Infertility has many causes. Plenty of young women have trouble conceiving, a fact that doesn’t get talked about much because there are no larger social points to be made there. It is also true, though, that it becomes harder for many women to conceive upon entering their mid-to-late 30s. Men do not face quite the same decline in fertility. Because of this, the female biological timeline is sometimes presented as a problem to be overcome, one incompatible with desires modern women might have.
That mindset was certainly on display in an article I read this week in Forbes on Prelude Fertility, a well-capitalized ($200 million) start-up founded by a serial entrepreneur who’s experienced infertility in his family life. The basic idea is that the process for egg retrieval, storage, and implantation could and should be more affordable and user friendly. This is true. But in good start-up fashion, Prelude wants to massively expand the market to target young women who might be convinced to freeze and store their eggs for potential IVF later on. Per the Forbes article, “Prelude is betting that young women will pay a few grand a year to alter the equation between career and family. ‘If you know that your eggs are safe and sound, what decisions would you make about your life?’ says Allison Johnson, a former top marketing executive at Apple [who’s doing the marketing campaign for Prelude]… ‘That’s what’s really exciting about this,’ Johnson says. ‘Go pursue that graduate degree. Wait for your soul mate. Go travel the world. Your eggs are waiting for you.'”
The implication is that work and personal fulfillment, and raising children, are mutually exclusive things. But they aren’t, not at all, and assertions like this only serve to offer up false choices that don’t serve young women well.
The first false choice: The “equation between work and family” implies that these two concepts are on opposite sides of the ledger, dueling against each other. It’s the same problem with the image of work/life “balance.” For one to win, the other must lose, a balance that requires that these be the only two things that are going on in a person’s life. That’s clearly not the case. Historical time diary studies show that over the past half century as women entered the workforce in droves, time with children rose slightly. Other things fell: housework, most notably. Given how much time the average person spends on television (or, increasingly, doing other leisure activities online) there is probably slack to alter other variables without shortchanging work or family.
Of course, to think about this “equation” between work and family, one needs to get to the place of having a career and family, something that generally requires training for a job and finding a partner. Johnson asks what decisions a woman might make if she knew her eggs were safe. She’d pursue that graduate degree — which implies that you can’t get a graduate degree with kids in tow. You can! It will require more complicated logistics, and relying on others for help, than pursuing one solo, but given the number of people struggling to pay back loans for degrees that didn’t pan out so well, the added level of scrutiny offspring might inspire toward the grad school question doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. But even if you couldn’t go to school with kids, earning a graduate degree in your mid-20s still leaves plenty of time for childbearing afterwards. Especially since it might be quite possible to meet a spouse during this time.
Which brings us to our next point: “Wait” for your soul mate? Oh dear. It’s Prince Charming with the glass slipper. The perfect man appears and you live happily ever after. I’d recommend reading Alain de Botton’s novel, The Course of Love, for anyone with this mindset. There is no perfect person. All relationships require work in order to produce pleasure. As for finding a satisfactory partner with good character to whom you are attracted? Possibly best approached as a practical matter too. You go to lots of events to meet people, ask your friends to set you up, and go on dates with people who’ve indicated they are looking for a serious match. All of this can be done while pursuing education, or “focusing” on one’s career, another false choice put out there. Indeed, they often move forward in tandem. People you meet through work introduce you to their eligible friends, and so forth.
Crazily enough, one can even travel the world with kids! I have four, which makes it a bit unwieldy. But I’m always inspired by my friend Henley Vazquez, founder of Passported, who’s built a whole career around kid-friendly travel (and who’s taken her two cosmopolitan children everywhere — she noted when I interviewed her about this a while ago that the whole airplane and jet lag thing is still no fun, but it never is. Not for adults either. It’s just ultimately worth it.).
The problems with the “stop the biological clock!” mindset go on. A notable one: retrieving eggs and freezing them and implanting them is unpleasant and risky from a medical perspective. Conceiving babies the old-fashioned way is far more enjoyable. Also, saving your eggs for your 40s implies that you would be having a baby in your 40s. Having been pregnant at 27 and 36 I’m pretty sure that the trend line was not in a positive direction in terms of my stamina.
