Troubling truth about egg freezing: Its expensive and medically risky

Troubling truth about egg freezing: Its expensive and medically risky

Next month, during a rare break from her frenetic career as a violinist, Linzi Stoppard will begin the gruelling preparations required to have her eggs frozen.

Daily hormone injections will shut down her ovaries. Then, further injections will cause what is known as 'hyper-ovulation'. Instead of producing one or two mature follicles - fluid-filled sacs located inside the ovaries - she will produce dozens.

A final injection will be given to mature them. After around four weeks of treatment, Linzi, 31, will be sedated while an embryologist harvests around ten healthy eggs using an ultrasound probe and places them in a tank of liquid nitrogen, stored at -195C until such time as she needs them.

'It's a back-up plan for the future, if we find we struggle to conceive naturally when the time is right,' is the way Linzi and her husband, Will, look at it. If she cannot conceive naturally when the 'right time' comes, she hopes that doctors can use her stored, younger eggs and help her to conceive using IVF.

But when that 'right time' might be is anyone's guess. Linzi has already been married for six years to Will, 37, the son of playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, but having seen her career as an electric violinist with the rock band Fuse suddenly take off, babies are not yet on her agenda.

'I just can't imagine there being a window in the next few years when we could try for a baby,' she says.

If her attitude to motherhood seems somewhat blase, then Linzi's story is far from unusual. According to British fertility experts this week, evidence suggests that growing numbers of women are seeking to put motherhood on ice, either so they can focus on their careers or because they simply haven't yet found Mr Right.

Eight out of ten women interviewed by the NHS-run Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine said they would be prepared to fork out the average £4,000 required to pay for the procedure so they could delay starting a family and focus instead on reaching the top of their professions.

While egg freezing for medical reasons such as cancer is funded by the NHS, egg freezing for lifestyle purposes is not. And this week, delegates at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's annual conference heard that growing numbers of women in their 30s and 40s are freezing their eggs to 'take pressure off the search for the right partner'.

Just as the Pill revolutionised the lives of women from the Sixties onwards, human egg cryopreservation could change the face of fertility in Britain today, it is claimed.

Some experts even say that in the next 40 years having eggs frozen could become as commonplace as having a smear test.

Lucy Sutton, 36, a PR consultant from West London, had her eggs frozen in March 2008 at London's private Bridge Fertility Centre, at a cost of £5,000. It costs £110 a year to keep them frozen.

'It wasn't that I picked my career over meeting Mr Right,' she insists. 'He just hasn't shown up yet. I think there are lots of women out there like me. We don't want to settle for second best

During her 20s, Lucy assumed that she could have a baby whenever she wanted. Gradually, as she entered her 30s, it dawned on her that time was running out.

'I think women get fooled by looking at pictures of older celebrities having their first baby. Biologically, your fertility massively declines in your 30s.'

The six-week procedure she underwent was not a pleasant experience; daily injections of ovulation drugs which caused water retention, hot flushes and weight gain; a series of vaginal ultrasound scans and blood tests to monitor the developing eggs. Only then were the eggs harvested under general anaesthetic.

'After the cycle of treatment I felt drained,' she admits. 'It took everything out of me.'

The irony is, of course, that she hopes never to have to use them. She admits: 'I still hope I'll be lucky enough to meet someone and have a child naturally, but this just takes the pressure off meeting someone.'

Since under going the procedure two years ago, she has had a few relationships, but still no one serious enough to consider having children with. But she insists that, thanks to egg freezing, the ticking of her biological clock has quietened.

'I feel really relaxed about my fertility now,' she says.

The origins of cryopreservation in fertility treatment go back to the late Sixties, with experiments on mice.

The first successful pregnancy from a frozen egg occurred in 1986, in Australia. But while the procedure was developed by doctors to help cancer patients and women at risk of an early menopause, more and more women flocking to Britain's 45 registered fertility clinics are doing so for social reasons.

Many are either ageing singletons who haven't yet found a partner, or career women who want to delay motherhood but fear the decline of their fertility.

In reality, of course, egg freezing offers no guarantees to women who want to delay motherhood. The procedure is still relatively new and the UK's first birth from a frozen, thawed egg was less than ten years ago.

According to figures held by independent regulator, The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), around 6,000 eggs have been stored in the UK, from which around 150 embryos have been created.

These embryos resulted in just five live births.

A woman's best chance of having a baby remains in trying to conceive before her 35th birthday.


Read more: Article 1st July 2010

Read more about egg donationand IVF

Posted: 01/07/2010 10:25:13


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