Fertility has never really been an issue for young, ambitious women. That is until they reach 35 and realise that they are almost out of eggs. Today a woman wanting to preserve her fertility is becoming the next big taboo, especially with the growing rate of single, professional 35 year old's who fret being the woman who ends up childless and alone.
Women have been freezing their eggs since the technology was a proven success in the late 1980’s. Egg-freezing, or the medical term: Cryopreservation, was originally used for cancer patients to give them a chance at motherhood later down the track.
Yet the idea of it becoming a corporate perk was a nightmare Aldous Huxley had fifty years earlier. If anyone has ever read Huxley’s Brave New World, it is a story that paints an unsettling, loveless and sinister place, where children are created and raised in hatcheries owned and controlled by corporations. It is a place where motherhood, marriage and monogamy are all dirty words, kind of like corporate life today.
However Huxley’s dystopia is not as different from our world as you might think. For many young ambitious women “starting a family” is not on their agenda with Nuclear families becoming something we hear our parents say “happened back in my day”. Instead women are working towards a future and staying employed for as long as possible to keep up with society’s demands.
Corporate grown babies are becoming the bedrock of economic and social stability of the 21st century with more and more corporate giants offering their female staff the opportunity to freeze their eggs.
Today Facebook, Apple, Google and now a large Australian fertility company Virtus Health, have all admitted to offering their female staff $20,000 to freeze their eggs as a part of an insurance policy. The generous offer from corporate companies tears us in two: progression for female talent in the workplace or oppression from having kids when you want.
Yet is company paid egg freezing the great equalizer women are looking for in the workplace? Are women’s problems finally going to be solved with a painful six month procedure that consists of hormone injections and blood tests? Or is this “insurance policy” just back-seating real issues and putting them on ice.
Image: Calgrin, MorgueFile.com
Corporate Egg freezing raises more questions than it answers and whilst an average woman loses half her eggs as soon as she hits puberty, the future of her fertility is making her nervous. Your boss shouting you a free icebox for your eggs is starting to look like a really safe option.
What about the misleading use of the word “insurance” and the pressure to take the offer? Sure it’s a choice not a mandate, but what choice do you have when all your female colleagues are doing it? What about the fact that older women find it more difficult to find a baby-daddy? We all know that it takes two to tango, frozen eggs or not.
23 year old Egg freezing blogger Sylvia Freedman decided to do the big freeze four months ago. Her blog which has reached 600 plus likes, tells the 10-day story of what it’s like to freeze your eggs.
Image: Sylvia Freedman, Sylfreedman.com
Sylvia who was diagnosed with endometriosis two years ago, a condition she would later find out would threaten her fertility, writes a dialogue of a humorous but truly honest and emotional experience of a girl who hopes to be a mum one day by freezing her eggs.
When Sylvia was told her condition could compromise her fertility that was the turning point for her.
“It broke me knowing that I may not be able to have kids. It was the most heart wrenching thing and it was all I could think about. Eventually every time I saw a pregnant woman I would get so upset and I knew I just desperately wanted to preserve my eggs”.
“It’s really easy to feel let down by your womanhood. Having a baby is supposed to be your thing that makes you a woman,”
“in June I made the decision to freeze my eggs because I have a high risk of infertility in the future.”
Sylvia remembers the first consultation as a nightmare.
“I was with my parents and everyone else was in a couple. I hated the first day and I walked out thinking it was a nightmare and that it would be so emotionally difficult.”
Image: Sylvia Freedman, Sylfreedman.com
The 23 year old university student still has no idea when she plans to unfreeze her eggs but knows that it’s all about finding the right person.
Australia’s Hart Centre psychologist, Christine specialises in the impact of work on relationships and explains that having a child is really personal and requires a lot of emotional, mental and financial preparation, so the timing has to be right.
“Having kids needs to be put into the plan of life, instead of waking up one day and going “oh we haven’t had kids yet," Christine said.
Christine works closely with a lot of clients in the corporate world who try to balance work life and their relationships.
“There are a lot of senior women who are trying to make the balance," she said.
"The balance is more about the home life with your family, partner and social life. As we get older we have more family commitments, especially with looking after your parents. The corporate workers find it difficult to find time and balance to for them-selves because they are always giving, to the workplace or to their partners and family.”