I think there is a different point to be made (and not made in the Forbes article) that society could do more to make it easier for young women to have children. Readers who know my politics know that I’m generally more right of center than not, but existing policies have involved choices that could have been made differently. Social Security supports older people’s ability to leave the labor force. It could have been structured to pay new parents to take time off after a birth — but it wasn’t. I’m still trying to figure out a way to rebrand childcare subsidies as a Milton Friedman-sounding “school vouchers for the under 5 set.”
But in any case, the zeal to unwind the biological clock so women can pursue life “as freely as men” as the Forbes article puts it, requires a starting assumption that female empowerment is about making women more like men, the apparent right version of humanity. I would take issue with that. Most importantly, the implication with this laundry list of things women might do pre-kids — if they could wait longer to have kids — is that kids are a major bummer. To have them, you must have achieved much, and then be completely mature and self-sacrificing. Since most of us never reach the Mother Teresa point in our personal development, it’s unclear when the right moment to unfreeze those eggs would be. There is never a moment when, in the moment, getting up with a 21-month-old at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning will feel better than having a leisurely brunch with mimosas and Bloody Marys. But the unpleasantness is not constant, and you can structure your life to have a few of those brunches during the tough years and then have more as you go.
And kids can actually be pretty awesome too. In my case, they’ve helped my career by giving me more to write about. They’ve widened my social circle considerably. I have mixed feelings about some decisions they’ve inspired (see my essay on New York nostalgia) but on the other hand, last night my three older children and I put together a puzzle after the little one was in bed. I enjoyed a nice glass of wine while doing this. It’s exactly the sort of thing I might have done to unwind even if I didn’t have kids, but instead it was a little Tuesday night party, with three amazing people in my life, all of us along for the ride.
Photo: Many choices…
50 thoughts on “Fertility and false choices”
Yes! I couldn’t agree more with what you have written. As a 31 year old mother of 3 who had my kids during while pursuing my CPA and working at a big four firm, I certainly echo your sentiment that it is a false choice. Was it difficult at time, yes but everything is difficult at some point. And on the upside, I am (mostly, as my youngest is two) done with sleepless nights before many of my peers have even started them 🙂
Personally I feel that people are agonizing over the “right” time to have kids, but there isn’t one. Kids are part of life not something to be had once you are done “living”.
I will second your point about leave. Where I live mothers get 18 weeks paid, fathers get 5 and then there are 32 parental weeks that can be taken by either one, usually the mother. But not always, with my second it was my husband that took most of the leave so that I didn’t have to stall my career training too much.
“Kids are part of life not something to be had once you are done living.” Yes! Absolutely agree!
@Rinna- I’ve been pondering, lately, what it’s like for people who have kids really young (say, 20-22) – the kids would be adults by the time you’re 40. There is (thankfully!) so much life after 40. It would be strange to feel like that entire chapter of life would be done by then. (Of course, you might get grandkids young then too!)
I had my first child at 22. He was quite a surprise! He is 14 in a couple of days. I have literally been a parent my entire adult life.
So so much agree with this. Things definitely aren’t perfect here in the US in term of maternity leave and there are GOBS of things (everything) that is easier without kids BUT…they are also so much fun. No good time to have them but they will be worth it no matter when.
Maybe I don’t understand the advantages of egg-freezing – are those frozen eggs from your 20s so much better than the “fresh” ones they’d extract 10-15 years later if you DO need IVF? Maybe a medical expert could weigh in? From my limited anecdata of me and my friends who’ve had infertility, the causes have mostly been things that would have been an issue at 25 as well as at 35. I guess I’m not seeing the value prop for paying for all that long term storage (plus the unnecessary procedure/meds you might not even need).
I’m not a medical expert, but it seems this company is playing on the statistics. Aside from any fertility issues that would have been there all along, a woman is statistically less likely to conceive and carry to term as she gets older. A woman in her 20s, however, will never know whether the statistic will apply to her until she gets to her 40s and starts trying to conceive. The idea behind this business is “pay us all this money and undergo an invasive medical procedure just in case.”
@ARC- I think it’s mostly an insurance policy – you don’t know if you’ll have trouble conceiving later, and if you do, using younger eggs ups your odds.
The stats on age-related fertility decline are interesting. See this chart on pregnancy rates among populations that don’t use contraception. https://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/News_and_Publications/Practice_Guidelines/Committee_Opinions/Age-related_fertility.pdf
At age 22 the birth rate is about 400-500 babies per 1000 wives per year and it declines to 100-200 by the early 40s. Of course, it’s hard to know if people are just having less sex by their early 40s too after 2 decades of having children every 2-3 years, or are consciously breastfeeding longer to delay pregnancies or what have you.
