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Chloe Anastassiadis
Freezing your eggs: a choice by women for women?
With the recent announcement by Facebook and Apple that they will
offer oocyte cryopreservation to their female employees, the proponents
of "egg freezing" have had plenty of opportunities to advertise this
"insurance coverage" against the biological bomb. "Women are making
the proactive choice of freezing their eggs at a younger age", claims
founder of Extend Fertility Christy Jones. The publicity on oocyte
cryopreservation could almost persuade us that it is a harmless
procedure, empowering women, and thus contributing to a more
egalitarian world; but to me it seems more like the purpose of all this
smooth talk is to hide the real concerns one should have with egg
freezing.
The campaign on the oocyte cryopreservation procedure is centered
on the analogy with insurance coverage, as the forum Eggsurance's name
suggests. After a few days of preliminary treatments, the eggs are taken
from the patient; the next day, she can go back to work, having secured
the possibility of starting a family later. There is no obligation to use them
afterwards, but it is supposed to help women faced with the so-called
"family-or-career" dilemma feel reassured; they still have time.
However, this insurance is not as reliable as it seems. Not all risks
associated with late pregnancy are due to the aging of ovaries; for
example, the dangerous complication of placenta praevia and preterm
birth are associated with the entire body's aging process, while egg
freezing targets only the ovaries (Jolly, M., et al.). For women over 35, the
increased risk of perinatal morbidity and mortality thus remains.
This is why the procedure should not be understood as a way to
delay the decision to have children. On almost every forum about egg
freezing, you can find this argument: 77% of Canadian women say they
delay parenthood until they feel prepared to become mothers. However, it
is important for women to be are aware that it is not always a successful
procedure; by deciding to freeze their eggs, they are accepting to take
this risk.
I am saying "women" because they are the targets of the pro-egg
freezing campaign; this may seem obvious at first, but in reality to say
that the decision to freeze one's eggs is made freely by women is
deceiving. We ought to consider the social context within which those
decisions are made.
Although there are more mother-friendly policies implemented in
Quebec than in California (where Apple and Facebook will soon offer
oocyte cryopreservation to their employees), Statistics Canada's report on
gender inequalities show that women still spend twice as much time as

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men on housework and childcare (2011). They are also more likely to quit
their job for familial reasons. Supporters of egg freezing affirm that the
procedure is a remedy to this situation, because it enables women to fully
"commit" themselves to the company; but in reality it perpetuates the
conception that a successful career and childcare cannot be compatible in
any way, and it prevents us from considering solutions that would directly
address the issue of gender inequality.
It is especially alarming to see people define the offer of Facebook
and Apple to pay for their employees' oocyte cryopreservation as a
"payback for women's commitment to the company". Indeed, the
assumption made here is that working mothers are less committed to the
company than women who delay parenthood. On the short term that may
seem true, but on the long term this shows a profound misconception of
parenthood.
One can gain a lot from becoming a parent; patience, a strong sense
of responsibility, as well as flexibility are required, among many other
qualities. Maternity leaves should not be treated as a waste of money, but
rather as investments, just like internships. Women who temporarily leave
the workplace should be welcomed back as individuals who gained an
invaluable experience, but also as employees who decided to continue
working. The warmer the welcome, the more likely they are to perform
well and to commit themselves to the company.
I am not condemning the employees who opted for oocyte
cryopreservation. I am just saying that we should not treat working
mothers as a dead weight for the company. Someone who considers
childcare to be a burden has already let society decide for them;
unfortunately, it is a common view among the proponents of egg freezing,
despite all the publicity promoting a "proactive choice". Jones, for
example, argued that the procedure would "help women be more
productive as human beings", which tells a lot about her vision of child
bearing.
This discourse thus disguises the social pressure exerted on female
employees, but it also makes it seem as if the issue concerned only
women, giving them control over their life; in reality, to affirm that the
sole goal of egg freezing is to enable women to have successful careers is
wrong and even potentially dangerous, because it pushes the
responsibility only on them.
We know that in cases of birth defects and complications, parents
often blame themselves, and mothers are usually more affected than their
companions (Badenhorst, William, et al.). If mothers are made to think
that they are responsible for the decision to delay parenthood, and thus to
increase the risks associated to pregnancy, they are even more likely to
feel guilty. This is why we should insist on the importance of social context
in this decision, and also encourage them to discuss the issue with their

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relatives before freezing their eggs.
In any case, centering the debate on women's issues is
fundamentally wrong, as it neglects the importance of these choices for
children, and in particular the effect of having older parents. Of course, it
is now more and more common to see couples starting a family in their
forties, and we can thus hope that children will feel less stigmatized about
having older parents in the future. There are however other factors that
couples should consider. For example, the fact that their children might
become orphans relatively prematurely. I went to a high school where
having older parents was relatively common (one of my friend had a 62years old father), and I witnessed several teenagers being abnormally
worried about their parents' health, which probably played an important
role in the behavioral issues they had. Most of them will be supporting
their parents emotionally and financially while still being in College, or
starting a career and/or a family, and thus be forced to grow up faster
than their friends. Future parents ought to inform themselves on the
problem, and make sure that their children will be able to benefit from
their elders' guidance, until they feel prepared to leave the nest.
It might seem as though I am advocating against oocyte
cryopreservation but I am not. I am not condemning the employees who
intend to use it, and I know how difficult it can be for childcare and career
to be compatible. But. We ought to know that it is not the panacea for
gender inequality. Egg freezing is not analogous to car insurance either, as
Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University
Medical Center Lynn Westphal claimed. It is a choice heavy in
consequences, which concerns all of us. If the proponents of egg freezing
do not acknowledge it, then they are just sweeping gender issues under
the carpet.

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References
Badenhorst, William, et al. "The Psychological Effects of Stillbirth and
Neonatal Death on Fathers: Systematic Review." Journal of
Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 27.4 (2006): 245-56. Print.
Jolly, M., et al. "The Risks Associated with Pregnancy in Women Aged 35
Years or
Older." Human Reproduction 15.11 (2000): 2433-37. Print.
Statistics Canada. 2011. Women in Canada: A Gender-Based Statistical
Report.
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/12-591-x/2009001/03-stepetape/elements- eng.htm#a22 (accessed 6 December 2014)