Grace Belgravia, London. July 8th, 2015
Grace Belgravia, the luxury women-only private members club focused on health & wellness, hosted us for an evening focused on fertility. Fertilty is a topic that rarely seems to leave the news, whether it’s Google deciding to offer egg-freezing to their female employees, or scare stories about the impact our lifestyles have on our ability to have children. With such speculation and often hysteria in the press, we sought out the advice of specialists who could tell us what was true, what was myth, and what we can do to protect our fertility for the future.
Dr Tim Evans, Medical Director at Grace and doctor to the Queen, introduced the event to our members, and advised us of the importance of looking after our physical and mental health at all times. Balancing busy lives and careers can be tough, and stress can have a detrimental effect on our health, including our fertility.
Following a delicious and healthy meal in the Grace restaurant, Dr Marie Evans walked us through the facts about fertility, fielding our many questions and guiding the debate. Alongside Dr Marie our member Sapana Agrawal, founder of egg-freezing company Smart Egg, told us what we need to know about egg freezing. It’s a controversial topic, but a subject that is on any career-women’s radar so it’s important we’re armed with the facts.
There’s so much more to learn beyond the below, but we hope it’s a good starting point for future conversations and debate
12 things we learned about fertility
1. Fertility varies widely across age groups and across lifestyles. While statistics can talk about probabilities, there is a broad range of factors that determine individual fertility levels. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle – regular exercise, a balanced diet, avoiding drugs and excessive drink – is advisable whatever age you are.
2. Women are born with all of their eggs; men start making sperm when they are born and will continue to do so throughout their lives, although the quality deteriorates as they age.
3. For most women, there are only 12 opportunities to get pregnant each year (once per cycle). For men, there are roughly 60 million sperm each time they ejaculate. Sperm can live in the woman’s body for 48 hours before ovulation, so the window of opportunity is three to four days each month.
4. Female fertility declines with age as the number and quality of eggs reduces: a 30-year-old woman having unprotected sex for a year has a 75 per cent chance of getting pregnant; a 40-year-old woman having unprotected sex for a year has a roughly 45 per cent chance of getting pregnant within the year.
5. One in six couples will find it difficult to conceive. One in 10 couples will need fertility treatment.
6. The average age of women to have their first child is 28; this age is greater in high-achieving women.
7. Fertility declines with age and studies suggest that the pace of decline steepens after the age of 35.
8. Don’t catch STDs and if you do, treat them quickly. They can have major impacts on fertility.
9. There is no relation to when you started your period and when you will go through menopause.
10. Taking the pill and the morning after pill are unlikely to have a long-term impact on your fertility. It is a myth that it prevents you from using up your eggs though!
11. The older the mother, the greater the risk of genetic abnormality in the baby.
12. You can have an AMH fertility test done at most clinics for around £60. This tells you whether you are above or below average fertility and so whether egg freezing might be particularly relevant for you.
12 things we learned about egg-freezing
1. Typically you freeze 15-20 eggs; most women produce 8-12 eggs per cycle.
2. In the UK the cost of egg freezing is around £4k-£4.5k per cycle, with storage costs of £100-£300 each year.
3. Over 90% of eggs survive thawing.
4. The process of egg freezing is similar to the early stages of IVF. It involves injecting yourself with hormones for 10-15 days. The effect of these hormones varies by woman – it’s like PMS but multiplied by 10!
5. Harvesting the eggs then involves either sedation or a general anaesthetic. The procedure should take only around 10 minutes.
6. Eggs are frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored safely. Only mature eggs are frozen; at this stage you can’t tell if the eggs being frozen are genetically normal.
7. The whole egg freezing process should take no longer than 20 days from start to finish.
8. Once the eggs are thawed, they are mixed with sperm and the embryo is implanted into the woman about five days later.
9. The risks are low. Roughly 0.5% of women experience hyper-stimulation from the hormones and there is very rarely long-term damage.
10. If you are going to want to freeze your eggs for social reasons, sooner is better rather than later. The younger the eggs, the better quality they are.
11. Pick a clinic that has had as many successful live births from social egg freezing as possible. Only 20 babies have been born in the UK from frozen eggs; the industry is still in nascent stages.
12. While there are relatively few cases in which women have had their eggs thawed and fertilised for pregnancy, studies in Italy and Spain suggest that success rates in IVF using frozen-thawed eggs are just as good as those using fresh eggs.