I am a physician. This is not to provide medical advice and I am not a reproductive specialist. There are two issues with eggs. One is that the quality of eggs when you are 20 or 30 is better than the quality of eggs when you are 40. IVF is more successful with eggs from a younger woman. Issue 2 is that while the average age of menopause in this country is 51, some women do not have enough ovarian reserve in their 40s to obtain any eggs or at least enough eggs to yield a successful IVF pregnancy. Previously egg freezing techniques were not so great. Embryo freezing has been pretty good for awhile, but that requires sperm from the partner of your choice. Now egg freezing techniques are improving but if you are going to spend the money to freeze eggs you want to freeze quality eggs. I think my repro colleagues would say 39 may be too late for egg freezing.
@Gillian – thanks 🙂
P.S. I wish I had known about Passported before embarking on my Big Trip this summer with my 6yo — we had an awful, useless travel agent.
As someone who has done things on the absolute opposite timeline this start-up suggests, I appreciate you speaking up! Grad school with children/while pregnant might have been easier for me than my peers since I had a limited time to study and therefore had to get it done. Travel still happens–my husband and I are currently in Frankfurt while our parents watch our kids at home–since we had out kids in our 20s and our parents are still young and healthy enough to help out. Did we struggle? Sure. But it was good to build a family and a business at the same time.
Really excellent article Laura. Wow! I simply couldnt agree more. I live in Europe where we certainly have more child friendly policies than America (paid maternity leave of 24 weeks in Ireland for example) but the trend I have seen is that, for my generation at least, we seem to be letting men’s apparent wishes get the upper hand. What I mean by that is that I have friends who have dated guys for a couple of years and can barely bring themselves to have the discussion of “I want to settle down and have children..do you?” for fear of sending him fleeing for the hills. It might not even by true that the guy would flee at such a thought. But its as if we as a society have decided that having children with a partner is the final nail in the coffin of an exciting life and so we must be vaguely ashamed if we want that now and not later at “a better time for becoming boring”. We mustn’t breath a word of children to any man we meet, we must show huge enthusiasm for a full speed career and disdain for domesticity, we must talk about having it all as long as we agree that “all” means complete freedom. What a shame that we can’t simply say “turn off that freezer, I want children now while Im full of energy and stamina so bloody well start creating a society that can deal with that and stop trying to imply that having children is a nuisance that will cramp your style and should be delayed until you are old and boring anyway which apparety ‘they’ seem to think happens at 40 plus”
I completely agree. As someone who was wanting and ready for kids at 25, and is now 36 and single and childless, I really think much more of any discussion about women and fertility and our shriveling up eggs needs to be about the guys. I’m not in this situation because I chose to postpone kids; I’m here because my partners did. Indeed, marriage and kids were always my #1 priority and I’ve been deeply hurt and scarred by the men I loved not being willing to have kids with me due to some value notions of “but I’m supposed to live life first, and, you can have kids until you’re 40, right?”. I had two good, loving, long-term relationships end over this issue. (Neither guy has gone on to have children, fyi). And now I look around and I see oceans… of accomplished, beautiful, act-together women in their mid-thirties, and, very very few single men who are in any way their equal. I’m at the cusp of the huge societal change of more women going to college than men, women doing better in their careers than guys in their 20’s, and….this isn’t going to be pretty. Moreover, as this is happening, the media and society blathers on about women “choosing” to postpone childbearing… In my first week at a new job, I was told (all unsolicited) 1) I’d better not wait any longer to have kids if I wanted them, 2) I’d better go snag a husband soon; what was a beautiful wonderful girl like me doing wrong if I couldn’t get one?, 3) it’s much better being a young mother than an old one…waiting until you are late thirties is a decision you will regret, 4) that women who raise kids on their own are screwing up their kids; kids need a dad. (Yes, I refrained from smacking anyone, and saved my crying for when I got home). No has ever said “gosh, it must be really hard when you have so much to offer as a wife and mother, and the world isn’t making men who value you”.
@Megan- thank you so much for making this point. I agree that the gap between men and women who are earning college degrees is a huge factor in changing the marriage market. And yes, people say absolutely ridiculous things. I think men and women should both know that life isn’t over after having children, and unfortunately too many men in particular believe that it is.