Yet egg freezing isn’t the one and only, all exclusive solution to the corporate problem of women leaving to start a family. According to Professor Georgina Murray corporate egg freezing should not be offered as an olive branch because it is an issue in disguise.
Professor Murray of sociology whose research focuses on networks of power, gender and work says that the most pressing issue for women in the workplace is the pay and gender gap followed closely by lack of childcare.
“The corporate world is neither becoming a female friendly nor a family friendly environment and corporate egg freezing is saying the workplace is patriarchal.” Prof Murray said.
As a part of the Supporting Working Parents campaign and the Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review the anti-discrimination commission surveyed more than 2000 mothers and 1000 fathers. More than one-third of mothers reported experiencing discrimination when returning to work after parental leave. Mothers reported that the treatment they received upon returning to work included negative attitudes or comments from colleagues or managers/employers, poorer pay, conditions or duties and being knocked back when they asked for flexible work arrangements.
Professor Murray says that corporate egg freezing just tells us that there is a type of successful employee and it is not a type that includes a child-bearing woman.
“In our society pregnancy is a huge issue. It’s a gender gap and if you look at figures in terms of women’s income and men’s, women have children and their pay goes down whilst men’s wages just increase.” She said.
Dr Ashish Das the medical director at the Fertility Centre has seen a vast majority of women who are trying to pursue a career and yet too scared to step off the ladder to have a family.
“There’s a tendency to fall back in your career,” Dr Das said.
“The vast majority of women who come to freeze their eggs are generally professional women who are still single and don’t have a partner, but we do get a lot of very successful women running their own businesses and practices.”
Dr Das says that a woman’s fertility starts to decline quite significantly from the age of 35 and from 40 and beyond their chance of getting pregnant is less than half.
According to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), the success of egg freezing is determined by the age of the eggs and how many are stored. Throughout the retrieving, freezing and thawing processes not all eggs will fertilise and develop resulting in miscarriage.
Egg-freezing blogger Sylvia, knows that freezing her eggs will not guarantee her motherhood.
“If I can’t have eggs naturally, or the egg freezing thing doesn’t work out I’ll figure out another way. I will not be spending tens of thousands of dollars for failure after failure just because I’m hell bent on bringing my own DNA into the world.”
Sylvia says there are disturbing ethical problems with corporate egg freezing and believes that you should have kids naturally if you can.
“Does anyone understand that it’s not a guarantee? Don’t delay motherhood for a process that’s not even going to promise you a child.” She said.
Professor Murray says that the most positive thing about corporate egg freezing is the day when women will begin suing their bosses after they find out that they stayed at work longer and their frozen eggs can’t give them a baby.
“The more I think about corporations getting involved with your eggs the more it doesn’t sit right with me. To encourage women to delay being a mum when they don’t have a medical condition is wrong," Sylvia said.
“What are these corporations going to be liable for when the eggs don’t work?” She said.
Dr Das believes that a lot of work needs to be done in terms of educating women about their fertility.
"Women can control a lot about their body these days, they can schedule when they won’t get pregnant and when they will." Dr Das said.
The education would be to teach women about the best time to achieve pregnancy and how long they can realistically put things off, because at the end of day, as Dr Das points out, egg freezing is not the best way of trying to achieve a pregnancy.
Professor Murray believes that the world should have never reached this type of corporate control and it is disgraceful if egg freezing is being used to counter work place discrimination.
"The answer is higher wages, equal opportunity and giving women real choices at work." Prof Murray said.
Yet why is it so hard to find a partner? How are women losing the dating game?
Sex-in-the-city like women with high expectations is a big part of corporate egg freezing. The crisis for single women in this age group seeking a mate is very real with the number of partnerless women in their 30s almost doubling since 1986.
An analysis of 2006 census figures by the Monash University sociologist, Genevieve Heard, reveals that almost one in four of degree-educated women in their 30's will miss out on a man of similar age and educational achievement with almost one in three women aged 30 to 34 not having a partner at all, according to the 2006 census statistics.
Psychologist Christine explains that it’s the greatest challenge to have children when you don’t even have time for yourself.
“If we are not caring and nurturing ourselves it becomes more challenging to care openly and fully to other people." Christine said.