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Beating The Biological Clock?

A new procedure called egg cryopreservation allows women to freeze their eggs when they're younger so they can get pregnant when ready, for some, into their 40s. The results, however, are not guaranteed.

Worldwide, CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith reports, only about 100 babies have been born using this procedure. But some say it's worth the risk.

Deanna Tanner has a life many women would envy – she is in good health, she has a great job as a marketing director, she has a large loving family and she owns a beautiful home. But, one thing didn't work out the way she'd planned.

Tanner is 38 years old, not married and doesn't have any children.

"It's just circumstantial," says Tanner. "I pictured myself having a household full of children by 30."

But instead of finding her dreams of motherhood dashed as she approaches 40, Tanner found a way to defer them.

Tanner says, "I want children. And I want to be married. It's just the way my life has happened. But now I often say, 'I don't have children. But I do have 19 eggs.'"

Tanner was talking about her ovarian eggs, which are kept in a freezer in Jacksonville, Fla.

Dr. Kevin Winslow is one of the first doctors in the U.S. to freeze women's eggs. His patients such as Deanna Tanner take hormone medication for at least ten days to increase their egg production, then they undergo minor surgery to extract the eggs.

"What we want to do is freeze as many good quality eggs early on so that, again, when that patient is ready to use her eggs, she'll have some good quality eggs with which to establish her pregnancy with," says Winslow. "I say no basically to any patient over age 38 … because, again, we know the majority of eggs we get from a 38 and older patient will not be good eggs."

A woman's eggs can remain frozen for years. When she's ready, her eggs are thawed, fertilized, implanted and, hopefully, nine months later she'll have a baby.

To date, Winslow has 26 babies from frozen eggs to his credit, and he has nine more on the way. Currently, Winslow has thousands of eggs stored in his lab.

But the medication, surgery and storage for the procedure come at a high price. The total cost of the procedure is more than $10,000, which is not covered by insurance.

"I was very concerned about the cost," says Tanner. "But I just decided it would be a gift for myself. I spend more money than that during the year on foolish things and also on fun things. And I just thought, 'Why not?'"

Like Tanner, home healthcare nurse Heidi Meitri doesn't want to have children on her own. So when she turned 38, she too decided to have her eggs frozen, in hopes of having a baby when she does get married.

"It's nice to have the option to be able to have your own child," says Meitri. "I just didn't want that taken away from me just because I have a biological clock."

Still, some fertility experts urge caution. They say egg freezing is so new and rare, it's too early to tell how often a baby will be born using this technology.

"I think they are buying a lottery ticket just because we don't have the data yet to attach a particular success rate to the procedure," says Roger Gosden. "Some women may be successful now. But to store eggs at the moment is indeed a gamble."

It is a gamble 20-year-old Rose Shapiro was willing to take. Less than two months ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now she's not only fighting for her life, but she is battling for her future as a mother.

"I have to undergo chemotherapy for six to eight months, and there's definitely a strong chance that I could be post menopausal by the time I'm done with chemotherapy," says Shapiro. "I won't be able to ovulate and produce my own eggs. But I'll still be able to carry a baby. So, by freezing the eggs, it gives me the possibility to have a natural birth and have a biological child and give birth the conventional way."

Still, Shapiro knows the procedure might not work. But, she says the practice of freezing her eggs does give her a piece of mind.

For Deanna Tanner, the procedure isn't a gamble.

"I don't let the fact that I am childless or the fact that I have 19 eggs harvested consume my daily thoughts," Tanner says. "It's just a process that I've gone through. And if it works out and gives me a nice return, then that will be wonderful. If it doesn't, I have accepted that. And life goes on."

Though Winslow believes in the procedure, he cautions that it's still experimental. He wants to see thousands of babies born this way and then follow them for years.

For more information, please contact:

  • Kevin Winslow, M.D., P.A.
    Infertility Reproductive Endocrinology Subspecialist
    Baptist Medical Center Pavilion
    836 Prudential Dr. #902
    Jacksonville, FL 32207
    (800) 556-5620 or (904) 399-3411
    Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine
  • David Smotrich, MD – (858) 558-2221
    La Jolla IVF at the Smotrich Center for Reproductive Enhancement
    9850 Genesee Avenue, Suite #610
    La Jolla, CA 92037
  • Dr. Thomas Kim – (323) 525-3377
    Comprehensive Health for All (CHA)
    Los Angeles, CA
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