Sienna Halliburton, 31, from north London, isn’t sure if she ever wants children, but wants to keep her options open and make sure she doesn’t have any regrets in the future. Now is the best time to take action, while her fertility is relatively high.
While egg freezing is on the rise, the costs usually average around £6,497* in total, so Halliburton decided to sign up for the egg 'freeze and share' programme at the London Women’s Clinic, a scheme that allows people to freeze half their collected eggs for free (for three years), if they donate the other half to the London Egg Bank. These will be used to help a family in need, giving someone else a chance of having the baby they've been longing for.
By using the egg ‘freeze and share’ programme, the costs can be reduced by several thousand as typically the egg freezing package will be free, the medications are free, plus you often get three free years of storage.
"Egg freezing cycles in the UK have increased from 2,576 in 2019 to 4,215 in 2021 (+64%), while sharing programs are only a small proportion of that currently," says fertility expert Kayleigh Hartigan.
While freeze and share programmes have been around since 2008 (started by the Bridge clinic which is now the London Women's Clinic and increasingly other clinics across the country), not many people have heard of them.
Why a freeze and share programme?
Halliburton came across this option when looking into donating her eggs last year.
"I am in a four-year relationship but we definitely don't want children in the next five years – I’m not actually sure if I want my own biological children ever," she says.
"I have been waiting for that feeling to change as I get older but I still don't feel any closer to wanting my own children than I did at 21."
After having worked previously as a nanny for 10 years for a large family with one adopted child, Halliburton has also considered what her 'gift' could mean to another family. "It was such a beautiful thing to do and the whole family love the adopted sibling just as if she were biologically related to them. This really opened my eyes to how wonderful adoption (and other paths to parenthood) are."
"While I'm not desperate to have my own children, I know that might change in future, so this is a great option for me. If it wasn't for the saving in cost, I'm not sure I would have ever actually done it," Halliburton explains.
The freeze and share programme only accepts egg donors who are under 34
And why now? "The freeze and share programme only accepts egg donors who are under 34 – which should be a good indication for when people should think about freezing their eggs. I know some of my friends think they still have a lot of time to, but the older you get, the less likely you are to freeze eggs that lead to a successful birth. This starts to really speed up after 32.
"For me, it's better to freeze and donate them now when the quality is likely to be better than in two or three years (how long it would take for me to save up the money, or longer)."
Working in the fertility sector herself, Halliburton has spoken to many others who have gone through IVF. "Often people have tried many treatments before having to look for alternative help. I think these parents will love their children in an extra special way – after trying so hard and waiting so long to get them. I'd love to be a part of helping them on their journey. They really inspired me to help others struggling to have children of their own."
Protecting her fertility
By helping others, she has a chance to help herself too. "I see freezing my eggs now as a 'self care' for the future. If I can get one of the hardest bits over now (taking the hormones and having the egg collection), instead of when I am already dealing with struggling to have a child, then I think that's great.
"Having the procedure done while younger and not worried about actually getting pregnant at the end of it might make it less stressful and perhaps make a successful outcome more likely for me!
"There is no guarantee you will get the number of recommended eggs (15-20) in one, or even up to three cycles, so it could be a potentially huge cost with no reward. If my body doesn't produce many eggs during my egg freezing journey, I think that will be easier to handle knowing I haven't spent so much money."
For me, it's better to freeze and donate them now when the quality is likely to be better than in two or three years
What are your rights around donated eggs?
"There are a lot of rules – as there should be! I can find out if my eggs have led to a successful birth and the sex of the child, but that's it from my side. Donor-conceived children can find out some basic information about me when they turn 16, and my name and address once they turn 18 (this is according to UK law – donations can’t be anonymous)," Halliburton explains.
"I've written them a letter saying I would like to meet them one day, if they would like to of course! I think that's a really nice part of the programme – you write them and their parents a letter of 'goodwill' – which was a bizarre but lovely thing to do.”
She says the best part of the scheme is that to assess if you’re eligible you have an hour of counselling, which you can then benefit from for life. "If you've donated your eggs and want to have help at any point with things like telling your own children, your family, or once any biological children get in contact. It's a support forever."
Halliburton points out while often the individual donating feels empowered, sometimes it's their parents or grandparents who can find it strange.
I've written them a letter saying I would like to meet them one day, if they would like to of course!
How does the process work?
"It's pretty simple – it's exactly the same as what you would go through when just freezing your eggs, apart from that you donate half of them at the time of collection. You have to take all the initial fertility MOT tests (blood for AMH levels and a vaginal scan so they can look at your ovaries/tubes/follicles etc). If you pass these tests, which I did, you then have more blood tests which are used for genetic testing.
"A doctor looks at these results along with your family history and medical history – if you are eligible, they give you vitamin D and folic acid to take before the collection procedure which can start on the day of your next period."
"I am about to have my first cycle," Halliburton adds.
In addition, if and when you want to use your eggs it will be an extra £3,440 on average for an egg thaw transfer cycle treatment.
Egg freezing costs
Egg freezing is not typically available on the NHS unless you are having medical treatment which could affect your fertility, according to Fertility Network.
"Fertility Mapper has found that the average true cost of an egg freezing package is £4,414 – and when you add in everything you need including medication, it's £6,497* on average," explains expert Hartigan. "This is also only the price of one round of egg freezing, but people often need to undergo more than one round to achieve the desired amount of viable eggs."
Packages can be anywhere from £2,655 to £7,262, according to the community platform's recent true cost of fertility report. "Cost is a huge barrier for people who want to freeze their eggs."
Fertility Mapper analysis and the cost report shows the several parts of standard egg freezing could cost:
1. Initial tests/consultation/scans (also known as a fertility MOT): £483 average
2. Egg Freezing Package (including scans/bloods): £4414 average
3. Estimated cost of medication: £1600
Total average for one round of egg freezing: £6497
4. Annual storage fee: £360
5. In addition if you want to use your eggs it will be an additional £3,440 on average
What does 'freeze and share' save on?
"If you do a freeze and share programme, the egg freezing package is free, the medications are free and you usually get three years of free storage," says Hartigan.
"They also typically cover the cost for all the rounds you need to get eggs, but if you want to use your frozen eggs for IVF treatment in future, you will need to cover the cost for this. If you want to store your eggs on a longer-term basis you have to pay for this too."
Although deciding to donate eggs is a major decision, for many like Halliburton, it can make egg freezing a viable option that might otherwise be out of reach.
Read more: As Jennifer Aniston shares IVF journey, how does the fertility treatment work and who's eligible? (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
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