Want to Freeze Your Eggs? Work for Apple or Facebook.
Let me start by saying that I think the invention of egg freezing is a great thing. It’s being misused, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that its mere existence is awesome. As in, inspiring awe.
A woman about to head into cancer treatments that may ravage her fertility? Absolutely — a wonderful use of egg freezing. Is it a slam dunk that she will be able to have a child with those eggs later? Of course not. But the key point here is that she can’t have a child now: she is about to enter treatments. She will be taking drugs that would affect a growing fetus. And since treating cancer can’t wait 9 months or longer, the next best thing she can do is freeze her eggs (or utilize another similar option). She’s done what she can, and she can enter treatments with that what if out of her head. There has been a similar option for men to freeze their sperm for a long time.
Fast forward to today where the option is being dangled out to healthy women. Apple and Facebook announced that they would be covering the cost of egg freezing for their employees in order to attract more female workers to tech. We want you to be able to focus on your career now, so here is a solution that will allow you to work now and have a family (maybe) later.
I think it’s great that a company is thinking how they can provide services that benefit its workers. That’s a good thing. But this feels a little like a PR stunt. How many other aspects of their benefits do you know beyond this one? None, right? And I can’t get behind the false hope that is being held out to women. This feels less like a triumph of science and more like an inferred promise that people will live to regret.
It feels a little bit like Pinocchio and the Land of Toys, which is held out as a haven where boys can “act as they please without recrimination.” Lampwick tells Pinocchio that boys can go there and have fun and not worry about school or work. But what happens after they’ve been there for a while? They become donkeys.
I see the same thing happening to women if they buy into this idea that they are at the wheel when it comes to their fertility. It’s a different story when you are facing a health crisis and egg freezing is the best option out of a bunch of bad options. But when we’re talking about a healthy woman who knows beyond a doubt that she wants a family created out of her own genetic material, she needs to know that there are very real consequences to putting family building on the back burner.
There is nothing simple about fertility treatments, even if you enter them happy to have the option at your disposal. Jezebel (of all places) put together a decent breakdown of the success rates for egg freezing, which is actually a fairly successful medical procedure since pregnancy itself in a healthy 20-something woman doesn’t have a 100% success rate.
Women up to age 35 can expect a 50% chance that her eggs will be functional to make a baby. Women 36 – 38 have about a 35%. Most IVF programs report pregnancy statistics of about 15% – 20% per attempt in women 39 – 41 and freezing one’s own eggs at that age won’t improve those chances.
There is nothing easy about the financial side of treatments. According to NBC, it looks like Apple and Facebook are capping the amount they’ll contribute. $20,000 doesn’t go very far at a fertility clinic if you run into a problem. There is no mention of what will happen if the frozen eggs are unusable and they need to do a fresh cycle? What about employees who need to utilize donor eggs in the future because they run out of frozen eggs? Will there be coverage for all the what ifs that we know — too well — become a reality for many women once they start to build their family?
Will these employers cover counseling since fertility treatments often carry a heavy emotional weight? What about the physical side of treatments? Will there be coverage if there are complications such as OHSS? I mean, they’re looking to get at least 6 eggs per harvest, with more being optimal. Sounds like a situation ripe for overstimulation.
Egg freezing is like telling women they can act as they please without recrimination, whereas we know that biology and the universe more often than not turn us into donkeys.
I am all for insurance plans, but I choose my insurance wisely. I don’t want to pay for a plan that will not cover me if/when I need to utilize the insurance. And while we never truly know what we’re paying into until we need to use insurance (all insurance plans seems great when the money is flowing towards them rather than away from them), we often get a sense before we sign the contract based on other people’s experience. In the case of egg freezing, women can look at those who have used this service in the past as well as the people who are living through fertility treatments now. Women don’t need to spend time hearing a pitch from HR and they don’t need to go to an egg freezing party; they need to spend some time in a clinic waiting room speaking to actual people who are going through IVF.
I am so grateful that egg freezing exists, and if a person wishes to enter with all the facts at their fingertips, more power to them. Perhaps I have more comfort with an individual choosing to finance this option on their own because they need/want to delay parenthood whether that be because they want to build their family with a partner that doesn’t exist yet or whether they want to focus on their career. I trust that when people are spending their own money (especially this much money!) they’ve done research into whether or not the option is really feasible. But an employer dangling out egg freezing as a benefit for choosing a career at their workplace? That feels like the Coachman taking advantage of Pinocchio, convincing him that there are no consequences to his actions, just as Apple and Facebook are trying to convince women they can delay all these wish and the world will still be their oyster in the future.
I hope it will be. But I really fear that it won’t.