Egg Freezing: A Good Backup, Or "Harmful To Feminism"?

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt writes in this week's Newsweek of her decision to freeze her eggs — and of critics who say the practice is bad for women.

Lehmann-Haupt decided to undergo the procedure because at 37, she was "single and worried about losing my chance to have a child." In her research into the procedure, she talked to its inventors, Italian Drs. Raffaella Fabbri and Eleanora Porcu, who first envisioned egg freezing as a way around the Catholic Church's ban on freezing embryos. While Fabbri supports the use of egg freezing to extend fertility, Porcu thinks the process is "harmful to feminism." She told Lehmann-Haupt:

It means that we're accepting a mentality of efficiency in which pregnancy and motherhood are marginalized. We've demonstrated that we are able to do everything like men. Now we have to do the second revolution, which is not to become dependent on a technology that involves surgical intervention. We have to be free to be pregnant when we are fertile and young.

If Porcu would in fact like workplaces to make it easier for women to have children while still building their careers, this is a good thing. But being "free to be pregnant" and finding the right situation in which to have a child are two different things, and, regardless of job status, some women don't find themselves in that situation until later in life. The ability not to put a time limit on your desire for a family is a freedom too. Porcu acknowledged this, calling egg-freezing for Lehmann-Haupt, "an additional tool to fight against unfair nature. You want to survive as a fertile woman." But she then cautioned Lehmann-Haupt that she might be too old for the procedure.

She wasn't — she was eventually able to freeze eight mature eggs, the number considered necessary for one pregnancy. Her doctor recommended another cycle in case she wanted to have another child, but at $15,000 a pop, Lehmann-Haupt couldn't afford it. This issue — the cost — may be the real downside to egg-freezing technology. There's no guarantee that a woman can conceive from frozen eggs, but the process is marketed aggressively. The first comment on the Newsweek article reads:

I think it's great that you are being proactive about your fertility. You know you want to be a mother some day - and you're making that a priority. Too many people are unrealistic about their fertility as they see celebrities magically getting pregnant in their forties. You will never regret taking this step - only not taking it. I am part of a team that has developed a new web portal www.fertilityauthority.com and we are trying to encourage women to be proactive about their fertility.
We welcome you to visit our site and share your story with many women out there like you who are thinking about freezing their eggs. -Kerry Walker FertilityAuthority

Egg-freezing technology at this point seems like a mixed blessing — a way for some women to extend their fertility, but also yet another way for companies to capitalize on women's anxiety. In an ideal world, the price would come down, and women could exercise this option without forking over thousands.

Why I Froze My Eggs [Newsweek]