Egg freezing is being marketed as the new and hip thing to do among New York and Silicon Valley socialites. Freezing one’s eggs is touted as a means of delaying motherhood for the sake of one’s career.
Yet this is anything but empowering to the modern woman. The Washington Post tells of women who freeze their eggs after painful divorces so they can bear children at a later date. Then there’s Aimee Eyvazzadeh, a self-proclaimed “egg whisperer,” whose mission it is to promote and host high-end "egg-freezing parties" at expensive bars. Some companies are even providing egg-freezing “benefits” to encourage women to forestall motherhood in order to keep the workflow uninterrupted.
For example, Facebook, Apple, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Microsoft are planning to offer “benefits” for egg freezing; Google is considering this for 2015. Women everywhere should be deeply disturbed that their fertility (or rather, infertility) is now being used as a bargaining chip in the workplace.
With a promise to cover up to $20,000 in egg freezing fees per woman, the deal sounds alluring. While this is the price some companies are willing to pay in exchange for maximizing women’s productivity during their natural childbearing years, is it a price any woman should accept?
A woman’s natural fear of her ticking biological clock and the sad fact that marriage is at an all-time low enable companies to capitalize on the promise of reproductive “insurance.” This results in what amounts to incentivizing indentured, if still voluntary, servitude.
Egg freezing is fraught with moral dilemmas. It is also practically problematic because it is based on false promises, health risks, and a high chance of disappointment. For example, will the women be told about the high failure rate of pregnancy from frozen eggs? In the New York Times, Miriam Zoll reported: “Even with the new flash freezing process, the most comprehensive data available reveals a 77 percent failure rate of frozen eggs resulting in a live birth in women aged 30, and a 91 percent failure rate in women aged 40. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, for a woman age 38, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2 to 12 percent.”
What if a woman banks (pun intended) on her eggs resulting in a healthy pregnancy later on and this never happens? What if she’s past her childbearing years by then? Will the money she has received for putting pregnancy on hold satisfy her frustrated longing for a baby?
AWired article laid out a detailed medical roadmap of the egg freezing process. After about nine to 13 days of self-injection of powerful hormones, twice daily, the woman is sedated while a doctor suctions the eggs by punching holes into her ovaries. She will most likely have to endure this procedure for two fertility cycles. The eggs are then flash-frozen and stored for about $500 to $1000 in annual fees. When she is ready to get pregnant, the invasive in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure will involve more hormone injections, daily blood tests, ultrasounds, and vaginal probes.
Will women be told about the health risks to them and to their future babies? Some of the known health risks to the woman include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, surgical egg retrieval complications, and the emotional and psychological tolls associated with fertility failure. Questions should also be asked about the health of the eggs after they’ve absorbed chemicals such as cryoprotectants used in the freezing process and their toxicity.
Of course, not all of these risks are realized in every woman, and some women who have their eggs removed go on to bear children from their frozen eggs without complications. Even so, the process of in-vitro fertilization itself can result in the death of some of a woman’s embryos. The potential for the complications that might occur is significant; is that potential made clear to those opting to have their eggs harvested and then frozen?
Another practical question concerning the egg-freezing “benefit:” What if the woman is fired and loses the “benefit” after she’s already frozen her eggs? Are her eggs discarded or does she pick up the tab of keeping them “on ice?”
The social implications are also troubling. Invariably there will be women who choose to become mothers via a natural timeline and method, while others will choose to freeze their eggs. As columnist Miranda Devine of Australia's Daily Telegraph aptly put it: “On what planet is an employer’s offer to freeze the eggs of female employees not an Orwellian horror?...Forget the level playing field…There will be two tiers of women at Facebook and Apple: the freezers and the breeders. The former are the go-getters destined to climb the corporate ladder, whereas those women who have babies when nature intended are the slackers." Putting it simply, the choice not to freeze one’s eggs will stigmatize young motherhood.
When you pit women against women, and even worse women against their own children, there are no winners. The egg freezing option parades as a liberator of women from their gender and fertility (TIME called it “the great equalizer”), but it’s only the latest in a series of attacks on womanhood itself.
Facebook and Apple’s new policies are anti-woman, anti-child and anti-family. If such companies have up to $20,000 to spend on each woman employee, why not offer her a longer or paid maternity leave? Companies can help empower women by offering more flex hours, work-from-home options and on-site childcare to help create a healthy work-life balance.
Women everywhere should beware of false promises and health risks at the expense of their fertility. Women deserve much better than this.