When Betsy was 39 years old, she woke up one morning and had a pressing revelation: she had to freeze her eggs. She’d been putting it off for years, and couldn’t ignore the urge any longer. It was time.
“I remember thinking,” said Betsy, now 49, “I should probably get on this. My stepmom recommended I do it when I was 35, but I wasn’t in the right mindset – I felt like I still had time. I was focused on my career and I just assumed it would happen on its own, that I would meet someone and we would have kids.”
“But that morning, at 39, with the anticipation of hitting 40, that number was just ringing in my ears. I realized if I waited any longer the potential of success could significantly decline. So I went back to RMA.”
Stepmom’s Always Right
After Betsy’s stepmom suggested she freeze her eggs at 35, Betsy considered the idea but put it in the back of her head. A few years later, Betsy’s OB/GYN suggested the same thing.
This time, Betsy decided to give it a go. Working in Madison, New Jersey at the time, she made an appointment for elective fertility preservation (egg freezing) at RMA New Jersey’s Morristown office (view all US locations). The consultation went great – Betsy liked the nurses, felt comfortable with the clinic, but still wasn’t ready. The idea was shelved again.
“I always wanted to be a mother but I wanted to make sure it was the right circumstance,” Betsy said. “I wasn’t averse to doing it on my own with a sperm donor, but I still wanted to meet someone and know the father of my child. I kept saying, ‘OK, if I’m not in a relationship by the time I’m 35, I’ll do it.’ Then it was, ‘OK, if I’m not in a relationship by the time I’m 37, I’ll do it.’ Well, the milestones came and went.”
“And then finally, at 39, I decided to bite the bullet and freeze my eggs.”
The Egg Freezing Journey Begins!
Betsy knew her chances of success (having a baby) were higher if she chose to freeze embryos instead of eggs, but she wanted to leave open the possibility of meeting someone down the road and using her frozen eggs with him.
“I wanted the choice to either have a partner and a biological child or to do it alone with a sperm donor and my child,” she said. “And egg freezing gave me that choice.”
So in 2011, at 39 years old, Betsy stepped foot back inside RMA to begin her egg-freezing journey.
“I was finally ready,” she said.
The Egg Freezing Process
In the simplest sense, egg freezing is like half the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process.
In IVF, women:
- Take medications to help grow the eggs inside their ovaries for about ten days
- Have an egg retrieval procedure to remove those eggs
- Immediately fertilize those eggs with partner (or donor) sperm.
- At that point, the resulting embryos are usually frozen until the woman’s uterus is at an optimal state to ‘receive’ the embryo.
Once that happens (usually several weeks after egg retrieval, which also gives geneticists time to perform genetic testing on the embryo using Preimplantation Genetic Testing or PGT-A), a genetically normal embryo is transferred back into the woman’s uterus.
Nine days later, doctors take a blood test to determine if the pregnancy was successful. In other words, IVF has three major parts – egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer.
The Deep Freeze: Vitrification
Egg freezing, however, centers around egg retrieval only – the other two parts happen when she comes back to use her eggs. For egg freezing, a woman takes injectable medications (containing hormones) for ten days followed by a short egg retrieval procedure, which consists of being lightly sedated for about 15 minutes while doctors use an ultrasound-guided needle to remove the eggs from her ovaries.
At that point, the woman’s work is done and her eggs are “flash frozen” in liquid nitrogen, which is how they stay until the woman decides to come back and use those eggs, which can be many years later.
Because a woman’s eggs age with her, and older eggs have a lower likelihood of leading to a live birth, egg freezing allows women to stop their biological clocks, in a sense – they can freeze eggs, go in with their lives, and come back to use those younger eggs later in life.
17 Eggs Retrieved, 11 Frozen
Betsy knew all this, so when she woke up from her egg retrieval procedure and was told doctors retrieved 17 eggs from her ovaries – eleven of which were mature and could be frozen – she felt great.
“The entire experience was very smooth,” she said. “From the beginning, I was responding very well to the medication, my blood work was good, I was able to be diligent with all my shots, and the retrieval went well.”
“Plus, when they told me I had eleven eggs, I felt very confident.”
A Sense of Relief
Suddenly, a new world of opportunity opened up for Betsy.
“Now, I had time again – to either meet Mr. Right or do it on my own and find a donor to make embryos with,” she said. “I felt really positive about the whole experience, from the idea of egg freezing to my personal experience at RMA, and I was very open about it.”
In fact, since Betsy wasn’t the only single woman in her late 30s who wanted kids, the topic of egg freezing came up often with girlfriends. Unfortunately, some of them were told by OB/GYNs and fertility doctors that they were too old to freeze their eggs.
