To believe Sarah Elizabeth Richards it’s a great victory in the war against biology. You see, biology is irremediably sexist. It limits a woman’s ability to conceive a child more than it does a man’s.
For those women who put career first and now find themselves tormented by their ticking biological clocks, Richards proposes the perfect solution: egg freezing.
To her mind, it’s another step toward woman’s liberation:
Amid all the talk about women "leaning in" and "having it all," the conversation has left out perhaps the most powerful gender equalizer of all—the ability to control when we have children. The idea is tantalizing: Once you land the job and man you want, you can have your frozen eggs shipped to your fertility clinic, hand him a semen collection cup and be on your way to parenthood. You mitigate the risk of birth defects by using younger eggs, and you can carry a baby well into middle age. At a time when one in five American women between the ages of 40 and 44 is childless—and half say they would still like to have children—egg freezing offers a once-unimaginable reprieve.
One might cavil a bit and say that the question of a woman’s ability to control when to have children is all anyone ever talks about. The debate over abortion is framed in terms of when a woman has a child. The debate over contraception is a debate about when a woman conceives a child.
As for biological clock, there have been countless articles about it in every imaginable media outlet.
Richards finds the whole process tantalizing and liberating, but her description of the fertilization process is not likely to tantalize many other people. It might work well for some women, but it is certainly not a panacea.
Besides, we posted a few days ago about the fact that what is now called natural insemination is more effective than the artificial variety. Richards shows no awareness of this distinction.
We must also note, as Richards herself does, that the egg-freezing process is very expensive. Yet, I am confident that enterprising politicians will propose covering the procedure under Obamacare.
I will mention that the quality of the eggs depends on the age of the donor. How many of the women who freeze their eggs are in their late 3os, rather than in their early 30s or 20s?
Importantly, Richards presents the process of egg freezing as therapeutic: it redeemed her bad decisions and freed her from anxiety. She was able to find love again at age 42:
Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life. It soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn't want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn't sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.
Describing the “harvesting” procedure, Richards emphasizes how therapeutic it was for her:
Several months later, after injecting myself for nearly two weeks with hormone shots, I was in surgery at a Manhattan fertility clinic as my doctor pierced my ovaries, suctioned out nine eggs and handed them to the embryologist to freeze until I was ready to use them. As soon as I woke up in the recovery room, I no longer felt as though I were watching my window to have a baby close by the month. My future seemed full of possibility again.
Describing other women’s experience with egg freezing Richards again makes it seem to be therapeutic:
In fact, they said that egg freezing motivated them to take charge of their lives. They relaxed. They dated, married and thawed. They became ready to be mothers.
When a woman freezes her eggs, two things happen: She comes to terms with the fact that her fertility is fading, and she invests significant time, energy and money in protecting that asset by seeking medical help. The combination puts the issue front and center and makes you commit to your goals.
Naturally, all of her stories have happy endings. Richards is not reporting on medical technology. She is writing propaganda to persuade young women to defer childbearing in favor of career.
Thanks to egg freezing, Richards claims, these women can now, as if by magic, have it all. They have beaten biology, last frontier of sexism:
In the case of Kelly, going through the freezing process didn't accelerate her dating campaign; it made her slow down. Instead of panicking over finding a partner, she decided to catch her breath. After ending a long relationship and freezing her eggs at age 39, Kelly decided to forgo dating to focus on self-improvement. She wanted to develop confidence in her judgment to pick a good partner and sharpen her ability to quickly end relationships that weren't working, so she didn't waste more time with the wrong guy. Her counterintuitive logic: Taking a break from dating was actually a better strategy to help her make progress toward her goals. When she developed a satisfying single life and learned how to be content without a partner, she found herself ready to welcome one into her life.
To be perfectly honest, I am happy for Richards and I am happy for Kelly. Richards was fortunate, at age 42 to find a divorced father of two who wanted more children.
Yet, when a woman in her forties is looking for a husband she will be looking among divorced fathers who want more children or never-been-married older men. To imagine that there is a good supply of men who fit this category feels naïve to me.
Richards does pay lip service to the problems, but she makes it seem as though they are as nothing compared with the joy of liberation:
Another concern is that women will push the age of motherhood to an extreme, endure more difficult pregnancies, risk premature labor and deny their children the chance of spending much, if any, time with their grandparents. But women understand that, even with frozen eggs, they don't have forever. At age 44, Hannah began to worry about her creeping age and finally nudged her husband to make a decision to have more children. They thawed her eggs, and she became pregnant with Sophia Grace on the first try.
Unfortunately, women are going to read these stories and come away with the impression that it’s the easiest thing in the world. Without knowing very much about it, I am confident that it isn’t.
Richards is using anecdotal evidence to dupe young women. When Susan Patton recently suggested that women marry young, even marry someone they met in college, there was an outcry. There has been no real discussion about the Sarah Elizabeth Richards strategy.
Susan Patton was saying that careerist women can do better than to spend their most fertile years involved in unsatisfactory relationships with men they do not want to have children with. We should be aware of the fact that younger women are choosing to involve themselves in dead end relationships in order not to feel tempted to give up their careers for home and family.
Some of them are now going to think that this is a good choice because the strategy worked out well for a few people.
While we applaud the fact that the egg freezing option is available, it is clearly a stopgap, very expensive solution to a problem that need not have been a problem.