Freezing for hope

Omneya Yousry, Thursday 12 Sep 2019

Egyptian women are now able to freeze their eggs like other women worldwide, writes Omneya Yousry

Freezing for hope

Egg-freezing, or mature oocyte cryopreservation, is a globally known procedure that has helped many women with fertility issues and given them the confidence that they can one day conceive. However, it is only recently that this procedure has been available in Egypt.

“It’s a well-known medical procedure used to help guarantee women’s ability to get pregnant in the future. Eggs harvested from women’s ovaries are frozen unfertilised and stored for later use. A frozen egg can then be thawed, combined with sperm in a lab, and implanted in a woman’s uterus,” explained gynaecologist Heba Al-Qattan.

Reem Mehanna recently became well known on social media in Egypt after she announced that she had taken advantage of the procedure. She showed up in a video on her Facebook account announcing that had gone through a freezing procedure more than two years ago.

“It was very simple. The gynaecologist injected me with a few injections to activate the eggs’ secretion. Then he opened three or four small holes in the abdomen, extracted the eggs, and put them to freeze in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -180 C. The operation took only an hour or so, and the eggs can be saved for up to 20 or 30 years,” Mehanna said in her video.

She said she did not want to marry a man only to have a child. She also said that did not want to get married before the age of 30, as she wanted to build her own career first, and she added that she could not guarantee when she might meet her perfect match. “I might meet him at 32 or 37, or even 46,” she said. “So, what could happen if I get married at a late age? I’ll try to get pregnant normally, but if we fail, I can use my frozen eggs and have in-vitro fertilisation.”

Mehanna said that the marriage age for women and men in Egypt and Middle East was going up anyway, so she wanted to share her ideas with girls who might be thinking about marriage but that had not married yet. “Most importantly, I’m giving this piece of advice to women with cancer who may want to freeze their eggs before chemotherapy, one of the main reasons affecting women’s fertility,” she said.

 “Egg-freezing can be suitable for all. The process starts with controlled hyper-stimulation of the ovaries with hormones to produce a larger number of eggs than just one egg a month. Then we take out the eggs by various routes. There can be a ten per cent egg loss when we freeze and de-freeze them, which is why the success rate fluctuates,” Al-Qattan said.

For cancer patients who are going to have radiotherapy, the radiation can affect the egg supply. If for any reason one of the ovaries is lost, this can also affect the egg supply. Sometimes girls do a test and discover that their stock of eggs is getting lower, which reflects an early menopause, sometimes in the twenties and thirties, she added.

“Any procedure has its risks, even the simplest, starting from possible infection or bleeding. Removing the eggs, especially via the abdomen, needs an experienced and skillful surgeon.”

From a religious point of view, the Dar Al-Iftaa, the advisory institution attached to Al-Azhar in Cairo, has declared that “the process of freezing eggs is permissible, and there is no Islamic prohibition of it if it is carried out under four conditions. Egg-freezing is a new scientific development in the field of artificial insemination. It allows a couple to repeat the fertilisation process when needed, without re-stimulating the ovary to produce other eggs.”

The statement said that the four Sharia conditions necessary for egg-freezing were, first, that the eggs must be fertilised by the sperm of the husband while the couple is married and not after the marriage is over, such as in cases of divorce or the death of one of the couple. Second, the fertilised eggs must be kept under strictly controlled conditions to prevent damage or inadvertent mixing with other preserved eggs.

Third, a fertilised egg must not be placed inside the womb of a woman who did not originally produce that egg, and eggs may not be donated. Finally, egg-freezing must not pose any negative side effects for the foetus due to the impact of various factors that it might be exposed to during the process.

However, the debate is not only one between science and religion, but it is also a societal debate as well. Mary Boushra, a 32-year-old translator, said that “it is merely a procedure resembling those done already to treat sterile men or women. The thing is that it is just a new one. Some people will say it is like interfering with God’s will. But if you look at things that way, you are already interfering when you take contraceptive pills or when you are looking for a solution to being sterile.”

Injy Khaled, a 31-year-old reporter, said that she was “totally in favour of egg-freezing because I won’t be forced to marry a man I’m not convinced about for the sake of children. I’m now 31, and if in two years I’m not married, I’ll definitely adopt the freezing method. Every woman deserves to be a mother, but she also deserves the right to choose a good man to be the father of her children.”

“Why not? Why shouldn’t she grab the hope to make her dreams come true at the right time? But for me, I’m almost 37 and unmarried. I won’t do something like that since I love the idea that destiny will make its choice spontaneously without my interference,” said Yasmin Zaghloul, an operations manager.

Men’s opinions varied between those for and those against. Mohamed Mamdouh, a 38-year-old electrical engineer, said the age gap between mother and child should still be moderate. “Children are energy consumers. I don’t think a woman in her forties will have the same energy as she did in her twenties to deal with children,” he said. Leave a child with an old lady and see if she’ll have the patience to deal with it, he added.

“Reproduction at a young age is best to raise children. God gave every age its own appropriate biological needs and abilities.”

However, Sameh Sami, a 27-year-old account manager, said egg-freezing could be very inspiring and empowering for a lot of women who may find themselves pressured into taking a major decision that might not be best for them at the time.

“It’s a well-studied opportunity for any girl or woman who suffers from medical complications,” he added.

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