Why at the age of 29 I decided to freeze my eggs

Written by Dr Nikki Goldstein
06 Aug

Nikki Goldstein, 31, chose to freeze her eggs two years ago. Here she tells the reasons why.

This article first appeared in Fairfax media July 2017

I was 29 when I froze my eggs. I was researching for my new book and interviewed a fertility specialist. The facts were laid out in front of me and it was like a revelation hit.

I realised that, even at my age and with the current technology, I may only have a 40 per cent chance that my eggs would survive to make a baby.

For me, it became about planning for an uncertain future. Freezing my eggs meant I’d have more options. Younger eggs are better and would give me a better chance of pregnancy in the future. I thought why not freeze my eggs now and then I won’t feel rushed. I didn’t want to be dating guys and thinking ‘is he the one’ because my biological clock was ticking. I didn’t want to feel pressured to settle down and end up with the wrong guy.

The process of freezing my eggs was very much the first part of IVF. I had to inject drugs to stimulate my follicles for egg growth and was scanned to see their success. The experience was fascinating and made me feel very connected with my fertility. I remember looking at the screen when I was being scanned and thinking ‘could that be my future children?’. 

My doctor wanted me to be awake for my egg retrieval because she felt it would be interesting for me, and it was. I was given some drugs to help me relax and then was put in stirrups so the doctor could retrieve the eggs. Other than a bit of pressure during the retrieval, it was pain free. I got to watch the doctor draining each follicle on the screen and then watched the embryologist taking the test tube over to the incubator to check for eggs.

Unfortunately, I did react to the drugs afterwards and experienced a fair amount of pain. I was bloated and felt quite ill, and emotionally I was a bit of a state! I’ve only done one egg retrieval and have eight eggs frozen. No one can tell you what the ideal number of eggs is, but I’m considering doing it again. Ideally, I’d like to have a total of 12 eggs.

My partner is aware that I’ve had my eggs frozen and is supportive. It’s never been an issue or even a topic about him being on board. I did it before I met him and he thinks it’s a good idea.

Other people find it interesting and I got a lot of questions at the time about why I was doing it. Some of them were triggering for me. People asked if I would have a baby on my own. I’d never thought about that, but now that becomes more so of an option with the eggs in the freezer.

I think any negativity around egg freezing comes down to misunderstanding and ignorance. We’re healthier and look younger than ever before, but the one part of the woman that hasn’t changed since the Stone Age is the biological clock. This is where age is against us, and the reason why medical experts are telling us about freezing our eggs.

A lot of women don’t consider it and think ‘if I struggle, I can do IVF’, but even that’s not fool proof. Women who have a child in their late 20’s may not know whether they want a second child until much later, or even when they’re in another relationship potentially following a breakup. It’s that kind of uncertainty that women need to consider. At least having frozen eggs could help in these situations because they’re younger eggs.

I’d advise anyone considering egg freezing to find out all the information first. Look at the stats around it and make an educated decision. Talk to other women who’ve gone through it to get different perspectives, and make sure you have a supportive network around you to remind you why you’re doing it when emotions take hold.

Associate Professor Kate Stern, is a fertility specialist at Melbourne IVF.  Here she tells us why more women are freezing their eggs.

There’s a growing awareness of the increasing fragility of fertility as we age. Each year we have more women coming to request egg freezing. Most of these are aged between 35-40.

Technology has advanced enormously. A few years ago, only 40-60 per cent of eggs would survive the freezing thawing. Now, approximately 90 per cent would survive. Pregnancy rates are almost the same as with ‘fresh’ eggs.

Some women do feel pressure to freeze their eggs, but most of the women do so because they’ve not found a partner or been in the situation to have a baby earlier.

Every young woman has the right to be well informed about future fertility. Once armed with accurate information, young women can consider all their options. But this isn’t for everyone.

It’s important to understand that egg freezing only offers a small additional opportunity for the future for most women. It’s not a guarantee of success.

 

If you're considering freezing your eggs or would like to do an AMh test to understand your ovarian reserve please contact our team on 1800 111 483.

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Conceiving in your 40s, what are the chances?

I was recently asked to comment in a Sun Herald article on 26th August (also published online here: Sydney Morning Herald) on Collette Dinnigan, who pregnant at the age of 46, has called on women not to leave it too long to try for a baby.

It is always news when a high profile personality such as Ms Dinnigan, has a child, particularly when the personality in question is a bit older.  The difficulty is that these occasions, while very happy for the people involved, give a misleading picture of the actual likelihood of conception in these circumstances.  Remember that high profile personalities such as Ms Dinnigan, are human beings who quite rightly value their privacy and so very rarely (quite understandably) talk to the press when things aren’t going so well.  It was therefore, a particularly courageous action of Ms Dinnigan, while celebrating her own happiness, to so publicly, point out the difficulties that may face other women, seeking the same fulfilment.

What then, are the issues for women in their forties who are planning to have a child?

The main difficulty is that conceiving is simply harder at that age and, even once a woman does conceive, the risk of miscarriage is higher.  Surprisingly, although we have very good data about the effects of age on IVF conception (more shortly), we don’t have very good statistics about the effects of age on conceiving naturally. The limited available data about natural conception comes from old population studies or studies of unique populations, such as the Hutterites of North America, who do not use contraception.  Interestingly these data, such as they are, seem to be entirely consistent with the more modern and abundant IVF data.  Generally, in one year of trying, 75% of women under 30 years and 66% of 35-year-old women but only 44% of 40-year-old women will achieve a live baby naturally.

