Egg Freezing as a Dubious Benefit

Last night, the evening news announced that Facebook and Apple were subsidizing the cost of egg freezing for their female employees, and I rolled my eyes. It’s a good thing for many reasons, don’t get me wrong. Younger eggs means less risk for all sorts of disabilities. But really my first thought was that the women in those companies need to have their eggs frozen, because they don’t have a chance to start a family until late in their 40s. The work-life balance must suck at those places.

And sure enough, lots of other women had the same reaction to that story.

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28 thoughts on “Egg Freezing as a Dubious Benefit

  1. And having gone through fertility treatments, it isn’t the magic instant fix that articles like this imply. It’s still the medical version of throwing the mud against the wall and seeing what sticks. A high percentage of infertility is still undiagnosable (they just don’t know why after they’ve ruled out what they do know). And finally, many of these treatments are in early stages – they don’t know the efficacy nor the long term implications. The science isn’t there yet.

    There’s no easy, reliable fix to not having your kids when you are most fertile.

    This is one of THE most ridiculous ideas that I’ve seen. Anything to avoid making paid work family friendly for men and women.

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  2. The message is perfectly clear: when should women working at these companies think of having children? Later. Like a lot later. Definitely not now, or anytime soon. Maybe when you’re older and our ageist corporate culture pushes you out.

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  3. Also have undergone extensive fertility treatments, they fail to mention the success rates of frozen embryos actually fertilizing or the annual cost to maintain said frozen eggs. I unfortunately put my career ahead of children, and it looks possible there may be no children in our future. What I do it again? I’m not sure. I met my husband at 37 and married when I turned 39; so even if we *tried* immediate the results might have been the same. I kept “delaying” because I was on the tenure tract and wanted to ensure tenure. Sigh. Well, I have tenure and sabbatical, but no kids.

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    1. Hugs as well Macaroni – we too met late/married late. It worked for us and we eventually had a daughter but that was after miscarriages and two adoptions gone awry.

      It angers me how the media makes it seem like a done deal – “just do fertity treatments”. Add onto that 40+ and 50+ actresses having babies it seems oh so easy.

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  4. everyone doesn’t have access to healthcare plans that cover infertility treatments. If these folks leave FB or Apple, they might be stuck with a very very large bill for treatment. mine was 25k+ for a year and a half of hell and no pregnancy. Not to mention, getting the eggs out isn’t just like, POOF…Its an actual medical procedure, which isn’t a quick pinch.

    Hopefully these companies also have adoption assistance programs.

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  5. A friend of mine wrote a paper on the ethics of this years ago, and one thing she said that struck me was that people who used these techniques were more likely to have multiples and thus have their kids all at once. Maybe the money saving corporation would rather pay for one maternity leave, hospital costs, etc. for you to have triplets, then three separate ones for you to give birth three times. My friend worried that eventually everybody would be pressured to have one efficient pregnancy which produced a litter of kids. Having one the natural way would be seen as wasteful and inefficient.

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  6. I am not sure how I knew, but I always had a good idea of the fertility charts, and the decrease in egg quality in women as a function of time. I am often surprised to hear that the decrease in fertility at 35 and the significant decrease at 40 is not well known, and even more surprised when people complain that they are being pressured by doctors when doctors raise age as an issue in childbearing. So I appreciate more public conversation about the decline of egg quality in women with age. It is significant, and not particularly dependent on general health.

    IVF solves a number of fertility related problems, but not egg quality issues. Egg freezing might help (there are also techniques involving mixing DNA with younger eggs that are in experimental stages). But, it is really expensive & the success rates aren’t high (I’m seeing 10-15% as the numbers, for eggs frozen before a woman reaches the age of 30). So, I wonder how I would counsel my daughter on egg freezing. I’m vaguely thinking now, that if she isn’t with a partner in her late 20’s, I would be counseling egg freezing. If she does have a partner, I would be that grandmother, the one telling her to think about having a baby, and might suggest embryo freezing. I had my two children at 35 and 38 and when I talk about it with the kids, I say that I feel like I squeaked them into my life. We talk about age and fertility in our house.

