I wrote this post a few years ago, and want to give it some more attention, especially in light of the new attention the egg-freezing industry is receiving. See, for the last decade, feminists have been loving the new push for young, professional women to freeze their eggs to give them more flexibility in finding a romantic partner while prioritizing professional success with abandon. Google, Apple and Facebook all offered this expensive procedure as an employee perk — one harolded as an excellent step towards gender equality in the workplace.
What they aren't telling you about egg freezing
This weekend's Washington Post published an extensive article broadcasting what fertility experts have long known: egg freezing is successful in only a small percentages of the time, a fact that the burgeoning fertility industry keeps under wraps:
In an age when egg freezing has become so popular that hip employers such as Apple and Facebook cover it as a perk and grandparents help finance the procedure like they might a down payment for a house, there’s surprisingly little discussion about what happens years later when women try to use them. Fertility companies tend to advertise egg freezing — “oocyte cryopreservation” — in scientific terms, as something that can “stop time.” And many women believe they are investing in an insurance policy for future babies.
But the math doesn’t always hold up. On average, a woman freezing 10 eggs at age 36 has a 30 to 60 percent chance of having a baby with them, according to published studies. The odds are higher for younger women, but they drop precipitously for older women. They also go up with the number of eggs stored (as does the cost). But the chance of success varies so wildly by individual that reproductive specialists say it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome based on aggregate data.
James A. Grifo, a fertility specialist at NYU Langone Health who is one of the pioneers of the procedure, calls the whole notion of being able to “control” your fertility — perpetuated by the media and embraced by feminists — destructive. “It’s total fiction. It’s incorrect,” Grifo said. “Your whole life it’s beaten into your head that you’re in control and if you can’t have a baby, you blame yourself. There has to be more dialogue about what women can be responsible for and what they are not responsible for.”
This news is devastating for women who have frozen their eggs, or are learning about harsh realities of fertility windows. I know several people who have struggled with fertility, and it ranks among the most stressful experiences of one's life.
This is really a call for women to take full control over their lives. The Post article profiles a half-dozen professional single women who froze their eggs in an effort to prolong a grace period in which they could build their careers while waiting for the perfect man with whom to create a perfect family. A couple of the women found partners, but by then fertility for most remained an issue — and surrogates, donated eggs, adoption and other options were explored, sometimes successfully. But like the issue of financial autonomy for women, the message for family planning to women is the same:
Ladies, you cannot wait for a man to save you.
There are no guarantees. Even if you meet that great guy, there are still no guarantees.
Take the pressure off yourself to have a “perfect,” life. Embrace that that might not make you happy in the first place. Embrace the power of your career, economic, and legal opportunities as a woman— which are unprecedented in history. Embrace the growing social acceptance of having a child outside of that Ozzie and Harried fantasy. Embrace your choice.
At the end of the day, you cannot predict the future.
Life happens, and you have to take control when you can.
It is unfair that women have a devastatingly smaller fertility window than men. But the science is there. Embrace it. Inform your daughters and friends accordingly. Support the single moms and all women as we navigate these unprecedented waters, as we seek out fulfillment for ourselves and our families, and equality and choice for women everywhere.
You're not getting any younger
Your uterus and ovaries take a turn for the worse at age 27. Age 35? Yours is officially a high-risk pregnancy. Come 40 — forget it. Your chances of having a baby without significant fertility treatments are slim. Women who find themselves facing those chances often also find themselves devastated and broke.
These are facts. Not trends or social movements. You cannot change biology.
Other facts: humans find relationships with other humans to be the most important and enjoyable parts of their lives. Relationships with romantic partners. Relationships with children. Another force of biology.
And yet. And yet this weekend I read with horror in The New York Times Magazine article about college women and the hookup culture, which found that young women are a) so busy pursuing their careers that they don't have time for real boyfriends, and instead have “hookup buddies” and dole out copious numbers of blow jobs as the sole way they connect with men, b) College women are not factoring in a husband or children into near-term goals, c) College guys get what they want sexually because they are now the minority, and market economics dictates they have the power to get what they want sexually. And what they want are BJs.
This article made me a little sad, and a lot angry. If in your parenting you relegate family planning to an afterthought, you denigrate your children, their innate dreams and desires, and stunt their potential to truly achieve fulfillment in both work and family that we all strive for.
Yes, we have a lot of work to on the front of gender equality at work. Yes it is fantastic that young women see a clear connection between their hard work and smarts and professional potential. But this article quotes numerous college students and experts who say that pressure from parents and society is for young women to focus on professional achievement above all else — and far above marriage and children. A few quotes:
“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy.”
“They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine.”
“Increasingly many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other than their own self-development.
“A. said that she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.”
“[The women] tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.”
I admit that I have held that latter attitude. I was 28 when I married, 31 when I had my first child. People — and by “people,” I mean New York City liberals — often remark how young I was when I married, even though I was a full year older than the national average for women, and pushing my fertility luck when I got pregnant. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my mom casually said: “You should have your kids by the time you're 30.” At the time that struck me as sexist and old-fashioned. Today it sounds to me simply sensible and respectful of nature.
Which is exactly the message that I will impart on my daughter. It goes without saying that my daughter's intellectual interests and aptitude will be nurtured. But what about her personal ones? The standard-issue advice for college-bound women is to establish a career first, then start a family. But the laws of fertility include a time limit. Career does not. The laws of the heart demand spontaneity and serendipity. Women need love — romantic love, maternal love. Career is but one part of a young woman's development. As a mother, it is my obligation encourage my daughter to develop every part of herself.
I fully embrace the concerns of the women quoted in the article who worry their partners will grow and change in their 20s and 30s — and perhaps grow and change away from them. Which is why I say we need to shake up old ideas about marriage. It is time to return to age-old marriage models that account for biology and the need for romantic love at all stages of life — not just when it's convenient to schedule it into our career trajectories.
My 10-year marriage model is the blueprint for turning around this worrisome trend. Clearly the current Ozzie-and-Harriet-one-mate-for-life model has failed, and young people are rejecting family in favor of chasing money and professional success. Instead, I urge my fellow parents to help our daughters and sons recognize the simple facts about their hearts and bodies. Help them work towards futures that meld their personal and professional needs. What if we gave them permission to marry and start a family with a fantastic person while their bodies are equipped to do so — then, should they need to, gracefully move on to other relationships that fulfill the next chapter of their lives?
As parents, we are pioneers in this new frontier of women and work. And we have an obligation to help our daughters map out a path that includes a meaningful and lucrative job, as well as a relationship with a man that is more than just an, um, job.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.