If you’ve tuned into any wellness-focused website, podcast, or social media platform recently, you’ve probably noticed that fertility has nabbed a prominent spot in the convo. When it comes to reproduction, people are charting paths for themselves and rejecting the idea of a single route to parenthood (and we’re here for it).
Case in point: Over 8 million babies have been born as a result of in vitro fertilization in the 40 years since the technology has been available, and research suggests that hundreds of millions of people will owe their lives to assisted fertility treatments by 2100.
If you’re considering joining the ranks of potential parents who have undergone IVF, there are a few things Cynthia Hudson, embryologist and vice president of clinical strategy and specimen services at TMRW Life Sciences, thinks everyone should know.
Her first point? Egg freezing is an opportunity to preserve the option of parenthood later in life. So you don’t even have to be positive you want to have kids to go through the process, but it also isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, she says. To help you make the most informed choices possible, Hudson shared a few key things she suggests asking your doctors—and yourself.
Keep scrolling to learn what an embryologist wants you to consider before egg freezing.
1. What are your plans and priorities?
Hudson acknowledges that egg freezing is trending right now—but that’s not necessarily a reason to pursue it. She wants anyone considering it to remember that it’s a big decision that comes with emotional, physical, and financial investments.
Asking yourself a few questions—such as, when do you want to be pregnant? How many kids do you want? How many egg-freezing cycles are you willing to go through? How long will your eggs need to be frozen, and how will they be stored until you need them?—can help clarify future plans and priorities, Hudson says.
“I’d love to get to a place where we can guarantee that freezing your eggs will result in the reproductive outcomes you’ve planned and hoped for, but we’re not there yet,” Hudson says. That’s why she’s so passionate about educating patients and, with TMRW’s help, making the process more transparent, accessible, and safe—no matter what chapter of your fertility journey you’re in.
2. What’s the clinic’s success rate?
Once you’ve decided you want to start the egg-freezing process, you’ll need a fertility clinic, and you’ll want to investigate its success stats. Two questions are key, Hudson says: What’s the survival rate for eggs after freezing and thawing? And what’s the rate of viable pregnancy after the embryos have been transferred?
The survival rate is important because it speaks to the clinic’s ability to freeze, store, and handle eggs. But, in Hudson’s eyes, the ultimate measure of the lab’s health and success is the rate of pregnancy.
Pro tip: You can peruse the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website—or give the organization a call—to get some of this information. The Fertility Success Act, passed in 1992, requires clinics to report on all patients and those patients’ subsequent reproductive outcomes, Hudson says. (If your clinic hasn’t submitted records to the CDC, that might be a good indication to opt for another provider.)
3. How will your eggs be stored and tracked?
After you’ve done some research on success rates, you’ll want to get some intel on egg storage. Give the clinic a call and ask for details on the process.
Historically, most labs have stored frozen eggs and embryos in tanks, known as dewars, at ultra-cold temperatures. The process requires clinicians to manually fill the tanks with liquid nitrogen in order to maintain that viable temp. While the system worked well for a while, it’s labor-intensive and prone to human error. And, the demand for fertility treatment has outgrown the process, because IVF clinics weren’t set up to be long-term storage banks.
So how does TMRW do it? By automating the tracking and tracing of eggs, which are stored using technology that’s equipped with sensors and touch-screen software, which ensure consistent cryogenic temperatures. That means that clinicians never have to manually check the thermostat or fill the tanks with liquid nitrogen—the technology confirms it all for them, helping to reduce errors, streamline the process, and prevent disasters as a result of accidental thawing.
4. While they’re frozen, how will your eggs be monitored?
Many clinics have decades-old systems for tracking eggs—i.e. relying heavily on analog methods like hand-written notecards and vial labels, which can introduce human error (yep, again) into a process you very much don’t want to mess up.
As an embryologist, Hudson spent years witnessing the problems these outdated methods can cause, which is why she left the lab and joined TMRW to design technology that provides transparency and safety in laboratory operations.
TMRW automates the unique identification, tracking, and tracing of eggs (by using data encryption, a 24/7 monitoring system, unique RFID tags and barcodes instead of hand-written labels, and more) in order to reduce errors and increase efficiency. “We are managing tens of thousands of patient specimens, whether they’re in the clinic or our new off-site cryobank,” she says. “There’s nothing more important to this company than the safety of those specimens.”
There’s even an app in the works that will give patients the option to check in on their eggs—instead of the more commonplace process of having to call their clinic for details. “We think the patients deserve to have direct access to that kind of information,” Hudson says. “Providing groundbreaking levels of visibility to the patients is something TMRW is 100 percent committed to.”
“Modernizing and transforming IVF is the only way we can scale this industry to meet the growing demands and improve access to care,” she says. “This kind of care—for people seeking parenthood, or simply just trying to preserve the option to do so—is out of reach for most people, either because of financial, geographic, or other reasons, and we’re here to change that.”