Fertility treatments like IVF or egg freezing can cost as much as a new car, with no guarantees they will work. There’s a lot at stake and a lot of clinics to choose from, so what should you consider when selecting a clinic?
There are around 500 fertility clinics in the US and more are cropping up every year (making there plenty to choose from!). Reproductive medicine is a very competitive specialty for doctors, but despite this, not all clinics and doctors are created equal. The fertility industry is a fast-growing market; labs are easy to start and surprisingly loosely regulated,365 so it’s essential to do your homework and make sure you’re trusting your eggs to the best possible team.
When it comes to picking a clinic, it can be hard to know where to begin. A good place to start is by asking your gynecologist if she or he has recommendations for you. You can assume their recommendations will be based on success or feedback from their other patients, whether it’s for egg freezing or other fertility treatments.
“Even before I was sure I wanted to freeze my eggs, I wanted to get some of the tests done and talk to a fertility doctor about my options. I found a few websites with patient reviews about various clinics but it just wasn’t enough. So I decided to send out a group message to a few of my close friends to see if they know of anyone that had undergone fertility treatment and if they’d be willing to chat about their clinic experience. I was astounded how many of them had their own experiences to share and how open and willing they were to talk about it! I was able to find a fantastic doctor and my friends were so supportive all the way through.” - Bryana, 36
Unfortunately, it would basically take a degree in embryology to determine the actual quality of a clinic and lab. While clinics publish success rate statistics for other treatments like IVF, often the historical data just isn’t available for planned egg freezing because it’s a newer treatment. The other challenge is that the word “success” is a much less tangible concept for egg freezing. In IVF cycles, “success” means a baby born. But for egg freezing, retrieving five eggs for one woman aged 37 with a complex medical history could be considered a great result. Getting, say, fifteen eggs from a younger, healthy woman could be an equivalent win. And without a way to measure the quality of those eggs without fertilizing them, there’s actually no way to accurately predict the “success” of the eggs retrieved. However, there is a considerable overlap in the clinical processes used in IVF and for egg freezing, which is why a clinic’s IVF success rate can be used as a proxy for their general expertise. However, this doesn’t necessarily account for a lab’s ability to properly freeze and thaw eggs, which is, as you might imagine, a very important aspect of egg freezing. (A full list of questions to ask each clinic can be found in the book, "Everything Egg Freezing.")
Then, set up initial conversations/consultations with your top 2-3 clinics. These can be introductory chats with a look around the clinic or full consultations with the doctors (according to your budget, as most will charge for a clinical consultation). Many clinics now offer egg freezing Q&A events and webcasts led by a doctor or nurse who can guide you through their clinic’s approach and can answer any of the questions you may have. This is a great (free!) way to start gathering more detailed knowledge about the procedure and the differences between clinics.
Once you get your basic questions answered, you’ll need to setup a private consultation with a clinic or two. Clinics usually charge for this, which will cost you between $250 and $400 (in the US). The consultation will usually involve: doctor consultation (included); transvaginal ultrasound (included); blood work (charged separately). You can do just one of these at the clinic you have chosen, or you might prefer to compare two or three, depending on your budget.
Having an in-person consultation at one or more clinics is important for a few reasons. First, this is your chance to get your full fertility assessment from the doctor, including any additional tests as well as answers to any questions you might have about how they operate and what kind of outcome you might expect. But second, it’s an opportunity to get a feel for the clinic and its style.
"My doctor kept everything very medical. He didn’t explain all my options to me. In fact, he didn’t really engage me in any proper kind of way." - Marie, 38
It’s important that you feel both comfortable and confident in a clinic’s surroundings - you’ll be spending a decent amount of time there. Do you feel like the staff is helpful, organized,
and communicative? Do they seem focused on personalized care? How
efficiently was the appointment booking process?
"I froze my eggs when I was 34. I was single and working long hours so I felt like a smart thing to do. I wasn't feeling anxious or down about it until I went to the clinic... The experience was impersonal and transactional. If I were to do it again, I'd look for a clinic that focused on the patient experience, especially one with a focus on egg freezing." - Lauren, 36
If you don’t have a good experience or if you want a second opinion, don’t stop there. Even if it means setting up additional consultations at a different clinics, it will be worth it to know you’re freezing your eggs with a team who show the right care, expertise, experience and professionalism.
There’s plenty to muse over - from your own personal cost benefit analysis, to which clinic, to when the right time in your busy life might present itself...this isn’t a decision that should be rushed, for sure. And yet, we wouldn’t be presenting the full reality of the situation if we didn’t reemphasize that age is the most important factor at play. Fertility doctors we speak to often despair that the vast majority of women they see for egg freezing don’t come to them until their late thirties. It’s not that it’s a pointless exercise then, far from it. It’s just, from their clinical perspective, it would give you more chance of a better outcome in the long term if you freeze younger eggs. The point is, if after careful consideration you think you do want to egg freeze, don’t wait for some ideal moment: that moment may never come. Sometimes, you have to take what you want while it’s there for the taking.
You will never be younger than you are today.