WILL EGG FREEZING MAKE YOUR REPRODUCTIVE CLOCK IRRELEVANT?
How this growing trend is changing the future of reproduction
Today, technology provides more opportunities than previous generations could have ever imagined, from watching media, communicating, purchasing, to reproductive health. As a result, more and more women are considering progressive options when it comes to their reproductive future. Now, many employers are showing their support by adding egg freezing to their employee benefit packages and this rising trend has many people wondering, what sparked this trend and what it means for the future of reproduction?
Younger Generations are Waiting to Have Children
For decades, many women have been told that they should start a family around the same time they enter the job market. Today many women aren’t looking to “settle down” in their early twenties and want to wait until they’ve earned advanced degrees, evolved a successful career or traveled the world (or simply found a partner who met their standards).
Increasingly, women decide to delay childbearing until after their 30th birthday, and those that do are more economically successful than their peers who have children earlier. A study out of New York University that noted that three-quarters of women who freeze their eggs say they’re waiting for the right partner, while needing to finish school or establishing themselves in their careers comes in a distant second.
Social stigma around being childless is decreasing as more people decide not to have children. Less than 30 years ago, about a third of Americans disagreed that childless people “lead empty lives” and 15 years ago, nearly 60 percent of Americans disagreed with the same statement, indicating acceptance, support and overall normalization of a childless lifestyle.
Reproductive Risks and Realities
For many women, children will come into the picture after education, career and love. Unfortunately, those milestones often come after the age of 35, at which point, the woman’s likelihood of becoming pregnant decreases and, if she does become pregnant, the chance of a high-risk or non-viable pregnancy increases.
While men produce new sperm cells throughout their lives, women are born with their lifetime quantity of eggs (about 1-2 million). By the time an adolescent girl reaches puberty she has approximately 500,000 remaining and “loses” 500-1,000 immature eggs every month. Gradually, the quality of their remaining eggs declines, leading to an increased chance for an egg or pregnancy with genetic abnormalities. As the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) describes, age and fertility are critically related and due to the age of the egg when it is ovulated. The average 30 year-old woman who is not on birth control has a 20 percent chance of naturally getting pregnant each month, whereas a 40 year-old woman, has a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant each month.
Unfortunately, age isn’t the only threat to a healthy pregnancy. Many women have opted to freeze their eggs when diagnosed with a disease such as cancer since they want to preserve the option of using their healthy eggs at a later date and many medications or treatments can affect the number or quality of their eggs.
While in vitro fertilization (IVF) was developed nearly 40 years ago and embryo cryopreservation is nearly 35 years old, it wasn’t until 2012 that the American Society of Reproductive Medicine declared egg freezing no longer experimental, leading to an uprise in elective egg freezing.
How the Workplace is Getting Involved
As egg freezing transitioned from experimental to clinically available, many progressive companies aiming to provide substantial benefit packages to their employees, included egg freezing as an available benefit to their female employees.
Facebook lead this charge in 2014 by becoming the first tech company to announce it would pay for egg freezing for both their female staff and the spouses of its employees. Many large tech companies in competition with Facebook for great talent have jumped on board, including Apple, Google, Uber, Intel, Spotify and Yahoo. Critics see egg-freezing employee benefits as a ploy to chain female employees to their desks, however, many say more options and more choices for women and their partners is a good thing, particularly since more women are having children later in life than women of previous generations.
While most workplaces still do not offer egg-freezing as a benefit, this trend has set the pace for what the future of employee benefits will most likely look like. As many younger women strive to find success in their career before becoming a mother, many companies are likely to include this benefit in order to be competitive when recruiting and retaining desirable employees.
What This Means for the Future
More opportunities to have children later means less pressure on finding your perfect match in your early twenties. Women who utilize this option will have the ability to be more involved in the workplace for longer, leading to an increase in female leadership and a more balanced workforce nationwide.
This trend of pressing pause on your biological clock and having children at a later stage in life could also lead to parents who are better prepared for children financially, emotionally and mentally.
As we are likely to see an increase in fertility benefits among large companies, those employees will likely feel their company supports their decision to have options, prioritize their life the way they want to, and enter into parenthood when the timing is right.
Overall, not all women who want children want them when their bodies are in the prime motherhood stage of life. Some women aren’t sure if they want children, but know they want options, and egg freezing allows women and couples the opportunity to start a family when they’re ready. While egg freezing may not make your biological clock entirely irrelevant, hitting the snooze button is a great option to have.