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Hitting 'pause' on your biological clock

Posted April 7, 2017 12:46 p.m. EDT

The most common reason that couples seek fertility care is delayed childbearing, because the peak fertility years do not always line up with the best time to start a family.

This article was written for our sponsor, Atlantic Reproductive Medicine Specialists.

If you've ever waited for a calm weekend to roll around to catch up on the last few episodes -- or an entire season -- of your favorite TV show, you understand how important timing can be to maximize your experience.

Some people like watching their favorite shows live as they air, and others bank their favorite shows. This allows those individuals the ability to focus fully on their present tense without missing out.

Interestingly, technological advances now allow us not only to start our families the traditional way, but to bank our future fertility by "storing" healthy sperm or eggs until we are ready to conceive.

The most common reason that couples seek fertility care is delayed childbearing, because the peak fertility years do not always line up with the best time to start a family.

"Fertility preservation is increasingly a viable option for both men and women when their fertility is being threatened, whether that threat comes from impending cancer treatments, life opportunities or just not meeting the right partner at the right time," said Dr. David Walmer, of Atlantic Reproductive Medicine Specialists.

Once banked, sperm and eggs can be stored until life circumstances change and then be used to achieve pregnancy with the help of a host of improving assisted reproductive technologies.

Egg Banking

The fertile potential of eggs is threatened merely by the passing of time, which is the primary cause of the age-related decline in fertility.

"Egg banking offers women some peace of mind that life circumstances are less likely to prevent her having a healthy child when she is ready to become a mom," explained Dr. Susannah Copland, of Atlantic Reproductive.

The evolution of both technology and societal norms over the last 100 years have introduced both opportunities and challenges to our reproductive potential.

Egg banking is increasingly a safe and affordable option for women who may want to focus on their career, are seeking out the perfect partner or just want to be prepared for the unseen.

Embryo Banking

Another option for family preservation -- embryo banking -- involves the cryopreservation of fertilized eggs or embryos for future use.

The process includes collecting of eggs from the ovaries, fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory and then freezing the embryos for storage.

"Patients and young couples often utilize this option for similar reasons as egg banking, but it can also allow couples to transfer their embryos to a gestational carrier if a woman has had a hysterectomy or she has a health condition that makes pregnancy to risky," Walmer said.

Emergency Sperm Bank

It is always smart to have some cash stashed away for life's little emergencies. Similarly, there are situations where it may be a good idea to freeze sperm for later conception.

"Although sperm do not age as quickly with age as eggs, medical treatments, such as chemo or radiation therapy can jeopardize a man's future fertility," Copland said. "Fortunately, if it is considered in time, sperm can be banked quickly without interfering with the medical care."

It is important for patients to know their options and to be their own advocate because fertility is not always the highest concern when facing serious health problems like cancer.

Once frozen, sperm, eggs and embryos can be safely stored for years before being used as part of in vitro fertilization, allowing a man to grow his family even after suffering potentially adverse health conditions.

This article was written for our sponsor, Atlantic Reproductive Medicine Specialists.