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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.

20 comments

1 Mic { 10.15.14 at 7:24 am }

I appreciate your perspective on this and I’m glad you wrote. I was on a tweet rampage yesterday with a friend about how pissed I am over this. I agree, egg freezing is amazing. Mind blowingly amazing. I’m so glad it exists. And I’m glad that employers are recognizing it’s value.
But the way it’s being …. promoted? at Apple and FB? It’s …. disgusting.
It does nothing to advocate for the cause of IF. It does nothing for working mothers. So what? These companies want to show they are family friendly? And this is how they do that?
Let’s start with a movement on making reentry into the workforce after childbirth with appropriate medical leave … Not mere weeks. Let’s be supportive to the fact that we need to tell women there is never a. ” right” time to have kids – and let them decide for themselves instead of waiting for a career to dictate what looks appropriate.

Look, I’m glad the benefit is being offered. I’m sure it will help some of the people it was intended for. But let’s stop using it as a PR stunt to entice young women to work in Sillicone Valley.

Nobody wants to willingly experience IVF for the hell of it. G-d knows I sure as hell didn’t.

2 chickenpig { 10.15.14 at 8:28 am }

I totally agree with Mic. If you want to throw your hat in the ring as a family friendly company, freezing eggs isn’t it. On site daycare with a nurse, a sick room for kids staying home, and clean, comfy places to feed your baby or pump (and the time to do it!) are putting your money where your mouth is. And adoption leave…and excellent health insurance.

Freezing my eggs wouldn’t have done me a damn bit of good, since my husband’s wonky donk sperm was to blame. What would have made me swoon would be the time to pursue treatments (I had to leave the job I loved because I couldn’t get any time) and the flexibility to go back to work after having twins. The offer to freeze eggs for healthy women is just a shiny trinket that doesn’t mean anything.

3 Katie { 10.15.14 at 8:42 am }

I’m not a fan of this, and I think I surprised my husband a little bit yesterday when I stated so over the dinner table. Here’s what it sounds like to me: “Please come work for us and freeze your eggs, so that we can work you to death until you’re 45… and THEN you can try for a baby!” Except it doesn’t work that way. Freezing your eggs doesn’t guarantee that your uterus will still (or ever did) work, or that your partner’s sperm is strong enough to fertilize them. It doesn’t guarantee that you can carry a pregnancy full term. Egg preservation is NOT a golden ticket to parenthood. I wouldn’t blame anyone who decides to take advantage of this opportunity, but I DO blame the companies for presenting this opportunity in the first place. It screams hidden agenda.

4 Nonsequiturchica { 10.15.14 at 8:57 am }

The whole thing is weird. What if you get fired or resign? Do the companies still pay for your treatments? I mean, you did put off having a family for the company. Or is this a way of keeping women at the company indefinitely? I don’t like it.

5 Megan { 10.15.14 at 8:58 am }

It didn’t sit well for me either, when I read it yesterday. And others have asked what about the storage cost, or the cost of an FET? It feels like they have something up their sleeve.

6 A. { 10.15.14 at 9:35 am }

It seems like a way to compound the tacit pressure on women to put work first indefinitely, like, ‘Hey, now you have no excuse.’ I agree that they should spend some time in a clinic. I think of how much trial and error this process has involved for me, and the only reason I even have a chance is because I started young enough to still have eggs while we work out the kinks. Not so if you freeze one batch and wait until your forties because you’ve been coerced into choosing between career and family. I support all manner of lifestyle for the modern woman, and if she has no desire for children, how wonderful to know exactly what you want and don’t. But if family is of crucial importance, the potential consequences are great.

7 a { 10.15.14 at 9:44 am }

No offense to the gender, but this sounds like a plan conceived by a man. Oh, you can’t wait too long to have children because your eggs are no longer viable (and other considerations)? No problem! We’ll freeze the eggs!

As has been said above, this is not a policy to promote family. It’s a policy to suck the life out of you while you still have youth and energy and a lack of outside commitments. Instead of making it easy for you to devote yourself to being a well-rounded individual, they want you to focus on work.

If you’d like an absurdist policy, how about this one? Hire some people straight out of college, encourage them to marry and reproduce, and pay them a decent salary and benefits with only the requirement of weekly brainstorming sessions. Then, once the kids are off in college, they’re required to work 50+ hours a week until they can’t do it any more. Give the retirement first, in other words. People who don’t want children can structure things any way they want. People who have trouble conceiving are covered by a generous insurance policy. THAT would be an innovative idea.

8 fifi { 10.15.14 at 10:29 am }

Are there really scads of women who delay childbearing because they want a “high-powered career”? I know women who postponed having children because they were single, or stoney broke, or ambivalent about motherhood. But because they would be climbing the career ladder a bit slower than otherwise…. I can’t see it. (But then again, I’m more of a “work to live” than “live to work” person).

9 fifi { 10.15.14 at 10:38 am }

a’s “absurdist policy” reminds me of a report I read about Iceland. Apparently, it’s quite common for Icelandic women to have babies in their early 20s, while still at college. It probably helps that there’s no stigma against single motherhood and that the “it takes a village” philosophy is quite strong.