Thank you Megan, from another 36 yo, single, childless woman who has never been in the position to practically fret (theoretically, sure) about the ideal age for kids. So much of the contemporary conversations about fertility, work/life balance. “having it all,” etc assume that women meet partners easily (and if they didn’t, it’s their fault). But that’s not my experience, and I’d say it accounts for only about half of my friends (with advanced degrees and careers that tend to make us “too smart” and “too intellectual,” according to the single men our age, if they’re willing to date women their age anyways). We need to do a better job of raising feminist men who can handle women with degrees and careers and then we can talk about fertility choices as a mass crisis (for straight people anyways).
YES – thank you so much for this article – I couldn’t agree more, on all points, but especially these two:
>retrieving eggs and freezing them and implanting them is unpleasant and risky from a medical perspective.
Having done egg retrieval for IVF for medically necessary reasons, this is definitely true. Even assuming it goes perfectly the first time, it is a minimum two month commitment that involves giving yourself multiple shots daily, considerable discomfort as you grow multiple eggs, and going under anesthesia or narcotic for the retrieval itself. Not a zero impact on your 20-something career, as is frequently implied.
>society could do more to make it easier for young women to have children
Yes… I’m right of center too, and always hear the arguments about a “business case”. I understand the cons – but from a social perspective it comes down to this: do we want to promote having children in our society? Who has them? – Awkward questions to be sure, but no choice is still a choice, and there are social and business costs either way, whether we support professional women having children or not.
One additional point is that the impact to women for having children would be less if men participated more… including the decision making men in corner offices, who in my world almost always have stay at home wives and seem not to be participating much at all.
“Your eggs are safe” is a LONG way from bringing a healthy child into the world. Even if egg-freezing technology continues to improve, you don’t know if those are eggs that will fertilize. The full reproductive system is not tested until you try to conceive and carry a child. As someone with as much IVF experience permitted under doctor advisement (six rounds of IVF in my early 30s due to an egg problem), I am heartened to see the infertility dialogue deepening in public spheres, but we do a huge disservice in making any suggestion that egg freezing solves all the problems. It is very hard for a women in her early 20s to understand the full range of fertility problems that egg freezing does not address, how one’s perspective changes when undergoing significant treatment, and how little one ultimately controls when it comes to becoming a parent. As my doctor told me, becoming a parent is “sticking one’s neck out,” and her point to me was that I was learning that lesson earlier in having to deal with so much uncertainty and heartbreak before becoming pregnant. Thank you, Laura, for not letting the Forbes article off too easily. Perhaps what bothers me most is the hubris inherent in this idea that one can control not only the conception experience but also how one folds children into one’s life without missing a beat. The beat changes if you want to build a family.
There is something to be said for having children “earlier” (relative term). We had kids at 30 and 32, when I was a 3rd and 5th year associate at a big law firm – in other words, quite young in my peer group. Now at 36 with a 3 and 5 year old, it’s lovely to be done with diapers and bottles and naps (i.e., the awful parts of parenting) when most of our friends are just launching into it. I can’t imagine being 45 and chasing after a toddler!
A little sexist, I know, but it also bothers me that the entrepreneur behind this is a man. It’s less relatable on an intensely personal issue. His personal story doesn’t match the business plan or demographic they’re going after. His wife was trying to get pregnant in her early 30s. He’s marketing this towards women who do NOT want to get pregnant in their 20s or 30s.
As a physician I try to counsel all my female patients about their fertility. This is an issue among female physicians because we spend out 20s and 30s in rigorous training that is not so conducive to child bearing. That said I agree with Laura on this one. There is no good time. I too have 4 children. I had one in medical school, one in residency, one in fellowship and one in private practice. I tell my story far and wide in hopes of encouraging women not to see their career and family as mutually exclusive. Was this easy? No!!! I needed a supportive spouse (but who wants to have kids without one?) and there was some serious sleep deprivation involved. However, I think I am a better mother and a better physician because I am doing both jobs at the same time.
