Egg freezing is becoming a more and more popular practice in South Africa. Women are more and more considered about family planning. The number of women who are in their “child-bearing” years is increasing, from 42 to 49 per cent, per UN data. So it’s no surprise that we’re thinking about our futures, and allowing technology to help. If you’re considering egg freezing, here’s what you should know about the procedure and what to expect.

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What is egg freezing?

Egg freezing is the process of retrieving eggs from the ovum and preserving them for future use. There are a few reasons someone would opt to save eggs for future use. First of all, people assigned female at birth are born with a finite number of eggs: around 1 or 2 million. But that number decreases in both quality and quantity as the person ages. This decline makes fertilising an egg more difficult, too.

If you’re not ready to have a child just yet, but want to make sure that you can one day, you might opt for this. Medical reasons, like disease, could also prompt someone to freeze their eggs before seeking medical treatment that would otherwise harm egg health.

How does egg freezing work?

Egg freezing works by extracting the egg via suction from the ovary. During the thirty-minute procedure, the patient is put to sleep and a number of eggs are extracted.

Before the procedure, the patient would have a consultation, including an ultrasound scan of the pelvic area and other health checks. Then, if you’re a good candidate for egg freezing, you’ll begin the prep work.

Preparing for extraction involves some form of birth control to prevent ovulation (this is something your doctor wants to control), along with injections to stimulate egg development.

Once ultrasounds have been conducted to confirm ovulation, you’ll be ready for your procedure. A tiny needle is inserted while you’re sedated and the eggs are suctioned out. The procedure is non-invasive, meaning there are no cuts involved. Eggs are checked, prepared for storage and put in liquid nitrogen tanks, where they can stay indefinitely. After that, depending on the health of the eggs, more ovulation cycles could be used in retrieving eggs.

How do I use my eggs eventually?

Retrieval works by unfreezing the eggs, thawing them, and preparing them for whichever procedure you choose, like IVF. Should you choose to not use your eggs, you could destroy them, donate them, or offer them to scientific research.

Keep in mind that not all eggs survive the freezing and thawing process, and not every egg will be fertilised, leading to pregnancy. Typically, healthier eggs are present when the patient is under 35 years, so you’d have a better chance of freezing more eggs that are also healthier. For these reasons, a doctor would advise the number of eggs to be extracted for the best chance of future success, but around 20 eggs can be expected.

How much does egg freezing cost?

A conservative estimate has the entire procedure around R35 000 – R40 000. Discovery Health is one medical aid that covers fertility treatments, provided they’re on the Comprehensive or Executive plans. Other medical plans are certainly lacking on this front, given that infertility is a WHO-recognised disease.

Need some help figuring out your fertility options? Chat to a Zoie expert remotely here.

Sources: Aevitas Fertility Clinic, Wijnland Fertility, Cape Fertility Clinic 

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