The facts seem stark: the best time for building your career — for paying in and climbing the ladder — is between the ages of 25-35. The best years for having a baby? For women, it also turns out to be 25-35, before we allegedly tumble off the ovarian cliff. Men don’t face quite the same ticking clock (though it turns out the chances of birth defects do rise with paternal age) and so many a pundit has lamented this: If only there was a way to extend women’s fertility, too!
Enter egg freezing. This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from a new book on egg freezing by Sarah Elizabeth Richards, and it’s safe to say the concept has hit the mainstream. Flash freeze your eggs when you’re young(ish) and fertile, then implant them later in life. Suddenly, you’ve removed all time pressure. Or as Richards writes, “Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life. It soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn’t want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn’t sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.”
I’m very glad this worked out for Richards, and I hope she succeeds in her quest to have a baby — either the normal way with this new love, or by thawing her eggs from the freezer. But I’m not sold on the thesis of the story, namely that egg freezing is a solution to larger questions of combining work and life. Richards writes that “Amid all the talk about women ‘leaning in’ and ‘having it all,’ the conversation has left out perhaps the most powerful gender equalizer of all—the ability to control when we have children. The idea is tantalizing: Once you land the job and man you want, you can have your frozen eggs shipped to your fertility clinic, hand him a semen collection cup and be on your way to parenthood.”
Here’s the problem. First, it is entirely possible to find a mate and have a family while building a career. Egg freezing sounds vaguely feminist, but it plays into the anti-feminist line that work and family are incompatible. I cringed to read that Richards “met two women who were wrestling with turning 30 and worked at the prestigious management-consulting firm McKinsey. One was single and the other had a long-term boyfriend. But they had the same point of view: Egg freezing gave them options for fitting a family into their work lives and time to meet a future partner.” OK, that’s one option. But another option might be to talk to the female partners at McKinsey who got married and had children in their 20s and 30s and didn’t find this incompatible with building their careers. And as a corollary, if a company is truly sexist, your path isn’t going to be easy, even if you put off the dating and baby thing until age 40-plus.
But even if you don’t buy my line that there is no work/life dilemma, egg freezing is expensive, medically unpleasant (if the reports from my friends who’ve done IVF can be counted as evidence), and still pretty risky. One particular problem is that people tend to think about egg freezing between the ages of 36 and 39, but the ideal age to harvest your eggs is roughly 27. That’s when your eggs are at their best, but, of course, few 27-year-olds are contemplating egg-freezing. Few are thinking of their long-term life plans that way. Few have the resources. If you do, and if you are that far forward thinking as a 27-year-old? You’re probably better off just going ahead and having a baby. For starters, you’ll be a great mom. And second, the $50,000 Richards put into freezing her eggs can pay for a kid’s care and upkeep for quite a while.
What do you think of Richards’ piece, and egg freezing in general?
In other news: I enjoyed Anya Kamenetz’s interview with Bill Gates in Fast Company on education.
A new study takes another look at the question of whether money can buy happiness.
Yahoo/CNBC posts the “Off the Cuff” episode I recorded on 168 Hours.
ThinReads — a new website devoted to short ebooks — runs an interview with me (and calls me “the success whisperer” — I love it).
Here’s a podcast of American Weekend, from an interview I did this weekend.
And the audio versions of the ebooks are climbing up the business bestseller list! See the screenshot here (#1 and #6!). You can buy the latest ebook on iTunes here.
(photo of eggs courtesy flickr user telepathicparanoia)