News that tech giants Facebook and Apple would cover the cost of egg freezing for female employees has generated a tsunami of commentary on whether the perk genuinely helps women or is simply a distraction from making real family-friendly changes in the workplace (it should be noted that both companies already have some of the most generous leave polices in tech with Facebook providing four months of paid paternity and maternity and Apple allowing expectant mothers four weeks of paid leave prior to giving birth, and up to 14 weeks of paid leave after the baby arrives).
But the polemical has ignored the fact that freezing one’s eggs is a complicated personal decision in which work is often a small factor.
In one study of nearly 200 women who froze their eggs at New York University Langone Medical Center, 88 said they were delaying motherhood because they didn’t have a partner; only 19% said they might have had children when they were younger if their workplaces had been more flexible.
Yet as other companies surely follow Facebook and Apple’s lead, it’s unknown if more women will take advantage of the chance to stash away some frozen eggs in the hopes of having biological children in their late 30s and beyond. The government doesn’t publish statistics on how many women have undergone the fertility preservation procedure since it became available in the U.S. a decade ago, but several fertility clinics report their caseloads have doubled in the past few years.
What role will work play when women consider freezing their eggs? Here are two women’s perspectives on the case for and against:
Anita S., 40, emergency room physician, Philadelphia
“I’m lucky I was able to freeze my eggs when I did. If I’d had a partner in my 20s, I’m not sure I would have used work as an excuse to wait to start my family. But years of medical school and training definitely played a role in why I’m single.
I’d always hoped to meet someone during my residency, and it was really hard to find time to make dating a priority–never mind moving around the country. I had several relationships in my 30s, but none lasted more than a year. Even now I have to work late nights and weekends, and it’s a struggle getting guys to be patient with my crazy schedule.
But I still hope to fall in love and create a strong marriage and family. I want my children to have a father and don’t like the idea of having a baby on my own. That’s why I did two rounds of egg freezing at ages 37 and 38 and banked 23 eggs. I was fortunate because the science was available, and I could afford it. I didn’t ever want to have regrets.
We all know we should have our kids young, if we can. But if you’re 30 and think that you’re going to spend the next few years building your career and won’t have a lot of time to date, then you should consider freezing. A lot of women hold off because they don’t have the money, but it’s a no-brainer if your company will pay for it. Seriously, why wouldn’t you give yourself every opportunity for a healthy baby in the future? Hopefully, your life will work out the way you want, and you’ll never have to use them.”
Meredith M., 32, editorial director, Los Angeles
“I’m in a serious relationship and hope to start my family within a few years. But even if I wasn’t, I don’t think I’d ever freeze my eggs because I feel compelled to adopt, regardless of my fertility. I would never go to such extreme lengths to preserve the option of having theoretical children when there are living people on this earth that need homes.
I also think we’re doing a disservice to women by glossing over what egg freezing does to your body. You’re taking massive amounts of hormones to grow eggs that your body couldn’t do on its own. You can’t drink or exercise during the process, and you risk over-stimulating your ovaries and causing hellish mood swings. You have to undergo surgery. We don’t know the long-term risks, either.
This is a serious medical procedure. It definitely doesn’t belong in the debate on work-life balance. Even if I got offered my dream job around the time I wanted to start my family, I don’t think I would put off having kids. I grew up in a culture in which my mom and my friends’ moms were able to have careers that mattered to them. But they had to juggle a lot. Our generation has a responsibility to hold companies responsible for making space for families.
I don’t think egg freezing levels the playing field for women. In some ways, it puts more pressure on us. If you have the chance to freeze and instead decide to have a baby, and don’t, will you get passed over for a promotion? This is a good example of companies getting it wrong and expecting women to be grateful. We still have to fight for serious changes so women don’t ever have to choose.”
—Sarah Elizabeth Richards is the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It.