If you want to have children, and you are a woman, you know that the possibility of conceiving decreases with age as the quality of your eggs diminishes year after year. The clock is ticking and there is no way to stop that; it’s just one more process of the human body.
Many women with an ambitious career plan realise that at some point in their thirties, they have to choose. They either take a break and focus on maternity (risking to not be able to pick up where they left off once the children are old enough) or they postpone it, maybe give it up completely, and hope for the best. But what if you could choose when to become a mother, no matter how old you are?
In October last year, Facebook and Apple introduced new perks for their female employees that wouldchange the limits of nature by offering the possibility of paying for those that wanted to freeze their eggs, so they didn’t have to worry about the consequences of having children at the peaks of their career. They could freeze their eggs while they were still young and use them at a later stage in life.
The latest move by the two tech giants was seen by many as an opportunity for women so that they don’t need to be concerned about their age when it comes to having children. However, they were also criticised for inadvertently forcing female employees into delayed motherhood because they fail to promote policies to stop workplace pressure to miss out on big opportunities, a dilemma that their male colleagues rarely ever face.
A Facebook spokesperson explained to The Atlantic magazine why this policy is helpful: “We care very much about our employees and their families. We are always looking at improvements in our health insurance to fit your needs. We continue to expand coverage for women with the option of extended maternity leave, to preserving and storing eggs.”
Thinking ahead, Miriam, a 33-year-old Mexican living in Barcelona and working in the biomedical sector as head of research, admitted that she had considered freezing her eggs: “The truth is that I had thought about it five years ago, aware that we do have an expiration date when it comes to reproduction, but I didn’t end up doing it because it’s an expensive procedure.” This will change too, according to a studyfrom 2011 from the Spanish Fertility Society, which states that the relative cost-efficiency of this technique “to preserve female fertility” will improve. Right now, the cost of getting your eggs frozen is between 2000-4000€, according to a consumer’s magazine from Spain. There is a further yearly fee of 300-400€ for storage of the eggs.
It’s important that companies offer both options – egg freezing and childcare – so it’s only a positive measure if both options are really there. Not just egg freezing for professional interests.
“If my company had offered to pay for it, maybe I would have done it, but companies should also pay forchildcare… Otherwise, this type of measure only promotes childlessness,” Miriam says. “Currently I have a partner, so my perspective has changed. I would only freeze my eggs for personal reasons, but not for my career. I think it’s important that companies offer both options – egg freezing and childcare – so it’s only a positive measure if both options are really there. Not just egg freezing for professional interests.”
Indeed, the older you get, the lesser the likelihood of getting pregnant. However, in Europe, it’s more common to become a mother later in life: according to Eurostat data, the mean age of women at childbirth continued to rise between 2002 and 2012, from 29.1 to 30.1 years.
Freezing your eggs for “social reasons” as it is known (as opposed to for medical reasons, e.g. freezing eggs before cancer treatment in order to become pregnant when fully recovered) will become less rare.
“Given the many demands calling for simultaneous realization in a relatively short period of their lives”, a study by European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology says. “The many women who want to have children feel to be under considerable pressure. The option of oocyte cryopreservation [the scientific term for egg freezing] may in fact give them more breathing space.”
The paper also calls for the need to inform women that egg freezing is not the same as an insured pregnancy. For example, only 20 babies have been born in the UK from frozen eggs, while the ratio of success is similar to that of IVF, i.e. no more than 75%. The study concludes that “women’s best chances of having a healthy child are through natural reproduction at a relative early age”.
Tiziana, a 30-year-old Italian woman, is pregnant. She took maternity leave recently, when she was seven and a half months pregnant, to prepare for the baby and not have to worry about the pressures from work. “I’m the one to decide when to be a mother,” she says. “This ‘perk’ is just a way to control you, to persuade you not to have children and avoid confronting the dilemma that women face when it comes to combining motherhood with a career.”