10 Rebecca { 10.15.14 at 10:52 am }

At large companies, “unusual” coverage often happens because an individual was originally denied coverage for something specific and then discusses it with HR who decide to add it as a benefit during the next insurance cycle. I’ve seen IF coverage get added for this specific reason. I could see how egg freezing coverage may have started because of an employee who was experiencing cancer-related fertility problems. And, then when others started noticing the option, it was twisted to “freeze ’em now, use ’em later!”

Are the companies REALLY advertising it as “come here and work until your eggs dry up but still have a baby” or is it just that someone found it in their coverage and interpreted it that way? Or, did someone in PR notice it and say “hey, here’s something we can emphasize to show how women-friendly we are?” I don’t know.

Regardless, having gone through IVF and OHSS and all that mess, I can’t imagine doing that voluntarily. I don’t think the people planning on “freezing their eggs for later” have any idea what that really involves — either now or later!

11 Sharon { 10.15.14 at 12:23 pm }

I’ll be honest: even if my employer had offered me this option for free when I was 25, I wouldn’t have taken advantage of it. . . simply because I was too naive to realize I would’ve needed it. I started TTC at 37 and thought I’d be pregnant in a few months, simply because both my grandmothers and a lot of other women I knew had conceived naturally after 35 without difficulty.

This despite the fact that, as a nurse, I should have been better informed about fertility issues than the average person. So I’m not sure how many female employees will actually take advantage of this benefit at an age when it would actually be of use to them.

12 Tiara { 10.15.14 at 12:31 pm }

Well said. My first thought was why couldn’t these companies make a better environment for women to have their babies when they are ready & be able to return to work with support & programs in place. This just feels like it reinforces the idea that if a woman has to choose babies or career, not both.

13 Lachelle { 10.15.14 at 1:50 pm }

I completely agree. I am grateful that it will help women who need it, but what a crappy way to go about it.

14 Heather { 10.15.14 at 2:24 pm }

I agree with you and was rather floored when I heard about this on the news today. Interestingly, my SIL works for FB and loves it there. She’s got two young kids and talks about how flexible they are for her family with working odd hours so she can make preschool events, etc. Still though, I wonder about the motives of a company that offers this.

15 Keiko { 10.15.14 at 3:21 pm }

I’m curious about the bottom line. You have two of the biggest tech companies offering a benefit that relies on some seriously high-tech science. I wonder in whom they’ve invested if there’s not some kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge relationship b/t select egg banks and Facebook and Apple? Total speculation, but something worth considering.

16 Ana { 10.15.14 at 5:18 pm }

I was hoping you’d tackle this—of course you would! Yeah, other than for ovary-destroying cancer treatment–in which case you have NO CHOICE—this makes little sense. Why not make it easier for women to have children BEFORE their eggs age? Wages, benefits, mental health care, maternity leave, daycare, flexibility, part-time options, from home options…there are a million things that would enhance a woman’s childbearing experience more than having to pump herself full of drugs at age 25 for egg retrieval and then realize the benefit doesn’t cover the storage costs past X amount of years, and certainly doesn’t cover the treatments needed later to actually try for a pregnancy.

17 KeAnne { 10.15.14 at 5:55 pm }

I shared this post on Twitter and it supports your position (with which I agree). The blogger blogs on reproductive issues (she’s a lawyer) and I don’t always agree with her, especially on surrogacy, but I agree 100% w/ her opinion on this. http://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/freezing-eggs-and-the-perils-of-choice/

18 Mali { 10.15.14 at 9:32 pm }

I heard this driving in the car yesterday (whilst you would still have been fast asleep), and I just KNEW you’d write about it! I’ve heard it reported as a “family friendly” policy, when actually it is the opposite. Really it is just suckering them in for working for the company without taking time out to have children. And I wonder what pressures might be placed on women who opt out of egg freezing, and actually try to get pregnant the natural way. This brings in more scope to discriminate against women than it helps them, I think.

And finally, it is also of course as we know, fooling women (and not just those at Facebook and Apple, but all who hear about this) into thinking that egg freezing is foolproof.

19 Cristy { 10.15.14 at 10:57 pm }

Between this post and the series Pamela has been running on egg freezing, I’ve been progressively becoming more pissed off. I agree with you that egg freezing is a wonderful option for women who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and need to undergo treatment that will potentially destroy their ability to have children. But how it is being marketed now and to whom is egregious. It angers me that egg freezing is being misused as it provides not only false hope but also stifles useful and important discussion about infertility in today’s world.

Argh. Just argh.

20 Geochick { 10.17.14 at 10:37 am }

I agree, the whole thing left me feeling cold, and I read the article before reading anyone’s posts about it. To be family friendly is not to encourage employees to go through invasive and potentially risky (OHSS, fertility drugs, surgery) procedures in order to delay family building. To be family friendly is to offer the things that make it easier to balance work and life like paid maternity leave (which I think both companies do), on-site daycare, options for telework, etc.

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