I spent five years trying to conceive, but timing wasn’t on my side. That was during my mid-late thirties when I was on the physical and emotional roller coaster ride called infertility treatment. But according to Reproductive Biology Associates, I may not have been infertile, I may have just missed my window of opportunity: “Fertility in women is greatest when they are between 20 and 28 years of age. By the age of 35, a woman’s chance of conceiving per month is decreased by half. By age 45, the natural fertility rate per month is reduced to only 1%.”
Egg-freezing — a hot topic this week after Facebook and Apple announced they will cover the cost of egg-freezing treatments for women who want to delay having children (up to $20,000) — wasn’t an option back in the days when I was in my 20s. If it had been an option, would I have done it? I can’t honestly answer that question because there are too many variables and hindsight is 20/20. But here’s a different way of answering it: I talk to my 21-year-old daughter about the option of freezing her eggs.
Earlier this week Richard Quest interviewed me for CNN’s “Quest Means Business” about the controversy swirling around making egg-freezing a company perk: Is covering the cost to freeze eggs a good benefit or is it a signal that the company thinks working and pregnancy are incompatible? I think it’s a good benefit. Here’s why:
Egg-freezing is a technology that women can use to give them more options. The optimal time for women to freeze eggs is when they are in their 20s, when their eggs are most fertile. However, most women in their 20s can’t afford the $10,000 price tag for the medical procedure plus $500 annual storage fee for the frozen eggs. But if a company foots these bills, women can take advantage of this technology when they’re in their 20s, giving them more options in their 30s and 40s. Examples of two options:
1) Many women don’t want to have kids in their 20s. Some want to find Mr. Right first. Some have career dreams they want to start living. Others have huge college debt they need to pay off. All of these realities aren’t in sync with the ticking biological clock and this is causing tremendous stress. Egg-freezing allows women to control when they want to have children.
2) Many women in their 30s are struggling through infertility treatment. Others are saying, “If I can’t get pregnant, I’ll figure it out.” That usually means adoption. Adoption can be wonderful, but it can be a difficult and expensive option. But more importantly, adoption should happen because you want to adopt, not because it’s a last resort. Egg-freezing gives women one more option.
OK, so that’s what I think. But after the interview I wondered what women in their 20s and 30s think. So I asked them and here’s what they said:
Great benefit – if I’m having chemotherapy. Otherwise, the message is pretty clear: work now, family later. In other words, “work versus family.” Like many young women, I aspire to corporate leadership, but the biological clock isn’t my problem. The “work versus family” juggle is my problem. The “work versus family” mentality spurring “work versus family” infrastructure and vice-versa is my problem. Egg-freezing is a Band-Aid buying me less time with my future family without tackling the difficulty of the juggle. Transforming an ecosystem to reflect equal work-family valuation through flexible work, equal paternity leave, at-work childcare – now that’s bold. -Amira Polack, 24, Corporate Affairs Associate, SAP
Egg preservation is (or should be) part of comprehensive health care for women. If a company is offering a good benefits package for its female employees, my expectation is that it would cover all health issues related to women — mammograms, regular gynecological visits with diagnostic and preventative testing and any necessary treatments or surgeries specific to women. Pregnancy is a health issue related to women, so benefits should cover fertility to some degree. Hormone treatments, IVF as well as freezing eggs may be part of that process for some women. For me, the question isn’t whether egg freezing is a good or bad signal. If a company is thinking comprehensively about health coverage for its employees, it should therefore include coverage for women’s health issues, including fertility. -Amy Webb, 39, Founder, Webbmedia Group and Cofounder of Knowledgewebb Training and Spark Camp
For the good of women and men, pregnancy should be seen in the professional world as one of the most meaningful seasons of life — that is the world we seek. Instituting this policy, however, is a de facto admission that having children is a hurdle to be managed rather than a gift to be embraced. I pursue my dreams relentlessly, though my notion of success is always paired with beloved images of my future spouse and children, all of us gathered together in love. The very existence of this policy may create a norm that would dismiss my vision of professional attainment alongside family life as illusory or as one that must be catapulted into an unknown future. -Lindy Li, 23, Morgan Stanley Wealth Manager
Many women feel as though the obnoxiously loud alarms on their career clocks and biological clocks are going off at the same time, but there’s no way to silence both of them! Some women want to freeze their eggs so they have flexibility, but there’s one major road block – economics. The costs for the procedure and storage are astronomical for the typical American family. When employers offer coverage, it communicates support for women and allows them to shed the overwhelming financial burden. Employers that offer coverage calm our unease and help us to live our lives on our own terms. -Jayne Juvan, 34, Partner, Roetzel Andress, LPA
While the option of company-paid egg freezing is sure to be extremely welcome news to Facebook and Apple employees who are interested in going that route to build their family, I hope that offering egg freezing as a benefit is a sign that firms across multiple industries are gearing up to offer even more family-focused benefits. I also hope that women who are interested in egg freezing are working with doctors who educate them about likely rates of success, as I would hate to have someone “put all their eggs” in the egg freezing basket without knowing the statistics behind the choice. -Molly Ford, 28, Marketing Manager, Hearst and Founder at Smart, Pretty Awkward
I think this perk is positive, as long as it’s implemented correctly so that perverse and unintended consequences are avoided. In teaching technology entrepreneurship at Stanford, I have found that women in their early 20s are concerned about the “biological deadline.” I know women in their mid-30s who think that kids and career are mutually exclusive, and find themselves with a very tough conundrum. The biological deadline poses a large amount of stress to women and if freezing one’s eggs can reduce the amount of anxiety, it can provide control and empowerment to women. Having companies financially sponsor the cost of the procedure is helpful, since it’s prohibitively expensive for some women. -Rebeca Hwang, 34, Managing Partner and co-founder, Rivet Ventures
Egg-freezing, like most important decisions in life, is complicated. It’s not a solution for everyone. It has health risks. But what’s important is that we’re having a conversation about the pros and cons. Hope you’ll leave a comment below and join in the conversation.