PHOENIX (KSAZ) - The number of women who froze their eggs at U.S. fertility clinics grew by more than 770% between 2009 and 2013.
The process is often marketed as a way to preserve female fertility and delay motherhood, but what more women are learning is that freezing their eggs is not an insurance policy.
For Nikki Clow, appointments with her fertility doctor and coordinator are some of the most important appointment she attends. With her 40th birthday looming, time is not on her side, but having children any sooner was not possible.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2016," said Clow. "A bit of a shock for me and my family. We had just come off battling cancer with my mother."
Clow's diagnosis came when she was 37. Plans to start her own family had been put on hold to care for her mother. Before beginning her treatment, Clow went to Bloom Reproductive Institute and froze her eggs.
12 of them.
"We needed to make sure that when we were done with this, because we were certain I was going to be cancer-free, but that we were going to be able to start that family," said Clow.
Clow endured 18 cycles of chemo in 12 month's time.
"Those 12 eggs probably are what got me through chemo," said Clow.
17 months later, the eggs were defrosted and fertilized , but Clow's hopes were dashed. Only one embryo was healthy enough to transfer, and it did not result in a pregnancy.
"I think the most important thing that we are learning is that even the general public is becoming more aware of is that nothing is truly foolproof," said Dr. Millie Behera, founder of Bloom Reproductive Institute and a fertility specialist. "I think women think they freeze their eggs and they forget about it. They focus on their career or focus on other priorities, and feel like that will always be there as their back up."
Dr. Behera treats a growing number of patients, like Clow, who saw freezing their eggs as an insurance policy - women who focus on their health or careers before focusing on motherhood.
"Generally, we say if you have 10 to 15 eggs, that may give you a 60% to 70% chance of conceiving," said Dr. Behera, whose findings are similar to those published by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).
The study by SART is based on outcomes of women who thawed and used their own eggs in 2014. According to the figures, women under 35 had a 42.7% chance of giving birth, but for women ages 35 to 37, the chance dropped to 39.6%.
For women ages 38 to 40, it was 33.7%, and for women 41 to 42, it was 27.3%.
No matter the reason behind the decision to freeze eggs, the most important thing Dr. Behera wants a woman to know are the variables that will most certainly exist.
"Once women are over age 42, 43, it's difficult to find healthy eggs available," said Dr. Behera.
Eggs decrease in quantity and quality as a woman ages. Older women should consider freezing more eggs, if possible, for a greater chance of success, but that's where cost comes in. The process is pricey, costing anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, plus an annual storage fee. Cost is the reason some patients only freeze one cycle.
In addition, people should do their research, and pay attention to how the eggs are frozen. Women are finding out the slow freezing process used 10 years ago caused ice crystals to form on the eggs, damaging them. The flash freezing technology of today is safer.
"So, in saving eggs or freezing eggs, you are able to preserve the age of the egg, but what I often tell women to ask about is that you don't really know about the second half of the procedure, when the eggs are thawed and once they are exposed to sperm. That's really the only way to learn about egg health, and that's why it' not a foolproof back up plan," said Dr. Behera.
"Everything I did pre-cancer just didn't work," said Clow. "No reason. It's a numbers game."
If she had a chance to do it over, Clow said she would have frozen her eggs at a younger age, even before she was sick. For now, she's in the process of starting her 5th round of IVF, and isn't looking back.
"I mean, we'll do whatever it takes," said Clow. "We'll do it with a smile, and again with the hope that this next one is going to be the one."
The chances of success vary for each individual. Reproductive specialists say it's nearly impossible to predict the outcome.