Egg Freezing: Is This Silicon Valley Perk Really Empowering?
Last week, it was announced that Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook and Apple are offering coverage of egg freezing as part of female employees’ health benefits. A huge step, news outlets cried, towards equality for women in a heavily male-dominated industry. But is encouraging women to postpone having children really in the best interest of women?
To Facebook and Apple’s credit, each company offers a suite of benefits for women looking to start a family, ranging from coverage of fertility treatments to daycare. These benefits, in addition to free gourmet meals, lavish vacations, and sometimes even free housing, have been branded as a “War of Perks” through which tech companies entice prospective employees to join their team. There is a major difference, however, between free beer and frozen eggs – and that’s time.
A woman’s eggs should be frozen as early as possible. This is because as a woman ages, her eggs deteriorate, making becoming pregnant more difficult. And it isn’t just the health of a woman’s eggs that determines her ability to conceive; the entire baby-making process increases in risk and potential-complexity as time progresses. Egg freezing, a procedure that can cost up to $10,000 plus $500-$1000 per year in storage costs, followed by IVF, another costly procedure in which thawed eggs are fertilized and healthy embryos are implanted in the woman with about a 30% success rate, is not a solution to the challenge of juggling work and a family. Rather, it may give women an unrealistic sense of having all of the time in the world right when time is, by definition, limited.
Until 2012, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine labeled egg freezing as experimental for Reproductive Medicine and it is still not recommended to healthy women who simply want to delay childbearing. This is a direct contradiction to the offerings made by Apple and Facebook which are specifically designed to aid women in more flexible family planning -- i.e. putting off childbearing until the stars align, a double rainbow is seen, and suddenly having a kid is easy. That may be an exaggeration, but it’s one that speaks to the contradictions inherent in both companies policies.
Given the complex and time-consuming procedures that come with egg freezing, as well as the heightened health risks and the chance of missing the opportunity to have a biological child altogether, encouraging employees to start a family when they are young, healthy, and least likely to encounter complications seems like a better course of action. After all, while egg freezing does lengthen the timeline during which a pregnancy is possible, it does not guarantee pregnancy. Furthermore, postponement of childbearing does not take into account the long-term repercussions of being an older parent, which are worth considering if having a family at a younger age is an option.
Offering egg freezing as a health benefit is a great step, but it doesn’t begin to address, let alone solve, the problem of balancing a high-powered career and children. While the War of Perks plays out, time will tell whether postponing pregnancy empowers women in the workforce, or simply enables companies to squeeze more years out of workers through promises of delayed gratification that may never come to fruition.
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