Don't let your career development stand in the way of having a family

You can invest in your career and keep your fertility options open using egg preservation.

Finance professionals sometimes have to look at their business’s assets and see if they need to change their investment options. This also applies to their biological assets. We know that fertility declines with age for both men and women. For women in particular, egg quality deteriorates as they age, usually at just the time that their careers are taking off. 

The lifespan of your eggs
Women are born with a limited number of eggs – around one to two million. That number dwindles at puberty to about 300,000. Each month after that, approximately 750 eggs are lost by a process called atresia. The quality of your eggs also begins to deteriorate. 

These factors lead to a woman’s fertility beginning to decline in her 20s and significantly dropping off after 35. This means that women older than 43 have very slim chances of conception. Even modern fertility techniques like IVF can’t overcome this problem. For this reason, many women who want to have children in their forties will have to resort to using donor eggs from younger women. 

How can we measure your current stock?
The number of eggs left in your ovaries are called your ‘ovarian reserve’, which can be determined by undergoing a normal ultrasound of your ovaries. The levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) are also measured by performing a blood test following the first few days of a new menstruation cycle. When FSH is high and AMH is low, your egg reserve is depleted. 

Using these methods and current technology, doctors can have a very good idea of the number of eggs that are available in your ovaries. However, these tests can only detect quantity, not quality. 

How can we measure the quality of the eggs?
The quality of your eggs can be predicted by your age. Even if you have a good number of eggs, it doesn’t mean that they are healthy. There is not much that can be done to prevent the deterioration of eggs after the age of 35, but a healthy lifestyle can certainly help. 

Why are women delaying motherhood? 
Many professional women prefer to wait to have children so that they can focus on their careers. The average age of giving birth to a first baby is now 29 in developed nations. Observations have also shown that graduate women have their first baby much later than women who did not study. 

This is probably the most important reason why infertility has increased in the last few decades. 
Adverse pregnancy outcomes also rise with age. There is a higher risk of pregnancy complications like miscarriage, diabetes and hypertension in women over 40. Even if you are healthy, fit and full of energy in your 40s, your ovaries still age at the same rate. 

Unfortunately, our professional choices and personal plans have no influence over our biology. 

Should I have that baby now?
Focusing on your career, finishing your degree, waiting for the right partner or waiting until you’re in a financial and emotional position to support a child are all very good reasons to postpone pregnancy. Luckily there is a way you can preserve and protect your ‘assets’ through a process known as egg freezing or egg banking.

When should I freeze my eggs?
It is best to freeze your eggs before the age of 35, ideally around 32 or 33. There is a misconception that women around 40 should freeze their eggs, but because of quality deterioration, this is much too late. 

Where should I go to freeze my eggs?
Professional egg preservation clinics can support you through all the steps of preparing for, extracting and preserving your eggs. 

What usually happens in the first consultation?
We have a chat, perform an ultrasound of the ovaries and do a blood test to evaluate your ovarian reserve. 

What does the egg freezing procedure entail?
Following the first consultation, you start receiving injections on the third day of a new menstrual cycle. This is continued daily for 10 to 12 days and is called ‘ovarian stimulation’. 

It is, however, possible to start the ovarian stimulation at any time of the menstrual cycle. A doctor will perform several ultrasounds to determine the best time to retrieve your eggs. 

The egg retrieval is a small and painless operation under sedation with no hospitalisation necessary. You can be discharged after two hours but would need to take a day off work. 

After your eggs have been retrieved, they are prepared in a laboratory by the embryologist who evaluates their appearance. A rapid freezing technique called vitrification is used to freeze the eggs, which gives the highest success rates. The eggs are then stored in a liquid nitrogen container at -196 degrees Celsius. 

How long can eggs be stored?
There’s no significant time limit when it comes to storing your eggs as they don’t depreciate when frozen. 

Is it safe?
Evidence has shown no increase in chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects, or developmental deficits in the children born from frozen eggs to date. The “experimental” label was lifted from egg-freezing in 2012 and it is now a common and well-established procedure. 

What does it cost?
It isn’t cheap. It costs around R40,000, including all drugs and one year of storage fees. Companies like Facebook, Apple and Google offer this as a perk to their female employees.

This article is sponsored by Ferring Pharmaceuticals. 
Helping people live better lives.
Ferring (Pty.) Ltd. Route 21 Corporate Park, 6 Regency Drive, Irene Ext 30, Pretoria, South Africa. Tel: +27 12 345 6358. Fax: +27 12 345 1156. www.ferring.co.za. FERRING, and the FERRING logo are registered trademarks of Ferring B.V. 2019/097 Date of preparation: November 2019.