There Are Actually Some Pretty Big Misconceptions About Egg Freezing In South Africa

by | Apr 17, 2024 | Sexual Health

If you know that you want to have children but don’t feel that you’re ready, have you considered egg freezing? The idea might have popped into your mind more than once. But it’s possible you thought of it as something only wealthy people can do.

You might be happy to know that egg freezing is a lot more accessible than you might have thought. We’ll get through the misconceptions, but for now, let’s look at some of the reasons you would consider freezing your eggs and what to expect from the process.

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Why Would You Want To Freeze Your Eggs?

Prof Igno Siebert, a fertility and endometriosis specialist at Aevitas Fertility Clinic, explains that when a woman reaches the age of 35, there’s a dramatic drop in fertility potential. This continues to drop as she gets older. A lot of the time, a woman’s decision to freeze her eggs has to do with this.

The reasons for egg freezing are split into two categories: social freezing and freezing for medical reasons.

Social Egg Freezing

“If you haven’t met the right guy, or you’re not planning to get married in the next three to five years, or any other ‘social’ reason for postponing or delaying having a baby is called social freezing,” Prof Siebert says.

Medical Egg Freezing

“If you decide to freeze your eggs because you have cancer, or you’re going to undergo certain treatments that have the potential to harm your ovaries and you want to freeze your eggs before said treatment, then this would be considered a medical reason for freezing.”

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What Makes A Good Egg Freezing Candidate?

Generally, a woman in good health with healthy eggs is considered a good candidate for egg freezing. But it’s all decided on a case-by-case basis during the initial fertility assessment and overall health check. These checks take place before the eggs are retrieved.

Age And Egg Freezing

“Normally, the prediction of a good candidate is age-related; ideally 35 or below – but this is not necessarily the threshold,” Prof Siebert explains. “What we also do is check a woman’s ovarian reserves with a test called the anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test.”

This test is done to determine how many eggs are available. Most of the time, doctors would like to extract around 15 eggs. The number of eggs you freeze has a profound effect on your chances of one day falling pregnant. The number of eggs retrieved for egg freezing also has to do with how healthy the eggs are, or how old you are.

According to Aevitas Clinic, “At the age of 37, you need to freeze 24 eggs for an 80% likelihood of one live birth. However, if you freeze at the age of 34, 12 eggs will give you the same likelihood.”

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You might have just hit 40 and are wondering if this can be an option for you. It can, but you’ll just have to manage your expectations.

“From an age point of view, your chances of conceiving with those eggs are very low. But this will be discussed with you so that you can make an informed decision,” says Prof Siebert.

It’s important to know that every person is different – some women’s fertility potential may deteriorate slower than others. Alternatively, they could only start deteriorating significantly after they hit 40 instead of their late thirties. Consulting with a fertility specialist is quite important in this regard.

Now, let’s take a look at some misconceptions and the truth behind each one:

Misconception 1: Egg Freezing Might Harm Your Ovarian Reserve

Women often worry that egg freezing might harm their ovarian reserves. Prof Siebert says this is not the case at all.

“In any given month, a woman will lose hundreds of eggs anyway. We only go into the pool of eggs that’s available in that month – meaning that we can’t harm the future fertility of that person,” he says.

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Misconception 2: Medical Aid Will Cover It

The chances that your medical aid will cover an egg freezing procedure are slim to none. This is especially true for someone who’s doing it for social reasons. In some instances, a medical aid may cover, or partially cover, the procedure if you have a medical reason.

“In South Africa, you should be prepared to pay out of pocket,” Prof. Sieber says.

Misconception 3: It’s Way Too Expensive

Granted, egg freezing is a pricey procedure, but it’s an amount that someone with the means could save towards. What makes it pricey are all the elements involved in the cost structure. This includes medication, theatre costs, the anaesthetic cost, the doctor’s cost and the actual freezing of the eggs. In 2024, you can expect to spend a total of at least R40 000 for egg freezing, excluding medications.

“Following this, you will also pay an annual fee to keep the eggs stored. But often, there will be a couple of years of storage included in the initial fee you pay. As soon as that lapses, you will be expected to pay the annual storage fees yourself,” Prof Siebert says.

Misconception 4: You Won’t Feel A Thing

While it’s true that egg freezing is not generally considered to be a painful procedure or process, it’s worth mentioning that you should expect some discomfort after the procedure.

“After the operation, you could be uncomfortable,” Prof. Siebert says. “Some women produce upwards of 20 eggs and this can lead to discomfort you will feel for the next couple of days up to a week.”

Much of the discomfort is based on the number of eggs you’ve produced. While more eggs are better, the reverse side of that is that the more eggs you produce, the more discomfort you will experience.

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Misconception 5: Egg Freezing = A Guaranteed Baby

Freezing your eggs, particularly when we talk about social freezing, is not quite like having a fertility insurance policy. Rather some experts refer to it as a lottery, in which you might win or lose.

If you get to a point where you are ready to have a child, Prof Siebert explains that if one’s circumstance allows, it would still be recommended for the woman to conceive a baby spontaneously with her partner. That’s likely because not all egg freezing procedures yield pregnancy.

Per a study in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the chance of a woman procreating from frozen eggs is just 39%. However, women under 38 years when freezing their eggs had a live birth rate of 51%. This percentage increases to 70% if the woman was younger than 38 and also thawed 20 or more eggs.

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“If she’s at an age above 42, or there’s a medical issue at play, then she would need to use her eggs to get pregnant through in vitro fertilisation (IVF),” he says.

And if you end up successfully conceiving a child spontaneously and don’t need or want your eggs anymore, you can either have your eggs destroyed, continue to keep them frozen or donate them.

While egg freezing is a great way to ensure that you have healthy eggs in the future, it’s not guaranteed that using them will be successful.

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