Column: The egg-freezing benefit -- family friendly, or corporate control?
Here are three things you can always count on: death, taxes and that anything related to motherhood or women’s reproductive choices will stir up enough cultural debate to make everyone forget about death and taxes for a news cycle or two.
FOR THE RECORD: Meghan Daum’s column on Oct. 23 about adding egg freezing to benefit packages said that Facebook offers its employees day care for dogs. It plans to offer such day care.
And so it’s gone with the Great Egg-Freezing Debate, prompted by Apple’s announcement last week that it would begin covering the cost for its female employees (as well as the female partners of employees) to have their eggs preserved for use at a later date. Facebook has been offering the same benefit since the start of this year.
On one side, there are the cheerleaders, who see this development as an extension of reproductive freedom for women. On the other side are the alarmists, who see it as subtle corporate control at best and, at worst, the first step along a dangerous and dystopian reproductive path.
Those in the middle have mostly been making the point that if companies are so worried about their workers leaving their jobs or reducing their hours after they have children, maybe they should direct more resources toward things like on-site day care.
For what it’s worth, Facebook is famous for having some of the most family-friendly benefits in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t have day care, at least not for children (it has it for dogs), but like a lot of tech companies, it has enviable perks for employees who add children to their families. In fact, the egg-freezing benefit was rolled out as part of a larger plan that included things like surrogacy costs and legal fees for single men and LGBT employees seeking to build families through nontraditional means. If anything, it seems as though Facebook has baby fever — which kind of makes sense, given that it thrives on parents obsessively posting photos of their kids.
Not that egg freezing is poised to cause a population boom. Recent data show that for a woman who freezes her eggs at age 25, the chances of a successful pregnancy in three cycles of in vitro fertilization are just over 31%. And the older the woman at the time of freezing, the lower the chance of success. If you freeze your eggs when you’re 40, there’s a less than 15% chance the process will result in a live birth. The average age at which women freeze eggs today is 37.
Of course, the idea is that women in their 20s and 30s will begin to regard egg freezing as yet another option on the menu of reproductive choices and freeze at the optimum time. One problem with this option, however, is that it’s prohibitively expensive for most people — $5,000 to $15,000, according to this newspaper.
And even if your boss is paying (or maybe particularly if he is), do we really want to go there? Isn’t the danger that 25-year-olds will feel pressured to go to extreme and painful lengths to “take control” of something that may, in the end, remain uncontrollable? Meanwhile, those who don’t go to those lengths risk being blamed later for passing up a golden opportunity.
Still, within all those unknowns, the technology’s mere existence — as an abstract concept even more than as a viable option — may have real value. It invites women to check in with themselves early and often and think about what they really want when it comes to kids.
That process might be extraordinarily useful, even revelatory. The woman who finds herself giving serious thought to freezing her eggs at age 25 can take it as a pretty good indication that she wants a family someday, and that self-knowledge might be helpful going forward. The woman who has no interest at 30 or 35 might do well to ask herself if she wants to be a mother at all. If the answer is yes, she might examine why she’s still gambling with her fertility. If the answer is no, it’s certainly more honest than resorting to chestnuts like “I forgot to have kids!”
Then again, the whole thing might not be about women’s needs or even corporate greed. It could be a diabolical scheme to keep young men safe from the tethers of commitment and family altogether. Said one commenter: “Something about this policy feels like the men of Silicon Valley plotting to get the women off their backs about marriage, so they can go back to their video games.”
Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.
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