“When I heard that,” she said, “I was just so thankful I had a different clinic and a different doctor.”
Finding Mr. Right
She was also thankful that one day three years later, when she was 42, she met him. Yes, Mr. Right.
They met online, and their first date was at a New York City wine bar. By their third date, they were exclusive, and within a few months, she told him about her frozen eggs. T
hey came back to the conversation of kids often, but it wasn’t until she was 45, a few months after they got engaged, that they decided to try for a baby with her frozen eggs.
“I told him I wanted to try with my eggs because I knew they were six years younger,” Betsy said. “We really just wanted to pursue the route that had the best chance of success.”
From Frozen Eggs to IVF to A Beautiful Baby Girl
Dr. Chu explained the process – first, we will thaw the eleven frozen eggs. Then we will pair the ones that survive the thawing process with your partner’s sperm to see how many eggs fertilize. Then, out of the ones that fertilize, we’ll see how many grow to the blastocyst stage.
Then, we’ll conduct genetic testing on the embryos that matured to the blastocyst stage to see how many are normal and could lead to a healthy pregnancy and live birth. And then we’ll see how many embryos are left for transfer.
Dr. Chu also explained that the chances of egg freezing leading to a live birth are higher if the frozen eggs are younger, and if there are more of them. Because the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs decrease with time, a younger woman who freezes her eggs will not only likely be able to freeze more eggs than an older woman, but the eggs she freezes will have a higher chance of progressing to fertilization, blastulation, testing genetically normal and leading to a successful pregnancy and birth. In other words, the younger you freeze, the better.
This was all news to Betsy – when she was told at 39 she had eleven eggs to freeze, she figured she’d have some tough decisions to make in the future – that she’d have more embryos than she would want to use.
But Dr. Chu’s explanation of the process was a dose of reality. Still, Betsy wasn’t really a worrier and stayed optimistic. She felt good about her numbers. And the process began.
Nine of the eleven eggs, Dr. Chu told her, made it through the thaw. Seven of those were fertilized. Of those, three made it to the blastocyst stage.
“That’s when I started getting really nervous,” she said. “And then, I was on a family vacation and got another call telling me only one tested genetically normal. One.”
Betsy and her partner had a long talk – they would accept whatever the outcome but still hoped for the best. They knew that about 40 percent of genetically normal embryos don’t lead to a successful pregnancy and that they had no other embryos to work with if it failed, but they tried to focus on the positive – there was a 60 percent chance of success. In October 2018, Betsy had her embryo transfer.
“About ten days later I got the call of my life,” Betsy remembered. “My nurse told me I was pregnant!”
“It felt surreal. At 13 weeks, when we shared the news with family and friends, it was the most incredible experience. My family was thrilled to tears, literally – at 45, they just assumed I wasn’t going to have kids.”
The good news kept coming – Betsy’s pregnancy, which she called “a terrific experience,” progressed smoothly, and on June 22, 2019, Betsy’s daughter was born eight days shy of her due date. Betsy was 46.
Now, at a little over two years old, the little girl continues to be the light of her parents’ lives.
“She’s sassy, she’s strong, she knows what she wants,” Betsy gushed. “She’s smart and fun and outgoing.”
“The other day my husband said, ‘could you imagine what a mistake that would be if we didn’t go through with it?’ Neither of us can imagine a life without her.”
The day her daughter was born, Betsy made a promise to herself: “I said, I’m going to look at this child every day like she’s a miracle. Now that I understand the process completely, I recognize that statistically, things were not in my favor. When I think of everything that had to go just right for this to work out, it’s incredible to me.”
“I don’t take that for granted at all, and I realize how lucky I am.”
Betsy thinks about this a lot. She’s both incredibly grateful she had the opportunity to freeze her eggs at 39 and wishes she had more information on the process sooner – and how much eggs deteriorate over time – so she could have done it earlier. She’s spent countless hours thinking about exactly what she’d say to other women about the process.
“First, I would tell younger women considering freezing their eggs not to wait. Do it now, don’t wait. Because your chances really are so much better at an earlier age,” she said. “Second, I would say do your research. Learn about what happens between retrieval, thaw, fertilization, and advancing to additional stages of viability. If I had known all that, I would have frozen earlier, or maybe done two cycles when I was 39.”
“And finally, I would say that if you’re older, like I was, and thinking of freezing your eggs, don’t think it’s automatically too late, because it often isn’t, and you never know until you go see a doctor and have your ovarian reserve checked.”
“I’m so glad I did it – freezing my eggs was the best decision of my life.”