New Path To Motherhood?

Freezing Unfertilized Eggs May Offer Hope

It's basic biology – an egg, sperm and nine months later, a baby.

But these days, science has some brand news recipes for the miracle of life. Correspondent Maureen Maher reports.

Juliette Goetz, 39, lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. A real estate agent and dance choreographer, Juliette hopes to have her own little "miracle" one day.

In her 30s, Juliette found herself suddenly single, and her biological clock was ticking. But being a single mom just wasn't an option.

"I would see little kids, and I would wonder, 'Oh, this is a dream I'm going to have to give up on,'" says Juliette. "And every birthday, I'd feel I'm another year older. It was definitely creating some stress in my life."

Until recently, Juliette and millions of women like her would be singing the baby blues. But it's a brave new world, and Juliette may have found a revolutionary way to beat the clock. She's freezing her own eggs.

"I view it as an insurance policy," says Juliette. "It definitely gives me peace of mind."

Freeze technology is nothing new in the world of making babies. Sperm banks have been around for 30 years, and fertilized eggs, embryos, are routinely frozen during in-vitro fertilization. An unfertilized egg is fragile, and freezing it was thought to be impossible -- until now.

She began the process three years ago at age 36. First, she took fertility drugs to stimulate her egg production. Two weeks later, her eggs were extracted and put into a deep freeze. She says the drugs and procedure costs approximately $8,000 – and it's not covered by insurance.

Juliette's mother, Allegra, wants grandchildren, but she's worried. "It seemed to me that we would have very little control over what happened to Juliette's eggs. I mean, I can't look in this test tube and say, 'Those are my potential grandchildren.' It could be an empty test tube."

A total of 47 of Juliette's eggs are now locked away in cold storage at the Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Jacksonville, FL.

Reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Kevin Winslow is one of the pioneers in the science of making frozen eggs into babies.

"Worldwide, I'd say there are probably no more than 90 to 100 babies born, of which 25 have come from this clinic," says Winslow.

"I would say that 70 to 75 percent are women who are concerned about delayed childbearing."

But there is an age limit – 38. "At 38 and beyond, the number and quality of eggs that we can retrieve from the average patient is going to be low," says Winslow.

"I'm really worried about the marketing of this procedure as something that will give women a hedge against aging," says Dr. Richard Paulson, a reproductive specialist at the University of Southern California. He says egg freezing is still not quite there yet.

"I would say this is an unproven technology," says Paulson. "It's sort of like buying a lottery ticket."

Julie and Bob Staskunus in Milwaukee are banking on frozen eggs to help them have a baby. Julie, 32, is a nurse practitioner and volleyball coach. Her husband, Bob, is a 38-year-old high school teacher. They have been trying to get pregnant for nearly four years.

"People were telling us its just stress," says Julie. "It wasn't happening."

They decided to try in-vitro fertilization and Julie got pregnant. But sadly, she had a miscarriage. As part of their in-vitro treatment, some of Julie's unfertilized eggs had been frozen. Doctors suggested that it was now time to use them.

There are approximately 400,000 frozen embryos in the country. And it's estimated that nearly half of them are unclaimed or abandoned. Fertility experts, however, believe this ethical quagmire could be solved by egg freezing.

Julie's eggs were frozen at the Advanced Institute of Fertility in Milwaukee.

"I think it gives us a lot of control over our future, and we can stop time with medicine now, and we haven't been able to do that," says embryologist Joni Stehlik, who believes the technology is revolutionary.

Soon after, Bob and Julie get the news. They are pregnant.

What happens next?

For Julie and Bob Staskunus, it's a boy, Matthew.

And there's good news for Juliette too. "There's someone that I've been seeing for the last year and a half or so," she says.

Will she finally have a chance to thaw some of her frozen eggs? Well, not just yet. "He isn't really sure if he wants to have children," she says.

So for now, her 47 eggs will remain in the freezer. But that's giving her some peace of mind. "It's taken a lot of the burden off of me and allowed me to relax," says Juliette. "The clock is still ticking, but it's a very faint tick at this point, compared to how it used to be."