The importance of egg freezing for modern women, everything you need to know right down to the cost

Partners can have children when they are comfortable. Picture:RDNE Stock project /Pexels

Partners can have children when they are comfortable. Picture:RDNE Stock project /Pexels

Published Jun 5, 2024


Egg freezing is a powerful tool that allows women to preserve their eggs for future use. This technology can give women more control over their fertility, yet it remains a quiet topic. Why is that?

Despite its benefits, egg freezing is not widely discussed. Several factors contribute to this silence. Firstly, there is a lack of awareness. Many people simply don’t know enough about egg freezing, how it works, or even that it exists as an option.

Secondly, there are societal and cultural barriers. Conversations about fertility and reproductive choices can be sensitive. Traditional views on family and motherhood often discourage open dialogue on these topics.

Lastly, the cost and accessibility of egg freezing can be intimidating. The procedure can be expensive, and not all insurance plans cover it. This financial factor can prevent many from even considering this option.

Why egg freezing needs to be part of our everyday talk?

Egg freezing offers a world of possibilities and hope for many women, yet it’s not often a topic of conversation. Independent Media Lifestyle chatted with Dr Razina Patel, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology with over 20 years of experience, to understand why this needs to change.

Patel, who holds a Master's in the Biotechnology of Human Reproductive Medicine and Embryology, has dedicated more than three decades to her field.

She believes women need to invest in their fertility just as they invest in their careers, travel, and other life goals.

“Egg freezing should be more talked about,” says Patel. “Young people need to understand that the biological clock is real. The ovarian reserve, which is like the engine of the ovary, isn’t as powerful throughout our reproductive life.

“From the early teenage years at around 13, and then at 23, 33, and by 43, things change dramatically.”

“There’s a way to postpone childbearing and conception,” Patel explains. “You can plan for it just like you plan for a car or a house.

“Save up for egg freezing so you can achieve everything you want - the CEO job, the partner you’ve been waiting for, the house, and the car - while still preserving your fertility.”

Mother and child. Picture:Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

“If you care, you should plan. That’s my motto,” she says.

Breaking down egg-freezing

Imagine you buy a rose bush. Every season, it produces a few buds which will grow into flowers. While new buds might form, only those initial ones will bloom into roses soon.

Similarly, every month, a woman's ovary releases several eggs. Think of these eggs like the rose buds. Only one egg will become the main one, ready to meet a sperm. The rest of the eggs will not develop further and will disappear.

“When we freeze eggs, we’re trying to save those extra eggs from disappearing. Instead of letting them disappear, we preserve them for future use, maintaining a woman's fertility longer.

“This process helps women have the option to start a family later, when they are ready,” explains Patel.

With egg freezing, doctors give you medication to help more eggs mature at once.

They then collect these eggs and freeze them. This process doesn’t affect your body’s natural cycle, and you continue to release new eggs every month.

By freezing eggs, you keep your options open. If you haven't found the right partner or aren't ready to start a family because of your career, you can save the eggs for the future.

Medical staff. Picture: Павел Сорокин/Pexels

When you decide it's the right time to have children, you can try naturally. If needed, you have your frozen eggs from earlier years to use, which are often of higher quality, giving you a better chance of having a healthy baby even if you're older, Patel said.

How much does egg freezing cost?

In South Africa, there's a big gap between private and public healthcare costs for egg freezing. In private clinics, it can cost you between R60 000 and R80 000, which is a lot of money for many people.

Public healthcare might be cheaper but often it has longer waiting times and limited availability.

When is the best time to consider freezing your eggs?

A woman's egg quality goes down as she gets older. That's why it's better to freeze eggs sooner rather than later. If you can afford it, it's a good idea to harvest and freeze your eggs between the ages of 24 and 34 years.

Where can I freeze my eggs?

In South Africa, government hospitals usually don't focus on fertility treatments like egg freezing, but there are some good options.

For example, the Cape Town Centre at Tygerberg Hospital has been running successful fertility clinics for years. Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria also offers good fertility services, says Patel.

Recently, there has been collaboration between Wits University and Charlotte Maxeke Hospital with the Sandton Fertility Clinic.

Patients who start their treatment at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital can go to the Sandton Fertility Clinic to complete their treatment at a lower cost.

How are my eggs harvested?

Patel explains: “When a woman's ovary releases an egg, it's very tiny, like a speck of dust. To make sure we have enough eggs to collect, the woman is given medication at the start of her period, usually on the first or second day.

“This medication comes in the form of easy, daily injections, similar to insulin shots, which she can do herself at home by injecting into her belly.”

These injections help the ovary prepare multiple eggs instead of just one. The process lasts about 10 days. While giving herself these injections, the woman will need to visit the clinic every second day for a scan to check on the eggs' development.

After 10 or 11 days of injections, when the eggs are mature, we're ready to collect them. This home-based approach to daily injections is convenient and manageable for most people, simplifying the egg-freezing process.

Is the process painful?

Doctors use a vaginal scan to guide their instruments, avoiding any incisions in the abdomen. The procedure is quick and done under general anaesthesia, so patients don't see or feel anything.

Which is better to freeze: Fertilized eggs or unfertilized eggs?

In the past, people believed that freezing embryos (fertilized eggs) gave them a better chance of survival than freezing unfertilised eggs.

This belief was based on the idea that embryos, being the next stage of life and like a blooming flower compared to a budding rose, were harder and more stable to freeze.

However, according to Patel, things have changed. Advances in technology now allow eggs to be frozen just as effectively as embryos.

This is particularly beneficial for women who haven't yet chosen a partner to have children with. Today, doctors are very comfortable freezing eggs rather than embryos, offering more flexibility for women's future family planning.

"We're confident in our egg-freezing techniques and encourage women to freeze their eggs without needing to find a partner first. The eggs will be viable when needed,” Patel says.

How long can I store my eggs and will they survive the thawing process should I want to use them?

Eggs can be frozen for up to 10 years or longer if needed. Each egg is stored individually in a thin container, similar to the size of a pen refill, and placed in a tank of liquid nitrogen.

When you're ready to have children, you can defrost these eggs and fertilise them with your partner's sperm. While not every egg will survive the freezing and thawing process, nearly all of them do, and they remaian healthy and viable for future use.

In closing, Patel adds, “Another important aspect to consider in the egg freezing process is the quality of your partner's sperm. Often, people don't evaluate their partner's sperm quality before deciding to have children.

“When the time comes, analysing your partner's sperm is crucial, as it impacts the quality of the resulting embryos.”