An Australian fertility expert has said the COVID-19 pandemic has made people reassess their lives and think about their future fertility
Sydney-based IVF specialist, Dr Devora Lieberman, has described the coronavirus outbreak as a ‘wake-up call’ for those thinking about seeking reproductive assistance to start a family.
She told Yahoo Lifestyle website, “COVID isolation was a trigger for some people to say, ‘right we’ve got to get onto this, you never know what could happen.”
Dr Lieberman said the quarantine had prompted many to rethink their timescale and start the process of IVF, and in particular, freezing their eggs.
And she gave a stark warning to anyone thinking of waiting any longer
She said: “If you think you might want to freeze your eggs, time is not your friend.
“The older you are the fewer eggs you’ll get and the less likely those eggs will be successful.”
Dr Lieberman said, although no guarantee, egg freezing gives women some control over their reproductive futures.
She urged women to educate themselves on their own fertility and what is involved when it comes to freezing their eggs.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is the process of retrieving follicles of immature eggs from the ovaries.
In the egg freezing process, women inject themselves with follicle-stimulating hormone to try to increase the number of follicles that will grow and ovulate. Before ovulation occurs, the eggs are collected from the ovaries via the vaginal wall by an ultrasound-guided needle in a technique called a transvaginal oocyte retrieval.
The timing of this is calculated and kept a watchful eye by doctors to prevent overstimulation and complications with egg retrieval.
The number of eggs collected varies and those retrieved are frozen and stored in a bank, where they can remain for years.
In Australia, the cost of egg freezing is in the region of $7,000, but there are exceptions for women who are about to undergo a procedure that could affect their fertility such as chemotherapy or endometriosis therapy.
Dr. Lieberman recommends that women who want to start researching their fertility should visit their GP and ask for a test to get an idea of ovarian reserve.
This will not give a definitive fertility outcome, but more an overview of the quantity of follicles produced each month.
A simple ultrasound can count the number of follicles
An anti-Mullerian hormone(AMH) blood test will measure the level of hormone produced by the follicles themselves, which can give an indication of the number of eggs the woman may produce in a stimulated cycle.
Dr. Lieberman said a low ovarian reserve is not a cause for panic.
She said: “Just because a woman has a low ovarian reserve or low AMH it doesn’t mean she will necessarily struggle to get pregnant because it is not a measure of egg quality, it’s a measure of egg quantity.”
Smoking can advance ovarian age by up to ten years
She said, “The worst thing a woman can do is smoke as it advances ovarian age by up to ten years.”
She recommends eating a reasonably healthy diet and maintaining a BMI in the normal range of 19 to 25.
Age is also not necessarily a factor – a lot comes down to egg quality.
“If you are 35 and freeze a dozen beautiful eggs and you try to get pregnant at 38 you probably won’t struggle much,” Dr. Lieberman said.
“If you freeze a dozen not-so-great eggs at age 35 then try to get pregnant at 38 then you’ll probably struggle because your eggs weren’t great at 35.
“That’s a function of the biology, not the technology.”
In terms of success rates, for a woman under the age of 35, the maximum chance of having a baby is 70 to 80 percent if she has 15 to 20 eggs in storage.
Dr. Lieberman said: “In general, women will overestimate their fertility and also overestimate the ability of frozen eggs to become babies. It’s important to know that it’s by no means a guarantee of a baby in the future.”
Has the pandemic made you think about your fertility future? We’d love to hear your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org