The main explanation for this, is that women are born with a finite number of eggs, and from that moment onwards, the number of eggs is declining all the time, until women go through their menopause at around 50-51.  Nonetheless, women in their 40s do still ovulate each month.  What is it about their eggs that cause all these problems?

A common misunderstanding with some women is that the fact she looks and feels young, and leads a healthy lifestyle, means that her eggs will be healthier. I regularly see women who have taken enormous care with their fitness and their health.  The rest of their body is in great shape, completely fit and ready to carry that longed-for pregnancy.  Sadly, despite this, the eggs still can’t do it.  The effects of time are remorseless and, sadly, there is no wonder drug to fix it.

Scientists have shown that eggs from older women are more likely to have an abnormal makeup making pregnancy less likely, miscarriage more common and increasing the risk of Down Syndrome, a condition where a child is born with an extra chromosome number 21.

Nor is IVF a cure for this problem. For women, in their early 40s, IVF is still a good thing to try and gives significantly higher success rates than trying naturally.    However, IVF success rates fall sharply after the age of 40 and by the time a woman is 45 are close to zero.

So, what’s the good news?  Well despite all of the above, many women do conceive in their forties, either by IVF, or naturally, and have very happy healthy families.  It is obviously better to have your family earlier, if you can, but all hope is not lost, just because you’re past 40.  Conception and early miscarriage are the big problems but, if you do conceive and get past the first few weeks, by far the most likely outcome will be a healthy child.  While the risk of Down Syndrome is increased, most of the other problems that affect young children are not increased by being conceived a later maternal age.

Finally, many women worry that by having their children later, their long term health and emotional development may be affected.  On the contrary, we now know that the children of older mums grow up to be as healthy and bright as any other child.

Dr Nikki Goldstein
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Snapshot of Fertility in Australia

There have been a number of happy and high profile stories in the press recently about older celebrities giving birth to healthy children. Stories like this used to be extraordinary, but they certainly seem to be on the increase. While this trend is supported by data that shows the fertility rate and numbers of births are increasing for women over 30 and especially for women in their early 40s, women and couples should understand the risks associated with having children later in life.  IVF Australia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, have teamed up to create their latest infographic - “Fertility and Age in Australia” which explores some of these issues.
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Paternity, Maternity, Equality

Conceiving a baby in a same sex relationship

IVFAustralia, and its partner clinics Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group and TasIVF, are proud supporters of ‘rainbow families’. IVFAustralia were an Official Supporter of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year, and we’ve seen the number of same sex couples accessing our donor program double in the last year.
 
In 2011, a survey of 3,835 LGBT people found 33% of women and 11% of men had children1 - but close to 40% reported wanting to have children or have more children. This so-called ‘gayby’ boom is thanks to changes in community attitudes and laws, including better access to Assisted Reproductive Treatments for lesbian and single women.
 
So, if you’re hoping to experience the joy of starting a family within a gay or lesbian relationship, what do you need to consider?

How long will it take to conceive?

Generally speaking, we’d expect a healthy woman with no fertility issues to fall pregnant through IVF or Artificial Insemination within six months. You can prepare for pregnancy by improving your diet, doing regular exercise and other lifestyle factors.
 
When you access the donor program there are a few extra decisions you need to make.
 
Do you choose a known donor, or an anonymous donor? In a lesbian relationship, do you want to implant an embryo with eggs from one mother into the other? Should you store some sperm from the same donor for later, in case you’d like a related sibling? For two dads, the process of finding a surrogate can also be complex.

How do we choose a donor?

Our fertility clinics offer access to both Australian and US* donor sperm. The access fee for US donor sperm is higher, but the waiting list is also shorter as there is a shortage of local donors (gay men, we’d love to hear from you!)
 
When you’re using donor sperm or eggs, there are a few legal, emotional and ethical factors to consider and a counsellor will help you work through these concerns so you can make the best decisions for your family’s future.

Are there any legal issues?

Each state has different laws about parental recognition and access, so it’s worth seeking specialist advice before you start.
 
For example, in Victoria, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act (2008) removed discrimination against lesbian and single women with regard to fertility treatment, recognised parenting status for non-birth mothers and also effectively legalised ‘altruistic’ surrogacy. It also recognises lesbian couples as equal parents of their child or children as long as they were in a de facto relationship.

What else should we be prepared for?

30 years of research2 has shown that the children of same-sex parented families do just as well as the children of heterosexual parents socially, educationally, physically and emotionally.

The issues your children will face as they get older are just the same as the issues facing any children conceived using donor sperm or eggs: Where did I come from? Should I contact my donor? You need to be prepared for these questions at some point.
 
In the meantime, we hope we can help you fulfil your dream of having a baby, and that you will experience the joys of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.

What should be my next steps?

If you would like to learn more about the fertility treatments available for same-sex couples in your regions, visit one of our websites. 


 * IVFAustralia and Queensland Fertility Group patients only.

1 Leonard et al. (2012) Private Lives 2: The Second National Survey of the Health and Wellbeing of GLBT Australians, The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Melbourne
2Rainbow Families Council of Victoria (2010) Rainbow Families and the Law, RFC, Melbourne, http://www.rainbowfamilies.org 

Dr Nikki Goldstein
06 Aug

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