Fertility can be a touchy subject. On the one hand, there are women and couples struggling to conceive naturally. And PS: while infertility conversations almost always center on the woman, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that in truth, it impacts men and women nearly equally. Specifically, out of all infertility cases, a third is due to female causes, a third to male causes, and the final third because of a combination between the two partners. 

But on the other end of the spectrum are the people who don’t know if they want kids, or aren’t yet ready to become a parent.  Whether because someone wants to pursue a career, or simply wants to live their life a bit more before settling down, there are plenty of valid reasons why any person — regardless of gender — might press pause on becoming a parent. For men, this conversation typically centers on the use of condoms. But the conversation is nuanced for women. 

Delaying Parenthood

Most people have heard that men can father children well into their senior years while women have a finite timeline to realistically conceive. Even with innovations in modern medicine and assisted reproductive therapy (ART), women usually can’t realistically expect to successfully conceive naturally after menopause.

This is because menopause causes a woman to stop getting her period. Because ovulation stops, natural conception is off the table. But long before worries of menopause, there’s a reality that conception can naturally get harder as a woman approaches her 40s. This isn’t to say that pregnancy isn’t possible at that point. But like “The Hunger Games”, it becomes a scenario of “may the odds be ever in your favor.” 

The Statistics Explained

For women, outside of genetic predisposition to unexplained fertilities or a history of conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) that cause irregular periods (which makes tracking ovulation difficult), age tends to be the biggest risk factor linked to successfully conceiving and more importantly — carrying to term. 

More specifically, age often dictates not just how long it takes to conceive, but the likelihood of it happening. According to a 2020 study published by the NIH, women ages 30 and younger have an 85% chance of conceiving within a year of trying. Once they’re 30 to 35 years old, the potential is 75% within the first 12 months. By age 35, that figure drops to 66% and then down to 44% by age 40. This change is caused by a drop in egg quality since women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have. To be clear, sperm quality also drops in men as they age, but conception percentages aren’t impacted as dramatically as men age. So, when women are thinking about delaying pregnancy, one immediate option that comes to mind is to have their eggs frozen. 

What to Expect with Egg Harvesting

Having eggs frozen comes after having them harvested. It’s a process that follows many of the same initial steps used in vitro fertilization (IVF) rounds. Whereas the goal with IVF is to immediately attempt conception, with freezing eggs, the goal is to harvest healthy eggs and freeze them for use at a later date. So, what should women expect when having their eggs frozen?

After undergoing a medical exam to determine if there are any health concerns, most women will begin by timing ovarian stimulation medications to the end of their most recent menstrual cycle or after their period ends. These medications, usually taken as shots, encourage the ovaries to release multiple eggs simultaneously rather than a single egg, which normally happens during ovulation. 

The hormone medications are usually self-administered daily for 10 to 12 days. But during this time, women will need to return to the fertility treatment center for regular ultrasounds to monitor egg growth and development, along with routine blood work. 

Once the eggs have matured, a woman will return to the fertility clinic to have them harvested. This is usually an outpatient procedure using anesthesia. During the process, a doctor or technician uses a needle to extract the eggs. In a lab, an embryologist confirms that the eggs are mature and viable before freezing them. 

Are There Side Effects? 

Aside from mood swings from the increased hormones, other potential side effects can include: 

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Hot flashes
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Mild pain during or after egg extraction

Who is a Good Candidate for Having Eggs Frozen?

Technically, any woman wishing to preserve their fertility options would be wise to consider having their eggs frozen. However, some people might make better candidates. As with any fertility conversation, women in their 20s are considered optimal candidates because the eggs are younger and less likely to be of poor quality. However, ideal candidates (up through their early 30s) should consider having their eggs frozen. 

Additionally, women facing medical conditions that can impact fertility should also consider having their eggs frozen. While a cancer diagnosis is the most obvious example, other conditions like endometriosis or even someone with an autoimmune disease would also be ideal candidates for this procedure. 

How Much Does Getting Eggs Frozen Cost?

According to research, the average cost of having eggs harvested and frozen is around $11,000 for a single round. The range can be between $8,000 to $15,000, but there are also annual storage fees that need to be factored into the equation. Note that these can be $500 to $1,000 annually. 

However, precise costs vary widely in the U.S. depending on the state and clinic performing the process. Everything from the clinic’s pricing scale for medications plus preset fees for bloodwork labs, ultrasounds, and even the egg retrieval and freezing process can vary widely. Likewise, depending on the “why” behind having eggs frozen, sometimes it might be covered by insurance. 

For example, a woman opting to have her eggs frozen ahead of a medically necessary procedure that can impact fertility (such as chemotherapy) may mean that insurance is required in her state to cover the procedure because it’s viewed as an essential right. By contrast, someone opting to delay pregnancy to pursue a career, while admirable, is often viewed as an elective procedure. As a result, it might not be covered by insurance. 

To determine costs, speak with both the clinic or provider performing the service and the health insurance provider to understand what’s covered and what’s considered an out-of-pocket expense. Alternatively, medically necessary fertility preservation is often eligible for financial aid with organizations that offer grants.