This cover of this week's Bloomberg Businessweek features a confident-looking white woman in her thirties and the seductive headline FREEZE YOUR EGGS FREE YOUR CAREER. Is it already that time during the year when magazines invite America to comment on reproductive and parenting choices that are only available to a tiny segment of very wealthy women again? Time flies!
Move over breastfeeding TIME cover mom, pregnant silver-haired lady, mean businessmommy failing to have it all, champagne sipping single lady not trying even halfway hard to catch the bouquet. The new hotness is power suit wearing blonde lady standing confidently, unencumbered by the constant crazymaking ticking of the biological clock that plagues the rest of us because: she's just frozen her eggs. Fertility preservation, as the kids are calling it nowadays, is the future of women's career advancement, says Bloomberg writer and editor Emma Rosenblum. But, like most trendpieces about options only rich people can afford, There Are Some Problems With This Piece.
Rosenblum cites some compelling stats to back up her claim that egg freezing is the future. The procedure has been vastly improved in recent years. By "improved," I don't mean the actual act of retrieving the eggs, which involves having a needle inserted into your vagina and into your ovaries, has gotten any less crotch-wincingly awful. I'm not talking about the cost, either; a "round" of egg freezing costs between $7,000 and $12,000 plus the cost of drugs and storage (and it often takes more than one "round" of egg retrieval to capture as many eggs as a woman would need for a good chance at a successful future pregnancy), which can also cost in the thousands per year. When Rosenblum says the process has "improved," what Rosenblum means is that medical professionals now do a better job freezing eggs than they used to and that it's no longer classified as an "experimental" procedure. As a result of these improved odds, more women are choosing to freeze their eggs willingly.
Egg freezing doesn't have guaranteed success, either; one woman mentioned in the story had hers frozen at 39 only to return for them at age 42 and find that none of them were viable. And the longer women wait to freeze their eggs, the less likely those eggs are to "take" when the woman finally wants to have children. Another catch-22 of this whole rigamarole the expense: even a new "low cost" alternative Rosenblum mentions in the piece requires women to lay out $1500 and pay $250 a month for two years. That's a lot of money for a country where 76% of people are already living paycheck-to-paycheck. So what's a woman chock full of rapidly rottening eggs but without the funds to do? Ask mommy and daddy!
Imagine a world in which life isn't dictated by a biological clock. If a 25-year-old banks her eggs and, at 35, is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby. She can also hold out for the man or woman of her dreams. Doctors hope that within the next 30 years the procedure will become a routine part of women's health, and generous would-be grandparents will cover it as they would a first-mortgage down payment.
WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THIS BEFORE? If only I'd known that the best way to advance my career would be to already be rich or to have rich grandparents, I'd be the queen of a magazine somewhere by now (they're called "queens" if they're in charge, right?) My grandparents were all farmers and custodians and I have like 15 cousins on the Ryan side who also ostensibly Have Needs so, cool, completely impractical idea, fertility industry. But there's more.
"If you're going to give your daughter a college graduation gift, what would you rather give her—a Honda or the chance to make a decision about when she's ready to have a baby?" asks Dr. Geoffrey Sher, the medical director of the Sher Fertility Clinics, which has eight locations around the country and the Web address haveababy.com. And because it's done before fertility issues arise, "the potential market for egg freezing is exponentially larger than that of in vitro fertilization," he says.
For graduation, my parents traveled to South Bend, Indiana. That was my graduation gift. Who the shit gives their kid a car for graduation? Was this assumption made in the same universe where men get their wives luxury SUV's with giant bows on top for Christmas?
If a woman's parents or grandparents have the combination of foresight and creepiness to grant an 18-25 year old access to a medical procedure that involves a needle in her vaginal wall for graduation because they want to ensure the existence of future grandbabies, then more power to them. It's their money. And better to spend on a young woman's career advancement than an all-inclusive Paula Deen cruise, I guess.
And of course, there's a portion of the population for whom egg freezing is a godsend, and Rosenblum interviews several of them in her piece. They're in their thirties, they're not hot on babymaking in the near term (one doctor quoted in the piece says many women who freeze their eggs do so after a long term relationship breaks up, which planted a very sad mental image in my head), they're not ready to have children, but they'd definitely like to someday. They report feeling freed from worry now that they have a barely-reliable backup plan for bearing biological children. Their irrational confirmation bias comforts them. Good for them.
But let's be real here: the vast majority of women who can't already afford to finance egg freezing themselves most likely do not have their own Granddaddy Warbucks who can just pay for it for them. As income disparity increases, home ownership decreases, and the reliably slow steady upward trajectory of our parents' income and economic status evades millennials, freezing as a means to the ever-elusive Have It All end is a solution for a small and ever-shrinking portion of the population. In my life and in the lives of the vast majority of young-ish American women, the assumption that parents or grandparents will drop more than 10G's for babysicles is so unrealistic that it's almost laughably alien.
Thought experiment: I just imagined asking my parents, who throughout their careers have worked as an educator and a social worker, to just give me the money to freeze my eggs because I might maybe want kids in the future. My portion of rent on a 3-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn is more than their mortgage payment. I'm cringing at the imaginary withering look my father give me. My mother would laugh in my face because she would think I was making another one of my "jokes." No, I will not be expecting my parents, or anyone else's parents, to finance their children's "fertility preservation."
Fertility preservation is no more a solution to the speed bump motherhood puts in a woman's career than a $10,000 band aid is to a broken leg. Egg freezing is a solution for a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the population, but it does nothing to address the systemic reasons women who choose to be mothers have a statistically difficult time advancing up the career ladder — corporate culture, inflexible and outdated workday models, lack of paid maternity and paternity leave for new parents, cultural dismissal and undervaluing/underemphasis of fathers' contribution to child rearing. If those changes were made, fertility preservation wouldn't be considered a career move. But as it stands now, it's just another way for people who are already wealthy to get a leg up over those of us who aren't.
(This and The Confidence Code will provide fodder for 75% of woman-focused thinkpieces for the next several internet news cycles. Mark my words.)