    What advice to others imagine giving the young women they know?

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    1. I wouldn’t counsel either excessive waiting or panic at 30.

      If there’s no reason to wait, don’t wait. If there is good reason to wait, don’t worry about the waiting.

      But either way, manage your expectations.

      My oldest is very anti-kid, anti-marriage and has been ever since she discovered that having babies hurts quite a few years ago. (Anti-marriage because marriage causes babies and babies hurt, so oldest is not interested.) I don’t argue with that. I kind of foresee that she may change her mind on both fronts at 30-something, especially if the right person comes along, but fortunately I have two other kids, so my odds of being left totally grandchildless are low. (One of my aunties who has two adult sons just FINALLY got her first grandchild from her older son who is around 36 right now. There was some medical derringdo involved–my cousin’s wife had to have an operation to make it an option. I suspect people with all sons are often in for a longer wait.)

      Our oldest may wind up being a happily single cat lady or horse lady.

      Mine were born when I was 27, 29 and 37, with a bunch of medical complications with the latter effort, but a very satisfactory result. So, I’d never tell anybody, ohmygosh you’ve got to have a baby at 22 or you won’t have a baby at all!!!!, but if any woman expressed a life plan that involved starting to try at 35+, I’m not sure I could keep my mouth shut.

      This is a mommy hangout, so there will be more success stories for older pregnancy than you’d hear elsewhere.

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  7. I believe the trend towards multiple births in fertility treatment is stabilizing, so I don’t think we’re going to have the “litter of kids” replacing regular births. It turns out that triplet births, especially, are a significant risk factor and that there’s been a revision of recommendations on multiple embryo transfers and those recommendations are having an effect.

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  8. Had a long discussion with my kid on the way to dropping her off. Turns out that she thought fertility ended sooner than it does, on average. She also thought it was really stupid that fertility effectively ends 5+ years before menopause, which I agree with. Sometimes biology is mighty stupid.

    She also says she knows that she wants kids (and, correctly, said that she thought I probably wouldn’t have said that as a young teenager). I think I can keep my mouth shut if *any* woman, who says she *wants* children, plans on thinking about that after she turns 35. But, I don’t plan to be silent with my own offspring. But, I won’t tell her to have my grandkids :-). I’ll share data and ask her to think about whether it will be OK with her if she doesn’t have children, if other goals are just as important. That would have been true for me, and, indeed, my waiting did mean that I was willing to be childless, or at least, I thought so at the time.

    BTW, I once tried to calculate the average age of moms in my kids’ classes, and determined that it was 33 or so (and, maybe 32 would be a better estimate, assuming that only half the kids are first born).

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    1. There’s a chart on this page that I pull out whenever internet happy talk about older pregnancy gets to be too much:

      http://geneticsandfertility.com/maternal-age-reproduction/

      (In my case, I’m usually pulling the chart out for a discussion on a Catholic forum where I spend a lot of time where some people will tell you their mom had them at 44 or 46 and they’re just fine, so don’t worry at all about having a naturally conceived baby in the early or mid-40s, which is not quite what we are discussing.)

      Bad stuff starts happening more and more at around 35. I remember a few years ago talking to my OB about miscarriage rates for my age group at the time and being agog because I had NO idea that it was so high. The number my doctor gave me was something like 25-30% (it hits around 50% at 40-44). I had thought (in my relative innocence) that aging just meant getting less fertile because of having fewer eggs. I had no idea that a major driver for the decrease in fertility is an accelerating miscarriage rate. (You can see on the chart how perfectly symmetrical fertility and the miscarriage rate are–as fertility plummets with age, the miscarriage rate is shooting up at almost exactly the same rate.)

      “BTW, I once tried to calculate the average age of moms in my kids’ classes, and determined that it was 33 or so (and, maybe 32 would be a better estimate, assuming that only half the kids are first born).”

      Years ago, I was scheduling a sibling class for my oldest child to take at the NW DC hospital where I was planning to have her baby brother. The lady on the phone asked my age. When I said 29, she said “Oh, a young mommy!” Typical DC.

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    2. “She also thought it was really stupid that fertility effectively ends 5+ years before menopause, which I agree with. Sometimes biology is mighty stupid.”

