots are given to the patient to stimulate egg production. This is usually done over a two-week period. Monitoring is done through hormone tests and scanning of follicle growth. The goal is to stimulate the production of more viable eggs for harvesting.
Step 3: Oocyte or egg retrieval When conditions are ideal (usually two weeks or so after the process begins), the follicles are retrieved by needle-guided ultrasound under sedation. “At CARMI, we use safe hospital monitored sedation which means the procedure is pain-free unlike in some other centers who just anesthesia,” Dr. Novero shares. The retrieval takes roughly 30-60 minutes and is done on an outpatient basis. Once the eggs are retrieved the number of viable eggs is determined and prepared for freezing. The goal is to have 10 healthy viable eggs frozen.
Step 4: Vitrification of eggs The last step is the freezing procedure. All viable eggs will be frozen using a standard rapid cryopreservation procedure called vitrification, the most efficient and safe freezing technique for human eggs. Patients are informed of the number of eggs stored and maintain their eggs with a set annual storage fee of P12,000. St. Luke's assures patients that its storage system, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze eggs, is safe. It will not be affected by power outages or natural calamities. There has never been an incidence of spoilage at CARMI storage facilities, CARMI doctors add.
Egg freezing may not be the cheapest procedure but as far as fertility options go it is the most cost efficient with the highest success rate. In fact, egg freezing is far more cost effective than the traditional fertility procedure in vitro fertilization (IVF). For egg freezing you are looking at roughly P10,000 for testing; the procedure starts at P180,000; and then the annual storage fees, starting at P12,000.
“We are working towards making our prices more competitive and cost efficient,” Dr. Novero said about CARMI’s current rates. “However, women can rest assured that we have all the latest technology at the center comparable to centers abroad and we have the most highly skilled and trained fertility specialists. And of course there is a level of safety knowing your procedure is being done in a hospital. It’s a safe procedure with less than .05 percent chance of complications, but there is still an added layer of safety in a hospital environment.”
At the end of the day, egg freezing is a procedure that gives women a chance at a healthy pregnancy later in life. As Dr. Novero shared it is not an insurance policy but rather an viable option for women who are either getting on in years or suffering from dreaded disease. They can preserve their chances for having a healthy pregnancy and starting a family even when they are older.
Currently in the Philippines third-party IVF is not allowed and eggs must be fertilized by woman’s husband’s sperm. However, should a woman wish to use sperm donation, she may remove her eggs and bring them to a center abroad for cross-border reproduction. They are easily transportable and the center has already done this for some patients.