Ugh to this company–great post though. I have to echo Carol’s sentiment that I think the larger issue is men not wanting to commit rather than women wanting to live their lives and focus on their careers. Even with my friends who did speak with their partners about settling down and having kids, the guys seemed to take a long time to actually purchase a ring and propose. I see much more my amazing friends settling for less-than-stellar guys (and still having to push and prod them to commit) rather than holding out for a soulmate or deferring having kids for a career. Also, I was married and then divorced in my mid-twenties because my ex-husband decided after we were married that he didn’t want children (happy ending–I’m in my early 30s now and I met a fantastic guy who loves kids and proposed after two years together and we’re getting married in three weeks!). So in my mind they should start a company that implants dudes with emotional maturity and a sense that they should grow up a bit faster. 🙂 Of course, there is also the tricky bit of meeting a decent guy in this time frame–as you mentioned we have some control over this but it’s also not guaranteed. Still, I think the money spent on freezing eggs would be better spent saved or invested for becoming a single mother and/or adopting.
I will be the outlier. I am very glad I waited until my mid-30s to start having children. Yes, you can do many things like attend graduate school and travel with children. The experience, however, is completely different, and there is nothing wrong with deciding to focus exclusively on your personal priorities for a period of time.
Don’t know that I would have taken an egg freezing option, though.
June – I don’t think you’re an outlier. Many women make that choice (or the choice is made for them by circumstances). I think the main point is that each woman can decide for herself what is right for her life. And the concept behind this company is that, if only not for those pesky eggs getting older, all women would wait to have kids until their late 30s or older. That’s a view of life that narrows women’s choices rather than expanding them, which is what they are purporting to do.
@June- I hope I didn’t come across as arguing that mid-30s isn’t a good time to have children! I had one of mine at 36, so it seems like a perfectly fine time to me 🙂
Laura – I really agree with most everything you’ve written. I do think it’s great that egg-freezing has improved to the point that it’s an option for women, if that’s what they want/need. Like you, I don’t like many of the implications that this service implies. I was pregnant with my first at age 28 and with my 4th at age 38/39. What a difference a decade (plus) makes! I was very lucky to always get pregnant the cheap and easy way, but given the age difference between kid #1 and kid #4, I feel like I’ve had a really good insight into the way children impact various stages of your life, including career. Ultimately, there are pluses to both approaches. However, if younger women ever ask me for my thoughts, I tell them that my personal experience is that it is on balance better to have children when you are younger (late 20s/early 30s) vs older (late 30s/early 40s), if you have the option. The benefits of greater energy and stamina (and, yes, a longer “shelf life” to hopefully watch those children grow and have children of their own) outweigh, in my mind, the very real benefits of being a somewhat older and more settled mother.
My first was born when I was 36, my second when I was almost 42. Huge difference, what was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn’t. (Well, actually we were. As often seems to happen, it was when we gave up on having a second child that we conceived.) My friend adopted a child when she was 50, and noted how much more tired she was than with the first 5 she’d given birth to. There is a reason that we are more fertile in our early years, we have more energy to recover from childbirth and to keep up.
Laura, they are not targeting women like you. They are targeting women like me. I currently work 70 hours per week on average including one overnight call per week. My husband works 55 and is in the car commuting 2 hours per day. We have zero family support. I will be done with training at age 41 or 42. We have finite monetary resources. It’s not like it would be impossible to have more kids, but it would definitely be harder for me than it would be for you, and it would require me to extend my training. Maybe you just think people like me are just disorganized giant whiners, but I would encourage you to think about this particular reality, which is true for many people, just not for you. Had this technology existed in my 20s and if the outcomes were good, it would have been an awesome choice.
@Omdg – I still think, even with the freezing option, that “there is no good time.” Finish training at 42 and you might want to spend some time getting settled at the job that then uses that training, which would push it even farther back, and into the time when a pregnancy might be even riskier. Any stage is going to be about compromises.
I was thinking the same thing as Laura. Even if the option had been available, would you truly have been interested to go through all the hormones and egg harvesting during your younger years and then do IVF in your 40s after all those years of training? (Not judging. Honestly interested in the reply.) There are probably some situations that make it difficult to have a baby whenever (i.e., no good time). Oh – and by the way – good luck with finishing the training!
Also not judging, but curious:
If you’re finishing training at 42 (as a physician, I’m guessing from your description), what were you doing in your late-20s and early-30s? I’m guessing you weren’t working the hours you keep now, and perhaps those would have been prime baby times.
We all acknowledge there’s no EASY time to start a family! (I know it’s hard; I average 60-65 hours weekly for work+commute, not counting frequent overnight travel, and I have two little kids and a husband with a demanding job!)
