Like many of us, Rhiannon Beauregard hates needles.
But when she found herself in her friend's New York City apartment last Friday night, faced with the daunting task of "injecting myself with needles every day" she felt relieved. "I know I'm doing everything I can to preserve my options," she says.
Beauregard is midway through a hormone treatment that is helping her body stimulate her ovaries and ripen multiple eggs. At some point this weekend, she will be put under a light anesthetic while an endocrinologist from Extend Fertility retrieves the eggs from her body, after which an embryologist will rinse them, incubate them, and prep them for cryopreservation—or, as it's commonly known, "egg freezing."
The whole process, which will take place on the twelfth floor of a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan, where Extend's brand-new offices open on Wednesday, will last about 15 minutes.
Extend Fertility bills itself as the first facility dedicated entirely to egg freezing, a practice that is becoming more and more common as women wait longer to get married and have children. In 2009, only about 500 women had completed the process, while in 2013 nearly 5,000 did, according to data obtained by TIME from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). By 2018, 76,000 women will have frozen their eggs, estimates fertility marketer EggBanxx.
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"The perception of egg freezing is shifting from being a last resort to a sort of insurance policy," says Dr. Joshua Klein, Extend's co-founder, chief medical officer, and reproductive endocrinologist.
This change is being driven by both medical and societal factors. In 2012, SART removed the “experimental” label on the procedure, which has by now been the subject of extensive efficacy research. Meanwhile, egg freezing has become less stigmatized as a growing number of women are having children later in life and struggling with fertility issues.
By separating egg freezing into a separate practice, says Extend CEO Ilaina Edison, the company plans to provide women with a better, streamlined client experience and to cut costs—both for the company and its patients—by eliminating overhead (e.g. medical equipment) that is not specific to egg freezing.
At traditional fertility clinics, egg freezing costs range from about $10,000 to $17,000, according to Live Science—and that's not including the thousands of dollars spent on hormones like the ones Beauregard is currently injecting. Extend offers the process itself at half the price ($4,990), though it can't do much about the cost of the medication.
Making the procedure less expensive helps minimize one of the issues that has traditionally plagued egg freezers, says Edison: "A lot of women who come in are already too old." By encouraging clients to think of the process as relatively affordable safety net, Extend aims to encourage women to consider the procedure at a younger age, when they are naturally more fertile and thus more likely to have successful procedures.
But even at the reduced price point, the procedure is a financial burden for many women. "It totally drained my savings," says Beauregard.
Beauregard has bought herself 14 years at most—the longest recorded time eggs have been successfully frozen before being fertilized—during which her eggs will be stored in a specialized cryopreservation facility in Massachusetts.
If she does decide to use the eggs, she will go through the traditional IVF process, where her eggs, after being fertilized, will be placed in her uterus.
While there is not a huge amount of information available on the live birth rate from elective egg freezing, data provided by Dr. Kevin Doody, former chairman of the SART Registry to TIME isn’t terribly encouraging: Of the 353 egg-thaw cycles in 2012, only 83 resulted in a live birth. After 414 thaws in 2013, 99 babies were born. (For both years, the success rate is just under 24%.)
Despite the discomfort of the hormonal injections, the cost, and the low success rates, Beauregard says she would recommend the procedure to any woman who needs to carve out a little extra time to make the decision of when—or whether—to have biological children.
"It's an incredible feeling not to have this looming over me, to not have this clock ticking in the back of my mind," she says. "It's worth every penny."