Egg freezing had some rare front-page news coverage earlier this week, after it was announced that Facebook and Apple are to offer infertility treatments to their employees.
The new staff ‘benefits’ package could signal the start of a worrying trend where large corporations offer their female employees a supposed solution to the age-old career vs baby dilemma.
It’s true that many working women in the 25 to 40 age bracket feel the pressure of needing to have it all: a great career, loving relationship, steady home life. But egg freezing simply isn’t the answer, and it will be young working women who suffer when they reach a certain age, only to discover that their chances of conceiving are greatly reducing – even though they have frozen their eggs.
It is in Facebook and Apple’s interest to get the best out of their female employees during their peak working years – there can be no denying that. And if they can offer their staff the option of delaying pregnancy (which appears to be a stress-free formality, judging by the numerous reports and stories appearing in the national press) instead of having to give them the maternity leave that they are legally entitled to, then of course, they will.
After all, prevention is better than cure, in the eyes of the world’s biggest companies.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing if they took a less cynical approach? Yes, Facebook and Apple are absolutely right to be doing something above and beyond the normal call of duty to help those employees who would like to have children. But instead of egg freezing, shouldn’t they be offering more flexible working hours, on-site day-care centres or staff discounts on childcare costs instead?
What everybody seems to be forgetting is that conception rates using frozen eggs are often far less successful than the general public seems to believe. While freezing your eggs earlier could increase your chances of success, this is by no means a guarantee of positive results, and there are a host of other factors that can affect the quality of an egg when it is frozen.
Ultimately, the widespread introduction of this kind of benefits package could lead to heartbreak and disappointment for women in their mid- to late-30s who pursued a career during their 20s and early 30s, safe in the knowledge that they had frozen their eggs and would be able to use them to conceive one day in the future. How many of these women, if they were made aware that only 31.5% of 25-year-olds (after three attempts) and 14.8% of 40-year-olds (after three attempts) actually achieve successful conception, would still opt to freeze their eggs instead of having a child before they reach their mid-30s? We are extremely proud of our egg freezing programme here at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre, but we would never recommend it as an alternative to starting a family during the prospective mother’s most fertile years (before she reaches 35).
The opportunity to choose between the two options would be the most progressive way forward. If a female employee knows the facts about frozen egg success rates and has the option to put her career on hold to have children, then there can be no criticism of the employer’s ethics if that employee still further chooses to freeze her eggs.
But what we must not allow is for large companies to pressurise their female staff into freezing their eggs as an alternative to starting a family in their 20s and early 30s. After all, it won’t be your employer who holds your hand during your treatment.