In 2017—in what sounds like a passage out of a futuristic sci-fi novel—big tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook offered their female employees the option of freezing their eggs on the company dime for the very first time.
Cut to 2022, topped with the uncertainities brought on by a global pandemic, and more women than ever are now seriously considering freezing their eggs as a personal insurance plan.
There's no actually data on how many women are getting their eggs frozen because it's still a hush-hush topic that few are ready to talk about openly.
This women's day, to pull back the veil on egg freezing, FIT speaks to women who have undergone the procedure to know what it's really like.
Both the women we spoke to requested anonymity.
'Tired of Racing Against My Body Clock'
36 year old Shalini (name changed) says she got her eggs frozen in November because she wanted to keep her options open.
“I wanted to get this done so that I am not under pressure from a biological cycle perspective to find someone now and just get married for the heck of it, so that just gives me time and the freedom that I require.”Shalini (name changed)
"I had heard about it for the first time when I was 30, 32. That this is a process that you can do if you want to keep your options open, and you’re not ready to get married whenever the extraction is done," she adds.
Like Shalini, Divya (name changed), 35, also decided to freeze her eggs to 'keep her options open.'
"I just came out of a long term relationship, and I know I'm not getting married anytime soon," says Divya.
"I thought a lot about it before getting it done. I know I want to have kids eventually and I wanted to secure that option for as long as I can."Divya (name changed)
What Does the Process Involve?
The whole procedure can last up to 10 to 12 days. But, it's a fairly straight forward process explains Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, Director, OBS and Gynae, Fortis la femme, Delhi.
"A battery of tests are done to ensure you are healthy and the procedure is safe for you . Then certain injections are taken daily for 7-10 days after periods and then eggs are retrieved in a day procedure under anaesthesia or sedation."Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, Director, obs and Gynae, Fortis la femme, Delhi
Shalini reports that she didn't experience any symptoms or discomfort throughout the process.
“It didn’t hurt at all. It took me a while to come out of anaesthesia, but once I was out I was immediately back to working.”Shalini (name changed)
Divya, however reports having experienced some discomfort in the days leading up to the extraction. "It was a bit like, you know when you're about to get your period, but it's not here yet. I felt heavy and tired and slightly nauseous sometimes."
This is normal, says Dr Richa Jagtap, Clinical Director and Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai.
"Most women will have symptoms similar to premenstrual symptoms where they may feel a little bit of heaviness, slight bloating, and they might have some sensitivity to certain types of foods where they have difficulty digesting really oily spicy food," she says.
This, she explains is because they're essentially fast tracking your menstrual cycle, so they can harvest multiple eggs at once.
"If we have at least 12 eggs, we will have a higher chance of a good prognosis when the woman chooses to thaw them," she says.
"The injections are hormones that we are giving these women to grow the eggs. Now these are the same hormones that are present in female bodies and they are generally released such that only one egg grows per month. We give these hormones slightly in a higher dose so we can grow multiple eggs and harvest them in a bunch. So these are the same changes that they will experience when they're on their period."Dr Richa Jagtap, Clinical Director and Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai
And like regular menstrual symptoms, some people may experience more of them, and some people may not have any, she adds.
To combat this, Dr Jagtap advices her clients to stick to simple food and keep up their physical exercise during the course of the procedure.
Speaking of best practices, Dr Jagtap also adds, "it is best to freeze eggs earlier than later."
"This is because as time passes, the egg count will keep declining. And if you have to freeze your eggs, its always better to do it when you are younger, rather than when you’re in the fag end of your fertility.”Dr Richa Jagtap, Clinical Director and Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai
But getting their eggs frozen earlier on is not viable for everyone.
"I would have liked to do it sooner", says Divya, "but the procedure is expensive, and I wouldn't have been able to afford it in my twenties when it would have worked better."
Egg freezing in India can cost anywhere between one to two lakh rupees, and this is at the time of the extraction.
Shalini reports that her procedure including the injections, extraction and storage cost her 1.5 lakh rupees. "I will obviously have to pay them again when I want to use them," she adds.
Mum's the Word
Divya also goes on to talk about the stigma that surrounds the procedure and how it made the whole journey lonely for her.
"I didn't tell my parents or friends or anyone. And I obviously don't have a partner. That was probably the hardest part of it, having to go through it alone. I would have liked to have someone to hold my hand through it, you know?"
“I didn’t discuss it with my parents. Neither did I discuss it with friends," says Shalini. But having a supportive team of doctors, she says, filled those gaps for her.
"They were very patient with me, and they took their time explaining it to me. I had just heard about it and I had approached them saying this is what I want to do."Shalini (name changed)
“I wish people would be more aware about this process and start thinking about it and not get pressurised," says Shalini.
"I know the conversations I have had with my parents and my family, my extended family and relatives and they keep threatening you with how your biological clock is running out of time."Shalini (name changed)
"What I would rather is that people become aware of the options they have so that it also helps women have freedom in terms of their career. Even if not career, they don’t have to get pressurised into getting married or hitched up just because there is a clock ticking," she adds.
Experts Speak: Myths, Misconceptions
People often don’t know that after the eggs are extracted, they cannot be fertilised naturally, says Dr Richa Jagtap.
"These eggs are being taken from their natural habitat, and they are being frozen in the lab, so, of course, when they want to use these eggs for pregnancy, we have to thaw these eggs and fertilise them in the lab to make an embryo and put it back in the uterus. This process will have to go through IVF," she explains.
Dr Jagtap also explains that freezing your eggs won't guarantee a baby in the future.
But, stressing on the importance of doing it early, she says, "woman who freezes her eggs before the age of 37 stands as good a chance of pregnancy as someone opting for IVF with a freshly extracted egg."
Addressing some other common misconceptions that people have about egg freezing, Dr Meenakshi Ahuja clarifies,
This procedure does not damage ovaries or put you in risk of ovarian cancer.
If you freeze some of your eggs, you can still conceive naturally after the procedure. This is only a back-up option if needed.
Eggs are frozen for as many years as you want. Their quality is not compromised. (People have experienced successful pregnancies even 10 to 14 years with frozen eggs.)
There is no evidence to suggest a higher risk of birth defects in babies born from frozen eggs.
It must be noted, however, that it can get increasingly difficult for some women to carry pregnancies to term beyond their late 30s.
As far as the success rates of thawed and fertilised eggs go, it's difficult to provide a statistic, says Dr Jagtap.
"A lot of patients do this egg freezing and they don't come back for their frozen eggs. Either they have decided against parenthood or they have successfully conceived naturally when they wanted to."Dr Richa Jagtap, Clinical Director and Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai
"So the utilisation is slightly on the lower side," she adds.