More and more women are choosing to pursue leadership positions and full-time careers. The heavy time demands of such career choices have influenced many women to delay childbearing. This is particularly true for female physicians, where multiple years of schooling, residency and fellowship overlap with traditional childbearing years. As a result, some employers including big-name corporations such as Facebook and Apple have now begun to offer egg freezing as a paid-for employee benefit, hypothetically allowing women to work further into their childbearing years with less fear of reduced fertility. As expected, this new trend has sparked considerable debate and controversy - should women view this benefit as an option or oppression?
A recent New York Times article by Claire Miller puts forth an interesting discussion on this new strategy for career women who are faced with the challenge of balancing career-building and child-rearing. Miller poses the question, "By paying for women to delay pregnancy, are employers helping them achieve that balance - or avoiding policies that experts agree would greatly help solve the problem, like paid family leave, child care and flexible work arrangements?" When viewed as an "option", egg freezing benefits are in some sense a logical extension of employee-sponsored health plans that already cover pregnancy, childbirth and some infertility treatments. Companies who offer paid-for egg preservation emphasize it as a family-friendly benefit, akin to baby bonuses and benefits for adoptive and same-sex parents. Apple put forth a statement saying "We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families."
In contrast to Apple's positive message, Miller points out that many women see a darker message - where workplaces could be seen as paying women to put off childbearing. She states, "Women who choose to have babies earlier could be stigmatized as uncommitted to their careers. Just as tech company benefits like free food and dry cleaning service serve to keep employees at the office longer, so could egg freezing, by delaying maternity leave and child-care responsibilites". Miller quotes Seema Mohapatra, a health care law and bioethics expert, who goes so far as to say that, "Egg freezing seems to put a Band-Aid on the problem of how difficult it is for women to have a career and raise a family concurrently."
Miller goes on to list the less-than-desirable data and statistics pertaining to egg freezing. The procedure has been available for more than a decade, but has mostly been used for preserving eggs for young cancer patients whose chemotherapy would render them infertile. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the procedure's experimental label in 2012, once evidence was sufficient to conclude that frozen eggs could produce healthy babies. However, the Society does NOT endorse the procedure for elective reasons. There has only been an estimated 2000 births from frozen eggs. Women younger than 35 who freeze their eggs have only a 10-12% chance of giving birth per egg, while women older than 35 have an even lower chance of 6-8% or less.
Egg freezing - options or oppression? Read the full article and decide for yourself. Feel free to post your comments!!