Preserving your fertility

If you have recently been diagnosed with endometriosis or if your doctor suspects you might have the condition, perhaps you are looking to start a family, either now or later, naturally you might be concerned for your future fertility.

Lots of people of reproductive age will be diagnosed with endometriosis and many will often undergo invasive and sometimes recurring treatments.

 

Fertility preservation is a way to retrieve and preserve your eggs, embryos or reproductive tissue so that they may be used at a later stage. There are no guarantees, but it’s a great way to boost your chances of becoming a parent in the future.

Besides endometriosis, there are lots of reasons why a person may want to preserve their fertility, for example.

  1. A person undergoing cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, may decide to preserve their fertility. This is because some cancer treatments can cause infertility. 

  2. A person in the armed forces may decide to preserve their fertility in case of enduring an injury.

  3. Those who are transgender or non-binary who may be embarking on hormone treatments or reconstructive surgery.

  4. A person who has endometriosis or another condition that is known to have a negative effect on fertility.

  5. A person who may delay having children. This might be due to not being ready to start a family, the timing not being right, they might not be in a relationship or want to embark on having a career or travel.

 

Is fertility preservation right for me?

Fertility preservation might be an option if you feel you’re not yet ready to become pregnant, but you want to try to boost your chances of getting pregnant later on. If you decide to freeze your eggs or tissue, the treatment doesn’t require sperm because the eggs nor the tissue require fertilisation before they’re frozen.

For couples or those ready to embark on their journey to parenthood by themselves, you may choose to freeze embryos, this is a procedure used to fertilise the eggs with sperm where they are then stored away and ‘frozen’.

Egg or embryo freezing is best carried about before you reach the age of 30. This is where your eggs are at their healthiest. The younger your eggs are, the higher their quality.

See below a list of ways to preserve your fertility. However, they can be complex and costly, and the outcome is not always guaranteed.

Egg freezing

Freezing your eggs is a procedure known as ‘mature oocyte cryopreservation’. This type of treatment involves collecting eggs from the ovaries, freezing them and then thawing them later on so they can be used in fertility treatment.

 

The process usually takes around two to three weeks to complete. Normally this will involve taking medications which are injected into the tummy to stimulate the ovaries by helping the eggs to mature. When they’re ready, they’ll be collected whilst under general anaesthetic or sedation. Once the eggs have been collected, they’ll be mixed with a freezing solution and put away to be frozen.

When the individual is ready to embark on their fertility journey and use the eggs, they will be thawed and those that survive the thawing process will be injecting with the partners sperm or a donor sperm. An embryo is then transferred into the womb.

Embryo freezing

Embryo freezing is very similar to egg freezing, except it involves collecting eggs from the ovaries and mixing them with sperm prior to freezing. This treatment is ideal for couples or those ready to embark on their journey to parenthood by themselves with the use of a donor sperm.

Two or more cycles of egg or embryo preservation may be recommended to maximise the number of eggs or embryos collected and stored, increasing the chances of having a baby in the future. 

Ovarian tissue preservation

Ovarian tissue preservation (also known as ovarian tissue cryopreservation) is a type of fertility procedure which involves removing part of the egg producing tissue (called the ovarian cortex) from the ovary, freezing it and storing it away for future use. This procedure is usually carried out under general anaesthetic during keyhole surgery.

The tissue is removed, frozen, and when a pregnancy is desired, it is transplanted back into the body (providing the transplantation of the tissue is a success). This requires another operation, and pregnancy may occur naturally or by invitro fertilisation (IVF).

This type of treatment can also be beneficial for those who may experience damaged ovaries where the ovaries cannot produce the important hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. This may be a result of ovarian cysts (such as endometriomas). Ovarian tissue preservation can help with hormone production. When the tissue is preserved prior to this, the healthy tissue can be re-implanted after treatment to restore these hormones.

Sadly, not all those with endometriosis are entitled to these treatments funded by the NHS. We are hopeful for those with endometriosis who's fertility is at risk to be considered for fertility preservation treatments in the near future.