In a recent interview with Allure Magazine, actress Jennifer Aniston opened up about her fertility struggles, shining a light on fertility preservation. However, questions linger around options, and how they work.
Bethesda Fertility Center Medical Director Kasey Reynolds, M.D., FACOG, says fertility preservation is like an insurance policy. If a patient and her partner aren’t ready to start a family, or a woman is entering her late 30s, the process of freezing eggs and embryos for later use offers more options and a better chance to conceive than if a patient is in her 40s.
“Preservation has become more popular. Increasingly, people are delaying childbearing—for social flexibility, to further their education, and other reasons. Celebrities are more vocal, and it’s becoming more common for primary care physicians to initiate those conversations as well, which helps combat misinformation and a general lack of awareness,” says Reynolds. “This is important as age is a key factor when deciding.”
Bethesda Fertility Center offers resources and treatments for patients as they consider starting a family—now or in the future.
Age is important for egg retrieval, not carrying a child
Reynolds says carrying a baby isn’t about the woman’s age, it’s about the age of the egg. If an egg was retrieved when a woman was age 30, later in life, she can typically carry the child to term if she’s a healthy adult.
The ideal age for egg retrieval is between the ages of 30 and 37. At age 37 Reynolds says there’s a drastic drop in viable eggs and an even steeper decline after age 40.
What is the process?
Typically, women receive two weeks of hormone injections to stimulate the eggs. Afterward, they schedule a 15-minute noninvasive, outpatient procedure to extract the eggs from the ovaries. The number of eggs retrieved varies from patient to patient, but Reynolds says the average is 15 to 20.
From there, the eggs are frozen as-is or fertilized to form embryos, which are then frozen for later use.
“I tell patients eight to 10 eggs are usually needed to safely equal one baby,” says Reynolds. “Humans are biologically inefficient at reproducing. There is no pregnancy guarantee, but freezing 20 eggs or so is typically sufficient.”
Freezing embryos vs. eggs
If a patient decides only to freeze the eggs, there’s a 70 percent chance that the egg will withstand the thawing process. Embryos, eggs retrieved and fertilized by either donor sperm or a partner’s sperm, have a better outlook.
“Historically, embryos have more chance of surviving,” says Reynolds. “Embryos are closely studied using well-practiced technology with a survival rate above 97 to 98 percent. Here at Bethesda Fertility Center, one benefit we offer patients is having the Reproductive Studies Lab on site.”
While eggs cannot be genetically tested, patients can choose to test embryos for diseases such as cystic fibrosis to better understand the embryos’ viability. Recently, Reproductive Studies Lab Director Pradeep Warikoo, Ph.D., introduced a new technology for testing embryos while they’re developing that allows staff to monitor the embryo through a camera without removing it from the incubator.
It’s an option for a variety of situations
“We see patients in all walks of life,” says Reynolds. “Some are single, in a relationship, or undergoing medical treatments. Often, the common thread between them is that they are not yet ready to start a family, but they know it will be a priority for them in the future.”
While much of the mainstream media attention on fertility preservation focuses on women who want to delay childbearing for social reasons, fertility preservation for medical reasons is also a significant factor. Cancer treatments and other medical procedures can be toxic to a patient’s future fertility for both males and females.
“In this case, we can offer patients the option to very quickly undergo the fertility preservation cycle, so they can start treatment knowing they still have a range of options to have a family in the future,” Reynolds says.
How to make an appointment
If you’re ready to take your first step to fertility preservation or want to set up an appointment with one of Bethesda Fertility Center’s two physicians—Kasey Reynolds, M.D., FACOG, and Isela Molina Robertshaw, M.D., FACOG—visit the Bethesda Fertility Center website or call the office at (513) 865-1675.