While I think in some specialties becoming an attending brings new pressures, in general the hours are more manageable and there is (some) more control. I will probably work about 55-60 hours per week and take call 1-2 time per month as an attending. I will also have more disposable income. A lot more.
In answer to the wtf did I do with my 20s and 30s the answer is I worked until I was 29, and then I did md- phd, which took 8 years, which is pretty good considering I had a kid during my phd. Why didn’t I breed in my 20s? Because I met my husband when I was 27, got married at 29, and then, well, Med school. Not all of us meet Mr Moneybags at age 22. I think our planning was pretty perfect if you must know. Why didn’t I have more kids then? Because the first one knocked us on our asses and there was just no way. And I wanted to finish my training so that we wouldn’t be so dependent on my husband’s job. And because having a profession I enjoy was and is more important to me than having tons of kids.
And face it, you are all judging. It’s ok, I’m used to it. We don’t have to be friends.
And let’s be clear, I’m not pining away for my lost unborn children I will never have because I had misplaced priorities (or something) when I was younger. It might be nice to have a second, and if we decided to go that way it would be great to go it with eggs that weren’t 40 years old. As someone who sees kids with devastating congenital anomalies as part of my job, it’s probably on my radar more that it might be on yours.
Omdg, this exchange is making me think about how much I miss your blog!
As a physician, I completely get where you are coming from. I didn’t go straight to medical school either. I agree having a baby in med school is excellent timing. I had a baby in every step of training med school, residency, fellowship and private practice. I think the med school one was the easiest. I will tell you that even though we also have no family near by, my attending baby was in some ways more stressful that the others. I am in private practice so I had no paid maternity leave and taking 10 weeks off set me back about 6 months in terms of practice building. I think this would all depend very much on what type of residency/fellowship you are doing and what you planned to do after training. Still, I think in a world where we see celebrities pregnant at 50 it is important to raise this issue among young training physicians (and those in other demanding professions), really think about how to allow women in training to have children if they want to and make sure women know what all their options are.
@Omdg- I completely understand your angst. I am now in fellowship with a 2 year old. If you are in a demanding field (I’m Cardiology), training is really, really hard on mothering. Tonight my daughter told me that she likes Daddy better. Today was a rough day- I don’t want to over-emphasize the bad ones. She won’t remember these days, but I will, and the years between 0-5 are some of the most fun and memorable for parents.
I think egg freezing is a wonderful option in certain situations and I am thrilled that the technology has advanced. Ethically, it may even be more appealing to those opposed to storing/discarding frozen embryos. I would have considered it in the following situations:
1. Approaching early-mid thirties with no partner, want to have the option of biological children if you meet a partner eventually or if you want to go it alone.
2. About to undergo chemotherapy with no partner (if partner, would probably do embryo freezing).
3. Approaching early-mid thirties, have clear situation that is not amenable to child-rearing (deployed in the military, in rigorous school/training/etc) that is finite.
4. Any other situation that made me want to do it. Who cares- our bodies, our choices.
I am, however, concerned that this is being turned into a business, and corporate greed is now going to feed off of the fears of young women. I spent much of my early 20s worried about how I was going to combine career+family. If any of you watch the Mindy project- they were advertising on college campuses. There was a recent study that suggested that the optimal age to freeze eggs is ~30ish because the eggs are still healthy, you have more time/maturity to assess your situation, and you have to keep them frozen for less time.
Sure, there is no great time in your career to do it, but there are some pretty bad ones. I tell young women in training that you or your partner need either time, money, or free family childcare. I suppose one could go into debt (on top of student loans) with nanny+childcare to make it work with both partners in training, but that is a really tough decision and I wouldn’t make it lightly.
My summary- exciting technology and useful in certain situations. Will probably be commandeered by corporate men who sensationalize infertility and scare young women, which is sad. The underlying issue of the USA being a child-unfriendly society is not going away- so I think it is only responsible of us as adults to think about when we would like to create another life, and how we will care for that human being.
@Virginia – thanks for your comment. All great points. I wanted to add that you should not read much into your child saying she likes Daddy better. My eldest went through a period of several months where he almost wouldn’t let me hold him when my husband was around. My husband was not in any way, shape, or form more present in his life than me. Kids just like to torture us sometimes. And unfortunately, because we have the story in our heads that intense work and motherhood are incompatible, it is easy to read such toddler shenanigans as being meaningful.
