Yahoo! Parenting published a story this week about celebrity singer Sophie B. Hawkins, who recently disclosed that she is pregnant with her second child at the age of 50, and that she became pregnant using embryos she froze at age 31.
This is a particularly poignant story because it highlights one celebrity’s awareness of the reality of the biological clock, and demonstrates that we now have an effective way to circumvent it – fertility preservation through egg or embryo freezing.
Since the 1980s, it has been established that fertility declines in women as we get older. Studies tracking natural fertility rates in countries all around the world describe a markedly consistent pattern of a decline in fertility starting around age 30, becoming more significant around ages 35-37, with most women reaching the end of their fertile years by age 45. Even with the use of advanced reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF), it is extremely difficult to achieve pregnancies in women 45 and older.
This age-related decline in fertility can be explained by the fact that all women are born with a limited number of eggs. As time goes by, the number of eggs and the quality of eggs decreases. Egg quality refers to the ability of the egg to complete the tasks necessary to produce a viable embryo (i.e. chromosomally normal). It has been reported that around the age of 37-38, more than half of a woman’s remaining eggs are no longer high enough quality to result in a healthy baby and unfortunately, it only worsens over time. By age 45, most women have too few eggs and the quality of the remaining eggs is too poor to have a baby. Though it is not impossible, the odds of having a baby naturally at this age are less than 1 in 1,000.
These facts can be quite daunting given that delaying motherhood is a choice that so many women need to make in today’s society. However, due to the decades of scientific advances in optimizing technology of egg freezing (much of which was pioneered by our program at USC Fertility), we now have an effective option to help women protect their plans for having babies later in life. Freezing eggs at younger reproductive ages when the egg quality is still good, allows women to successfully conceive at older ages when their natural supply of eggs may already be depleted. Ms. Hawkin’s story is a great example of how well this can work.