My blog very much focuses on my life ‘After the Playground’. I share my experiences of what life is like when your kids are teens and beyond and about midlife in general. However, I have been reminded recently that for many midlife ladies, their life in the playground is yet to start. Also, midlife is strongly associated with the menopause but this can happen in your thirties or even younger. I try to promote a positive attitude towards the menopause and midlife in general. That’s why I was eager to share this very informative post from Heidi Hayes, Executive Vice President of Donor Egg Bank, a California Cryobank Company. So, without further ceremony……over to Heidi!
The term menopause is an emotional word. It possesses a stigma suggestive of old age, sterility, and deficiency. However, assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and donor egg freezing are allowing more women to explore the idea of pregnancy later in life, including after menopause. Pregnancy in your 40s – and even 50s – is now rewriting the story of menopause.
What Happens in Menopause?
Before menopause, there are four hormones (estrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH) that cause the ovaries to develop and release a mature egg each menstrual cycle. Without these hormones at proper levels, ovulation will not happen.
In the period before menopause, called peri-menopause, progressively less estrogen and progesterone are produced by the ovaries, and increasingly more LH and FSH are made. These hormone fluctuations cause hot flashes and night sweats, and also periods to be irregular, both in duration and frequency. Consequently, ovulation can happen some months but not in others. This means it is possible to conceive naturally during this period, but rare. Pregnancy after age 35 increases the risks of complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and miscarriage. In addition, there are increased chances of chromosomal birth defects in pregnancies after 35.
Menopause is reached after a year without a period. Levels of LH and FSH stay high while levels of estrogen and progesterone stay low. There is no ovulation and no natural conception possible. This usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 55, although 1% of women will reach menopause before the age of 40.
Menopause and Fertility
Many more women are choosing to become pregnant later in life for various reasons. Having children later means potentially achieving more financial, career, and relationship stability, as well as the wisdom that comes with age; all advantages to raising children. With each passing year, however, the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs drops, and the hormones necessary to cause ovulation and maintain a pregnancy decrease significantly. Eventually, menopause is attained and natural pregnancy is no longer possible.
There are a handful of options available for peri- and post-menopausal women. Forward-thinking younger women can freeze their own eggs if they are planning a later pregnancy, and then use those eggs for intra-uterine insemination (IUI) or IVF. Eggs are retrieved and frozen before a woman reaches her early to mid-30s, as younger eggs are more likely to result in a successful pregnancy. Unfortunately, discovering this too late makes healthy egg retrieval impossible. Using frozen donor eggs is the most ideal option for mature women; eggs are retrieved from a donor of their choosing and can be used when it is suitable for the mother-to-be.
The Donor Egg Process
There are many public donor egg banks in the US, with some fertility clinics keeping their own supply that can be made available to UK couples. Most donor banks have a range of financial plans available, allowing clients to choose the arrangement best for them. Frozen donor eggs are far less expensive than fresh eggs, and some frozen donor banks offer money-back assurances, making them a very appealing option.
Clients can look through full donor profiles once they’ve chosen a donor egg program. Some clients choose a donor with characteristics similar to the future mother, to ensure there is a physical likeness between the child and both parents. Others choose a donor that has traits they believe to be important and want their child to possess. Once the eggs are chosen, they are shipped to the client’s fertility clinic for frozen storage until the IVF process begins.
Stopping the Clock
Hormone treatments are used to prepare the uterus for an embryo to implant after IVF, and medications are administered to prevent pregnancy loss. Regular ultrasounds are performed to track the progress of the pregnancy and monitor any other age-related complications, such as multiples, premature delivery, bleeding complications, and low birth weight.
Pregnancy rates using donor eggs can be as high as 50%, allowing a woman in her 40s or 50s to experience pregnancy and childbirth. While it isn’t risk-free, assisted reproductive technologies give rise to a sense of freedom, providing an alternate path that circumvents the end of fertility, and diminishes the burden caused by a ticking biological clock.
Heidi Hayes is the Executive Vice President of Donor Egg Bank. She has more than 20 years of healthcare experience and has worked extensively in the field of reproductive endocrinology. Having been unsuccessful at traditional IUI and IVF treatments, Heidi personally understands the struggles of infertility. After many years of trying to conceive, she ultimately built her family through adoption and donor egg treatment. She always believed that if she didn’t give up, her ultimate goal of becoming a parent would someday become a reality.