Postpone motherhood- freeze your eggs

Amy Fernandes

Dr Aniruddha Malpani tells Amy Fernandes how it is clinically possible to be a mommy at 40.

The fact that women had their eggs frozen to be fertilised through IVF is not new. The fact that women are freezing their eggs to postpone motherhood is.

With economic independence comes the freedom to choose; more women around the world are opting for “Vitrification”. The reasons are many. Dr Aniruddha Malpani, MD, a leading practitioner of IVF, puts it down to the competitive nature of corporate life where women have as much of a chance as men do, to succeed.

“So if the woman is, say, 29, and she knows that in the decade she has a strong chance to be CEO, she is a likely candidate for vitrification, because at 29 her eggs are qualitatively and quantitatively good for fertilisation. But after 10 years, there is a sharp decline. And she may not be in a position to conceive.” Vitrification to the rescue.

In this process, the eggs which the woman grows in a superovulated cycle are removed and frozen in liquid nitrogen, under tremendously controlled conditions at -196 degrees Celsius. The eggs can be stored until they need to be transferred back to the owner at a later time for in-vitro fertilisation.”

It’s not just top career women who are opting for this in the West, but also, women who may not be ready to marry just yet, but are keen to start a family in the future. Or it could be a medical condition where a young woman may not be in a position to have a child just yet, but can do so at a later age. “All women are born with eggs,” says Dr Malpani, “and every woman no matter what her age, so long as she has a healthy uterus can bear a child. But the main reason why older women cannot have children through natural and biological means is that as they grow older the production and the quality of eggs reduce dramatically.”

“It’s still a nascent trend among women in India, while it’s pretty common in the west,” he says, “I have conducted a few, but more and more women are enquiring about it these days.” And yes, it does not come cheap. But, perhaps, it could be seen as a pro-life option for women, where she elects to go for reproductive banking. “Consider it as a life insurance policy,” he advises women who want to eat their cake and have it.

How safe is this process?

It is extremely safe. The medicines used for superovulation do not cause side effects. The vitrification technique is very robust and freezing and thawing eggs does not cause them any damage. The eggs are like Sleeping Beauty – forever young, until we take them out of their frozen slumber!

What are the costs?

The costs are very similar to an IVF cycle – about Rs 1.5 lakhs, plus the cost for storage.

Does it affect the child?

No! The risk of having babies with birth defects rises in older women, only when they get pregnant with their own aging eggs. This is because as eggs age, they accumulate genetic defects, which increase the risk of genetic disorders, such as Down’s syndrome. Freezing eggs helps to completely remove this risk, because when a pregnancy is achieved with frozen eggs, the genetic material is young, because they were frozen when she was young.

How long can eggs be frozen?

When these eggs are frozen in liquid nitrogen, all metabolic activity is stopped temporarily. They are in a state of suspended animation. Their activity resumes when they are thawed. This could be as long as 20 years or more - frozen eggs do not have a shelf life!

Illustration by Prashant Chougule