Amber Guyton felt surprised by her gynecologist’s question during a routine appointment in 2022. And even more surprised by how the question changed her life.
“My doctor asked me, ‘How do you feel about family planning?’” says Amber, 36, an Atlanta resident who owns her own interior design company. “I was like, well—I’m not dating anyone now. I would love to have a family, but I just haven’t really thought about it.”
Her gynecologist, Cherie Hill, MD, was direct. “I told Amber that if she was interested in having a child but unable to pursue that goal now, it was a great time to consider freezing her eggs for future use,” Dr. Hill says.
She raises the topic with many of her patients who are between the ages of 32 and 37. “My practice is centered on well-being and work-life integration, and I encourage women to spend as much time thinking about their family planning goals as they do about their career goals,” she explains. “You don’t want to look back and wish you had put more focus on life outside of work.”
As an OBGYN who practices at Emory Healthcare, Dr. Hill loves being able to help her patients achieve the goals they have for wherever they are in their lives. She says, “The most important thing to me when caring for a patient is that we are a team.”
What Is Egg Freezing?
Most women produce one egg naturally every menstrual cycle. Egg freezing is a well-established process that stimulates the ovaries with hormones so they produce several mature eggs at once. A fertility specialist then retrieves the eggs from the ovaries and takes them to a lab. There, a specialist called an embryologist cools the eggs to subzero temperatures so patients can use them to start a family later if they wish.
Women consider freezing their eggs for a variety of reasons. They may:
- Want to delay childbearing while they pursue a career
- Want to find the right partner before they start a family
- Have a medical condition that affects their fertility
- Need medical treatment or surgery that could affect their ovaries (such as chemotherapy for cancer)
Doctors can thaw the frozen eggs and use them during in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, specialists fertilize mature eggs with sperm in a lab. Then they transfer the fertilized egg or eggs into the woman’s uterus.
Dr. Hill highlights the age 32-37 timeframe for two reasons. “One, you are likely to get a good yield of genetically normal eggs,” she says. “And two, experts advise women to use frozen eggs within five years. Freezing your eggs by age 37 allows you to get pregnant before your mid- to late 40s when your risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as hypertension and gestational diabetes, is high.”
A Persuasive Conversation
Amber took Dr. Hill’s advice to heart. She researched the pros and cons and then made an appointment with Austin Schirmer, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the Emory Reproductive Center at Emory University Hospital Midtown. Dr. Schirmer asked Amber about her family planning goals and explained the egg-freezing procedure in detail. He concurred with Dr. Hill and explained if Amber was interested in freezing her eggs, she needed to act soon.
“Many people don’t realize women are born with a set number of eggs in their ovaries, and the number declines as they age,” says Dr. Schirmer. “By age 40, healthy women have only a 5% chance to get pregnant each menstrual cycle. By the time a woman is 45, pregnancy is unlikely. Freezing your eggs before your fertility declines significantly can buy you time and give you peace of mind.”
The conversation with Dr. Schirmer convinced Amber to move forward. “I always assumed I would be fertile when I was ready to get pregnant,” she says. “I hate the thought of a ticking timer, but facts are facts. I am thankful to have learned about egg freezing when I did.”
Preparing for a Successful Procedure
The next step was for Amber to have blood tests and a pelvic ultrasound. These tests help evaluate a woman’s “ovarian reserve,” which indicates how many eggs they have in their ovaries. “We use the results to create a personalized treatment plan, including what kind of medication to use to stimulate the ovaries and produce mature eggs,” Dr. Schirmer says.
Amber returned to the center a few weeks later to discuss her test results. She also talked to a financial counselor there about costs, which include everything from testing and monitoring to medication, egg retrieval and freezing, and long-term egg storage.
As a self-employed business owner, Amber did not have a larger company to provide fertility treatment as part of her employee benefits. “The financial counselor explained various payment options to me, which was helpful,” Amber says. “I decided to pay for the procedure out of my savings as an investment in my future. I may be able to conceive naturally someday, but I’ve used egg freezing just in case I can’t.”
Kicking Off the Egg-Retrieval Process
Amber began the egg-retrieval process in May 2023. For the first four days, she took oral medications. Then, she injected fertilization hormones into her abdomen for about 13 days. During this phase, Amber visited the center several times for blood work and vaginal ultrasounds to assess her body’s response to the medicine.
Doctors retrieve eggs by inserting a needle through the vaginal wall into the ovaries. Everything went well during Amber’s procedure at Emory Reproductive Center. Dr. Schirmer retrieved eight mature eggs—enough for Amber to use during at least one round of in vitro fertilization when she’s ready to start a family.
Amber went home within an hour of the procedure and returned to work the next day. She documented her entire experience in an Instagram post and was touched by the outpouring of support from other women considering fertility treatment. Amber says she feels hopeful about the future and has no regrets.
“Dr. Schirmer, the nursing team and staff are so caring and compassionate. They arm you with the information and support you need,” she says. “I feel really good about my decision and grateful for everyone who helped make it possible.”
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