Judging by the waiting rooms that I sat in when we were going to hell and back to conceive our two children, there are lots of women who would pay anything to have their 25 year old eggs on ice waiting for them. Unfortunately, that option wasn’t available for me then. It is now, assuming that I can financially afford it. Personally, I think it is wonderful that our daughters will have this option in the future and can make the decision for themselves.
What many women still don’t understand is how low the success rates are for IVF in women over 38. Your success rate is based on the age of your eggs which is why freezing them when they are at peak fertility, usually in your mid to late 20’s, is so crucial. Waiting until you are over 35 is usually too late.
It would be lovely if we all had a crystal ball and were able to know that we were going to struggle with this later in life. But, we don’t.
A sighted writer would never presume to write about the experience of a blind person (“My god, why can’t they just enjoy the smell of the roses”). Yet fertile writers presume to write about the infertility experience all the time. Please stop and stick to subjects where your own experience can guide you, particularly if you are unable to be empathetic to those with experiences different from your own.
@MNL – thanks for your comment, and sorry for the delay in posting approval (I was gone for the weekend).
I wouldn’t view my post as the way you are characterizing it, though. I’m writing about the timing of children, and my problems with the idea that women should change to fit a male timeline (as opposed to society changing, and people changing their ideas of what having children means).
Laura, I love the way you challenge assumed “truths” about women and working. It’s much needed work. In this article I particularly appreciate the way that you bring to light the underlying (and unnoticed) assumption in a lot conversations that “female empowerment is about making women more like men.” We need to change the ways we think about the possibilities of integrating all kinds of lives. The strict lines of division between work and family and men and women have only ever worked well for a few and definitely aren’t going to help every human being use all use our gifts in the world – which means we all lose out. There are always compromises, but there are also always choices. Egg freezing as a choice could be very good for some women, but when it’s made under the assumption that there are no other options, when there actually are, that’s a problem.
Laura, been reading your work for a long time, agree with lots of it, first time commenter. Want to offer a counter point.
I was working Investment Banking hours through most of my 20s and early 30s. I also did not know what I wanted in a partner – it took me a long time to figure that out and commit to someone.
I have two kids, had them in my late 30s. I would love more but have suffered multiple miscarriages and am now into my 40s so that chapter is done.
In hindsight, I too would have preferred to have had kids in my 20s, but for a variety of reasons, it was not an option. I was lucky that I got pregnant the cheap and easy way but there’s definitely a view of the world where I might not have been so lucky. The egg freezing option increases optionality for many women.
@AA- thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry I didn’t approve it earlier – I was out of town for the weekend. I appreciate the counter point!
I wish I could leave emojis in the comments. I’d like to leave you a slow clap on this one. Me likey 🙂
@Ahlia- I’ll imagine you slow clapping – thanks for that!
Great article. I do find one flaw in your article- – not everyone has access to help to allow you to finish grad school etc. ideally a young parent would have family help. If not how are they going to be able to afford to pay for daycare let alone babysitting for a night off, to study etc? It is very very hard to raise children without sufficient funds behind you and or family help.
@Clare – it certainly won’t be easy without family nearby. But there are definitely people who do it. They trade off with their partners, they form babysitting pools with other grad students to swap care and the like.
I’m late to this one, so probably no one will read it but I’ll throw my thoughts in the ring. Honestly, there is no winning in this discussion. Its damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you try to have a baby before you are completely financially set, and you can’t manage it without some help, your fault for poor planning. If you wait until you have your ducks in a row and have fertility issues, its your fault for waiting too long.
Sure there are success stories but not EVERY woman (or man) can manage medical school with a colicky newborn or writing a thesis with a toddler running around. And not everyone finds the right partner at the “right time” (whatever that is). If she has a baby with a man that turns out to not be as helpful or successful—her fault for poor choices. But if she decides to keep looking for a better partner and misses her fertile years—her fault for being too picky.
If egg freezing the answer? Of course not. Its a tool that has its uses (I agree completely with the list Virginia typed above of ideal situations for its use). The problem isn’t old eggs, or overachieving women who want it all. The problem is a child-unfriendly and women-making-choices-about-her-reproduction unfriendly society.
Good post, Laura! I’m Natasha, 36 and a monther of a 4 year old boy. We want another baby and are considering the egg freezing option but I’m over 38 years of age, so is this safe for me?