Fertility preservation, in simple terms, means storing human eggs, sperms, or embryos (fertilised eggs) for use in the future to achieve a pregnancy. The basis for preserving fertility is the observation that the chances of conception significantly decline from the mid-thirties onwards.
By mid-forties, women will have a hard time conceiving. The same trend is also observed as men age. But there are medical reasons as well for considering fertility preservation. Once preserved (usually in a frozen state) eggs, sperms or embryos remain viable for use at a convenient time in the future.
If you find yourself advancing in age, with no immediate plans for a pregnancy, you could choose to preserve your fertility if contemplating future parenthood. Some of the reasons why individuals may delay conception include paucity of stable relationships, and educational or career ambitions that may override starting a family. In fact some employers nowadays even fund fertility preservation for their employees, thereby easing concerns on future reproduction.
Medical reasons for fertility preservation are related to disease conditions that may affect reproductive capacity. Some conditions may directly affect and damage reproductive organs.
At other times, treatment modalities may have a toxic effect on the function of reproductive organs, consequently limiting future reproduction. An obvious example is the diagnosis of cancer at an early age, and the need for chemotherapy which can be quite toxic to reproductive cells. Fertility preservation prior to toxic treatments maintains the possibility of future conception should irreversible damage to the reproductive organs occur.
For men, fertility preservation involves giving a sperm sample for storage. In women, the process is more complex. It is often necessary to give women some medications for the appropriate number of eggs to develop. The eggs are removed from the ovaries through a minor surgical procedure, then stored. Those in stable relationships can choose to freeze embryos rather than separate eggs or sperms.
Once a reason to preserve fertility becomes apparent, always seek advice from experts. This will usually comprise of fertility experts and other specialists who may be involved in your care. Beware of the costs involved, both for preliminary evaluations and subsequent maintenance of the preserved reproductive material. The possibility that you may never need to use what you preserved should also be considered. That opens a dilemma on what to do with any preserved material.
Whenever you feel ready for pregnancy, the frozen samples just need to be thawed, then prepared appropriately. The number of successful pregnancies from previously frozen reproductive samples, is ever rising. Such pregnancies are reassuringly normal.
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Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist. [email protected]