Nov. 13, 2009— -- Melissa Brooks hears her biological clock ticking very loudly. So the 38-year-old divorcee from Dallas decided to fly to Denver to harvest her eggs in hopes of saving them to have children later in life.
"I want to be able to have a biological child with the man that I marry," Brooks said.
Brooks is part of a growing trend of women freezing their eggs before the quality of the eggs declines, according to Dr. William Schoolcraft, the director of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in Denver.
"Most of the patients are in their mid to late 30s," Schoolcraft said. "They recognize they're not going to have babies, still, for several years and they really want to maintain their eggs at the earliest possible stage."
The process of egg freezing, which costs between $10,000 and $15,000, on average, is happening in as many as 50 medical centers across the country.
Dr. Nicole Noyes, a professor at New York University School of Medicine, has specialized in the field of infertility since 1990 and helped more than 300 women freeze their eggs since 2003.
The technique is very precise. After extracting the eggs from a woman, usually 13 or 14, experts analyze them. Then the eggs, which are the size of a pencil point, have to be dehydrated using a specific recipe so they do not burst when they are frozen.
"If you put a can of soda in the freezer, it expands and gets ruined," Noyes said. "Well, the same thing can happen in an egg."
The eggs are stored in a cryopreservation straw and placed in a vat of liquid nitrogen.
Noyes said the eggs could last for decades, if not centuries, in the liquid nitrogen, although no woman would want to save them that long. Most eggs are used within a few years, and most centers do not allow women older than 50 to use the frozen eggs to have a baby.
There are no guarantees with the procedure. Noyes tells her patients they have about a 50 percent chance of getting pregnant per batch of frozen eggs.
First Colorado Baby Born From a Frozen Egg
Hayden Henzel, 2, is the first baby in Colorado to be born from a frozen egg. His parents, Carolyn and Gregg, participated in a trial with Schoolcraft that tested the technology. The Henzels were successful.
"There's always a risk that your child is going to be different," Carolyn Henzel said. "However, the process that we went through, it didn't indicate that there should be any reason to worry that the way he was conceived would make a difference in his health or the pregnancy or anything else."
Egg freezing still is considered an experimental treatment by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and there are health risks for the mother.
Noyes said the fertility medication, which is given to the woman so she produces additional eggs, could over-stimulate the ovaries and cause the body to take on water, or the woman could become short of breath, although Noyes said that is very rare.
However, studies have shown that the babies born from frozen eggs are just as healthy as other children. And the process is giving women, like Brooks, hope for the future.
"It makes me so happy," Brooks said. "And it's changed my life. So I don't worry about it now. because I know that this is here. And I know that when it's time and when it's right, it'll happen."