Motherhood on Ice

In the United Kingdom, a 36-year-old woman has achieved pregnancy using her own previously frozen eggs and her husbands sperm, and gone on to give birth to a baby girl. Realistically this means women can choose to freeze their eggs and delay motherhood.

A ground-breaking technique that involves taking eggs from a woman and placing them on ice could revolutionise the way we choose to have children in the future.

A British couple who successfully gave birth to a girl have proved that it is possible to take eggs from a woman’s ovary, place them on ice for six months, before gently thawing them out for test-tube fertilisation.

Lee and Helen Perry gave birth to Emily, who weighed 71b 13 oz, after a straight-forward natural delivery in June. It was the first time in the UK that a woman had achieved pregnancy using her own previously frozen eggs and gone on to give birth to a baby.

Helen Perry (36) had earlier been diagnosed as being at risk of a potentially fatal condition called ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome in which the ovaries become swollen. She was advised that a pregnancy at this stage would endanger her heath.

For religious reasons the couple did not want to store frozen embryos that might later be discarded so instead they allowed the medical team to take some of her unfertilised eggs and keep them on ice until her ovaries had recovered. Six months later these eggs were carefully thawed and an embryo was created using her husband’s sperm.

A first attempt failed but the second was successful.

The fertility specialist, Dr Gillian Lockwood, whose team carried out the procedure using a new technique, says the reason that freezing eggs is a difficult process is because they are essentially fluid-filled bubbles and when frozen, ice crystals tend to form inside them, damaging their internal structure and affecting the chances of fertilisation.

The team used a highly-specialised procedure that involved first removing most of the water from the eggs, then using a chemical solution based on a type of alcohol to protect the eggs. The solution has an anti-freeze effect.

To thaw the eggs the temperature was lowered then gradually raised.

Although a similar procedure has been used in the birth of some 20 babies worldwide, until recently such procedures had been banned in Britain.

For women with diseases requiring medical treatment that might make them sterile, the news brings hope. It means there is a chance that their eggs can be removed and used successfully in later life.

"Egg freezing may come to be seen as the ultimate kind of family planning," said Dr Lockwood.

Although there is nothing to stop women freezing eggs simply to delay motherhood, it remains an uncertain an expensive option.