The recent news about former beauty queen Diana Hayden’s baby being born out of her eggs frozen almost eight years ago has thrust egg-freezing technology into the limelight. Relatively lesser-known in India when compared to other reproductive technologies like surrogacy and sperm donation, egg-freezing is now being hailed as a type of ‘insurance’ for women who want to start their families later in life.
We spoke to Dr Nandita Palshetkar, an IVF specialist at Lilavati Hospital, to help us understand just how this new procedure can help realize women’s dreams of having a baby of their own someday. She had also helped Diana Hayden freeze her eggs way back in 2007-2008 and saw through the birth of Hayden's healthy baby girl at the age of 42.
An insurance against infertility
“Earlier, only cancer patients and premature menopausal women opted for egg-freezing, to enable them to have children sometime in the future,” explains Dr. Palshetkar. But now more and more women with no serious health complications or infertility issues are choosing to have their eggs frozen in order to postpone motherhood to a later age. “You could call it a kind of ‘insurance policy’,” says Dr Palshetkar.
How does it work?
Egg-freezing involves injecting hormones that stimulate the ovaries of the woman to produce multiple eggs. These eggs are later extracted via an anesthetic procedure and are preserved for a pregnancy in the future.
“We extract about 8 to 10 eggs to be on the safer side,” says Dr. Palshetkar. The eggs are then immediately frozen at -196 degree centigrade temperature – which is a process known as vitrification. Citing Hayden’s example, she says the eggs can be safely frozen for as long as 5 to 10 years.
But are there any side-effects?
There can be instances when the woman might get affected by Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome – a medical condition that causes the ovaries of some women to swell after taking hormone injections to stimulate egg growth.
But Dr Palshetkar tells us that many clinics now have screening facilities for patients to eliminate such a possibility. “It’s not scary at all,” she insists.
She also talks about how a pregnancy, resulting from a frozen egg, is unlikely to have any complications both pre- and post-delivery. “There are many other obstetric complications that could arise because of other factors like blood pressure or diabetes. But egg freezing does not have any correlation with pregnancy complications,” she clarifies.
Who should go for this?
The quality of a woman’s eggs deteriorate as she ages, so anyone below the age of 35 serves as a good candidate for egg-freezing. Of course, people have their own reasons for doing it.
“Most female patients who need to undergo therapy for diseases like cancer, endometriosis and even arthritis get their eggs frozen,” she says. This is because the drugs used for such intensive therapies often have an adverse effect on the fertility of patients, which makes egg freezing a logical choice. Surprisingly, she also cites male infertility as another reason why couples may decide on egg freezing.
Fighting the biological clock
However, there have been increasing instances of women, both single and in committed relationships, considering egg freezing as a type of family planning that could enable them make decisions regarding their bodies without interrupting their careers.
Dr Palshetkar reveals that even male partners are seen to be completely supportive in such scenarios as many feel the need to be financially sound before thinking of extending their family. She believes that people should be free to use new medical advancements for their benefit. “I am pro-egg freezing,” she admits in a light-hearted tone.
How much does it cost?
Dr. Palshetkar estimates egg-freezing charges to range from Rs 30,000-50,000 per year. Post that, a single IVF cycle would require shelling out around Rs 1 to 2 lakhs. Although just like any other fertility treatment, egg-freezing comes with no fool-proof guarantee, there’s a 50 per cent chance for a successful outcome with every single attempt, she declares.
Pausing periods for good?
There’s been steady rise in women popping pills to delay or in some cases even stop their periods. These low-estrogen birth control pills can allow women to experience fewer periods in a year. For many women, this marks a welcome change from the cramps, weakness and discomfort resulting from their menstrual cycles.
However, there are concerns whether such methods are detrimental to a woman’s health or not. But Dr Palshetkar assures that the issue is not as serious as we are making it out to be. “As long as you don’t do it all the time, there should not be any problem. After all, they are just hormonal pills,” she reasons. “But I wouldn’t really recommend it to someone as it is not really required,” she adds as an afterthought....