Students are a mere three years (if that) away from the world of employment. You may have fleetingly considered applying for a Spring Week in the City, or even grovelled for work experience; but have you thought about reproductive rights in the workplace? Maybe not. Earlier this month it was reported that Facebook and Apple have decided to offer employers up to $20,000 towards egg freezing (and sperm freezing too for that matter); but is this perk of the job actually good for women?
In offering women the option to freeze their eggs, it is implied that to have children mid career will damage their prospects of progression or promotion in a company. Rather than liberating women, this supposedly generous offer is restrictive. It suggests that women can’t have both a career and a family. It places upon them an unspoken pressure not to have children if they want to achieve their career goals – success and snotty noses are apparently incompatible.
Maybe Facebook should build an office crèche or implement more flexible working hours. Or what if women don’t want to have children at all
Rather than trying to indirectly make child-related choices for their female employees, why don’t companies instead implement measures to make these women feel supported in whichever decision they come to? These companies could invest the $20,000 (cost of freezing a woman’s eggs) into creating a more child and mother friendly office environment. Maybe Facebook should build an office crèche or implement more flexible working hours. Or what if women don’t want to have children at all. Regardless there’s never going to be a truly convenient time to start a family; women really shouldn’t be made to feel like it’s one or the other: job or children; maternity dungarees or pencil skirt.
The offer of free IVF for women also perpetuates the idea that childcare is, fundamentally, the responsibility of the mother not the father. Yes, a mother will ‘carry’ her child for nine months, but following this, there are few biological reasons which should place greater responsibility on women than men for childcare. It should be that both parents want to contribute an equal amount to their child’s life. In offering egg freezing these companies assume that all women will want to rear children, and further to this that they will be the primary carer.
If a woman wants to have IVF or freeze her eggs that’s her business, it shouldn’t involve the business she works for.
Many will claim that the women wanting to freeze their eggs are single women; waiting to meet the right person before starting a family and perhaps anticipating that this will not be until later in life. This is understandable. It remains, however, that a somewhat uncomfortable dynamic is introduced when multinational organisations become involved in the romantic and reproductive lives of their female employees. If a woman wants to have IVF or freeze her eggs that’s her business, it shouldn’t involve the business she works for.
Essentially, women’s reproductive choices should not be influenced by their employers. Large businesses function by competing with each other to dominate markets and to hold financial power and influence, but the movement of the stock market and the flow of female fertility are two completely separate things. Big businesses need to stop meddling with these personal decisions; whatever they may be.
Women are ‘six-times more likely to suffer from fertility problems when 35 than 25 years of age’ (Family planning and age-related reproductive risk. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist 2011). If we know this, then why is it that data, from the Office for National Statistics, shows that the age of a first-time mother has been increasing? Women aged 30-34 are more likely to enter into motherhood than any other age group. The answer is new, and often controversial: scientific technologies such as egg freezing and IVF that enable women to prolong their fertility.
If women are given more time, they will inevitably be able to establish themselves better in their chosen career path, and ultimately reach the top.
Women who wish to pursue a career during their prime, child-bearing years may prefer to freeze their eggs, as it offers them the chance to have a prolonged, and potentially more successful, career without the commitment of children and the need for maternity leave. In my opinion, having children when you are more established in a profession is, simply, better. It allows women to pursue their own career agenda and fulfil other life goals, without the worries of aging eggs and declining fertility. If women are given more time, they will inevitably be able to establish themselves better in their chosen career path, and ultimately reach the top. Earlier this year, Google admitted to Sky News that only 30% of its staff are women and this has led to a bold attempt to keep women in their work-places. This problem is emphasised by figures from the BBC News show (2012), demonstrating a lack of female leaders, stating that ‘fewer than one-third of the UK’s most influential jobs are held by women’.
A woman’s fertility can decline rapidly from the age of 35 and this means that many women in their late 30s and early 40s are attempting IVF often without success
I would argue that having the option to freeze their eggs empowers women. It grants women more choice and control over their lives, pushing aside battles with an internal biological clock. Some women interviewed for pro-egg freezing campaigns have commented that freezing their eggs has made it easier for them to look for the right partner with whom they wish to start a family, without the added pressure of a small time period in which their fertility is at its optimum. A woman’s fertility can decline rapidly from the age of 35 and this means that many women in their late 30s and early 40s are attempting IVF often without success. Freezing eggs, although expensive, is certainly less expensive than IVF. The NHS states that currently, 1 in 7 couples in the UK have trouble conceiving, and many women see egg freezing as beneficial as it acts as an insurance against fertility problems.
Egg freezing gives women the option of postponing starting a family, until it is financially viable; often at an older age than the typical baby-bearing years. Children are sure to benefit from having a mother who has more autonomy and financial independence rather than a mother who struggles to pay for all of the costs of child maintenance – an expensive feat. Last year, the Telegraph described how the cost of raising children was at an ‘all-time high’, it cited figures from insurer LV=’s report, which estimated that the cost of bringing up a child to the age of 21 had reached £222,458.
Despite being a very new and relatively un-tested field, the advantages of egg freezing are overwhelming. As more women work in high-powered and uncompromising jobs, this treatment finally offers them the flexibility they deserve in their reproductive choices.
Image courtesy of Kimari via Flickr