      Wait until she hears more about menopause.

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  9. I started trying at 23, because my former husband was 35. Six miscarriages and five years later we adopted our daughter. After more infertility I gave birth at 30 and 35 and adopted again at 39. There is no magic time to have children. I would advise people to have babies when they were ready, not when their employer was ready.

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  10. It is very interesting to hear everyone’s stories. I am almost 32 and thinking about starting a family soon. I had an ectopic pregnancy at 27, which means I already am considered to have suboptimal fertility, so I don’t want to wait too much longer. (First previous ectopic puts risk of a 2nd one at 1/10 instead of 1/100, and if I have a second one, my chances of reproduction really plummet). On the plus side, I had conservative fertility-preserving treatment and no risk factors, though on the negative, no obvious risk signs mean I may have a problem with my tube.

    A few years ago my grandmother was on my case about having kids, and I pointed out that she had her last kid right before turning 40. She glared at me and responded, “40 is when you have your last kid, not your first.”

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    1. Grandma is funny.

      The worst fertility story I’ve ever heard was from my OB.

      I’m sure I have the details not quite right, but roughly, my OB had a patient who had some sort of genetic problem where two chromosomes would consistently switch places. Apparently, it was known that if the patient just kept on rolling the dice, eventually she’d get a live baby. The patient wound up having 10 miscarriages in a row, had a healthy live baby, and then started working on the next one.

      It sounded terrible to me and so not worth it (especially starting the whole process over the second time), but some women will do pretty much anything for a baby.

      More cheerfully, in our general circle, I know three women who have managed to produce a second child after much hullabaloo. In one case, there was a disabled only child for quite a few years and they desperately wanted a second. Baby is six months old now.

      A lot of people seem to have a lot of trouble with the second.

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      1. Oh, and one of my close younger relatives just had a second child with nearly a 15 year break between the baby and the older kid (same husband and everything). She’s 35.

        I’m dying to know if that was a plan or if it just happened, but I’m far too well-brought up to ask. Sometimes having good manners is a pain.

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      2. Balanced translocations, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosomal_translocation.

        A piece of one chromosome swaps places with a piece of another. The person with the balanced translocation can be fine, but when they make babies, the baby needs to get both the copies of the particular pair of chromosomes with the balanced transactional (i.e. say 1 and 15 have swapped pieces in one of the copies.

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    2. Does this mean you’re asking us for advice? 🙂 I’m thinking not.

      But I’ve had so many conversations with young women about children, that I’ll repeat Lisa’s statement that one should have children when one knows they want them. There is no perfect time. They will entirely change your life whenever you have them.

      In my conversation with my daughter, she had a hard time figuring out exactly when she would have children, when she thought about the details of the career she hoped to have. I told her, and it is true, that I know women who have managed to make many different choices with the timing of their children and have still managed to reach career goals. Children are a risk factor for achieving career goals, but they will be that regardless of their timing. Mind you, my daughter did plan to finish her education and have a job (or her partner would have a job) that would support their family, so I’m not having the discussion with someone who wants to have a child at 16.

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    1. Honestly — I think it is. Part of leaning in means making modifications in your family life to accommodate your work. That can include missing the school plays, at least some of the times, letting other people take care of your children even when you want to be with them, and, maybe, in the future, freezing your eggs so that you can have your kids when your 41, or at a more convenient time. Along with having fewer children than you might have preferred (how many families are consciously deciding to have only one child? some, but, certainly not all).

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      1. The key is to really prioritize and figure out what’s most important to you, and not to let that go (both at home and at work).

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  11. I’m sure many other people have had the same response already elsewhere, but I’ll say it anyway. The tldr for this particular offer is, “You can have all the babies you want after we fire you because you’re too old to work in tech.”

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  12. Window-on-a-world. Sounds like workers at Facebook, Apple, and a helluva lot of other white-collar environments need to organize unions.

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  13. I’d advise:

    1. “you may be able to have all the babies you want but there’s no sure thing so don’t make it even harder by adding age-related fertility issues into the mix”.

    2. “your job doesn’t love you back”

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