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Last week British supermodel, actress and entrepreneur Naomi Campbell joined the ranks of the many women across the world who are choosing to become a mother at a later age in life. At the age of 50, Naomi made a surprise announcement with a sweet photograph on Instagram regarding the arrival of her baby girl, thereby proving that with a little help from science and technology, women can deal with the ticking biological clock that they are always warned about.
"A beautiful little blessing has chosen me to be her mother," Campbell wrote on Instagram. "So honoured to have this gentle soul in my life there are no words to describe the lifelong bond that I now share with you, my angel. There is no greater love."
With an increasing number of celebrities coming forward to talk about their pregnancy journey through assisted reproductive techniques, via egg freezing, IVF, surrogacy etc, there has been a surge in interest about the procedure among women who want to defer having a baby till they are physically, mentally and financially ready for it.
To make an informed decision, you need to be aware of everything the procedure entails. Read on to get the low-down on all you need to know about the process of egg freezing.
In a typical egg freezing technique, the patient is initially tested for HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Thereafter, the eggs are removed surgically and frozen either by cooling down slowly or by vitrification i.e. flash freezing. Freezing eggs at a temperature of -196 C in liquid nitrogen and liquid cryoprotectant ensures long term storage. During this period, the woman has the authority to decide what she wants to do: whether she wants to use them or donate them to help another woman achieve pregnancy.
Recent studies have shown that egg freezing by the Vitrification (flash freezing) method increases the success rates of conceiving as the chances of the eggs surviving the freeze-thaw process is comparatively higher.
While deciding the number of eggs to be stored is a matter of personal choice, it is advisable for a woman to freeze about 10 eggs per pregnancy attempt to improve the success rates. Most women under 38 years of age harvest 10 -20 eggs per cycle. Freezing 10 out of these would mean only 7 survive the thawing process, of which 5 -6 are anticipated to fertilize and become embryos. The best 3 -4 embryos can then be transferred in women up to 38 years of age.
The process of egg freezing has proven to be advantageous in several situations. Women undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer are at risk as these radiations and chemicals are highly toxic for the eggs, leaving behind only a few viable eggs. Through egg freezing, these eggs can be extracted prior to the treatments, protecting them for future conception.
Most of the women today opt for delayed childbearing as they wish to focus on their education, career and other such priorities. Freezing eggs at an early age will aid them in starting a family when they wish to do so. Additionally, freezing eggs can be of significant advantage to women with a family history of early menopause, where the eggs start depleting at an early age.
We also see certain families are not comfortable with the idea of freezing embryos due to certain ethical or religious sentiments. In such situations, women undergoing IVF have the option of fertilizing only the required number of embryos for the IVF treatment while freezing the rest of the unfertilized eggs. This helps to avoid any unnecessary creation of embryos and also the disposal of unused frozen embryos.
Approximately 2,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs worldwide until date. Research has clearly shown that these children have no increased rates of birth defects as compared to the general population. Moreover, there are no increased rates of chromosomal defects between embryos derived from frozen eggs as compared to embryos derived from fresh eggs.
In short, egg freezing is a promising technology offering women the chance to preserve their fertility and open up new windows of opportunity for conceiving a child in future.
(Authored by Dr Hrishikesh Pai, Consultant Gynaecologist & Infertility specialist, Lilavati Hospital Mumbai)
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