Sunday, May 5, 2013

The New Frontier in Liberation: Egg Freezing

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.


Anonymous said...

Richards' quotes here are some of the most profoundly odd stuff I've read in some time. Is everything simultaneously lugubrious and political for these women? I'm amazed by the level of self-absorption and the denial of reality... that the reality of Homo sapiens' biological limits being somehow unfair, and that it all ties back to some gender comparison. Grow up! You're 40+ years old. Have you learned nothing? For someone portraying herself as successful, worldly, wise, educated, and liberated she sounds like a victim without peer. This tripe was published in the Wall Street Journal? Wow.

People who try to defy nature invariably come up short in some way. Nature always wins. It's fun to have dreams that it were not so: levitation, teleportation, perpetual youth cream, Santa Claus, etc. The problem I have is not the egg freezing thing, though I can see unfortunate consequences for the children (who effectively seem to be inconsequential accessories in this). It's not the delayed motherhood. It's the bewailing about he unfairness of life and treating this all as the latest installment in the war between the sexes. For someone who wants children at advanced age, she prattles on like a 6th grader (or a Princeton womens's studies graduate). For goodness sake, be happy with your personal success and move on! Please stop making everything some political statement.

Congratulations on your little bundle of joy. Mind that child. And please get some perspective.


Dennis said...

And just what happens when the power goes off for a long time and the backup fails? Or the containment vessel leaks? Or a terrorist blows up the facility because it is a sin in the eyes of Allah? Or a hurricane demolishes everything within a five mile radius? Or the environmentalist win and we just do not have the power for nonessentials such as freezing some self absorbed feminist's eggs? Does anyone believe that people who are limited in the amount of power utilization they can get are going to give a damn?
This just seems fraught with disaster and havoc at almost every turn. Though the irony of watching all this planning destroy itself does appeal to me. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
I think I will stick to the "old" fashion way which is not hampered by most of the chaos and destruction this seems to have inherent in the process. Also a lot more fun.
It is amazing to me the degree of inanity that possesses most feminists and Women's Studies graduates. This is truly funny.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Now that you mention it, I am reminded of the fact that when the power went out during Hurricane Sandy and the backup generators failed at the downtown hospitals, years worth of scientific research was destroyed.

Like Tip, I am amazed that this stuff is published in the WSJ and that the editors do not seem to have asked the most obvious questions.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, when you talk about the "old fashion way," are you referring to "natural insemination?" It's a hot topic right now, as per Stuart's May Day post on the subject.

I'm not sure that a frozen egg in and of itself is a problem. If someone wants to pay $50K to freeze a dozen, knock yourself out. When the power goes out at a facility housing all these gametes, it doesn't seem ethically problematic. It does seem odd to so intentionally put off childbearing to concentrate on other sorts of worldly pleasures... that there are things more important to "complete" oneself than having a child. I'm not sure I track with that. $50K to store an ovum (or ova) seems like a substantial down payment on something important. Why wait? Why not go for the "natural insemination" now, or go the whole sci fi route and do artificial insemination and implantation to make things really exciting?

On the other hand, the ethical arguments against frozen embryos are quite compelling and the whole thing seems like something out of a Huxley novel. Keeping a bunch of frozen embryos around for scientific research thing seems more to me like man's evil. That said, we're not talking about that here. If a bunch of unfertilized human eggs go to waste because the power goes out, I don't see it as anything more than woman's folly. Perhaps Richards thinks things will be really equal in the future and she can sell her gametes at an ovum donor clinic... why should the guys have all the fun? Isn't that her profound point in all this?


David Foster said...

Backup generators and their related systems fail all the time. One telco generator failed because someone had forgotten to put fuel in the tank. At an FAA air traffic control facility, the power...DUAL power systems...stayed on, but electricity to the radar displays and computers was lost because maintenance on the two systems had mistakenly been scheduled at the same time.

When power to an egg-storage facility is lost, there will be lots of opportunities for litigation, regardless of any clauses in the contracts.

Sam L. said...

She hasn't tried the unfreezing and fertilization as of the writing, so I say she's betting on the come. (Sorry about that.) Given any success rate, for an individual case the probabilities are 1 and 0. A 99% success rate means nothing when you are the 1 in the 100. And now it may be too late for the old-fashioned way.

And yes, disasters can happen--fire, flood, earthquake, volcano, wide-spread power outage, accidental tripping the breaker on the cryo unit...

As for the WSJ, it printed HER column; it would , I think, be improper for them to critique it. That's what readers are for.

Anonymous said...

Sam: If I wrote a column about how unfair prostate cancer was to the cause of gender equality, the article would never be printed by the WSJ, nor any other sensible publication. It's silly.


Sam L. said...

Tip, I see nothing wrong in letting some damn fool prove that he/she is.

Dennis said...


One has to understand that the "media" is increasingly the purview of women. That is why one will see a thousand articles on breast cancer and not one on prostate cancer. Prostate cancer kills as many men, or more, than breast cancer kills women. There are ways to challenge this "What do women want?" mentality of the media.
One is by using the internet to get the word out that there is more to life than just what women think are important. In a society where women increasingly dislike being women, don't want children and are driven by misandry one needs to have that countervailing source. Start buying "media" to change how issues are looked at. I suspect that one could find a thousand ways to balance what kind of information is disseminated.
One has to stop complaining and start taking action which to some degree happens here which is why we get the occasional feminists dropping by trying to institute the S.T.FU. meme.
One of the things I like about the First Amendment is that it allows anyone free speech to say what they want. Conversely it opens up that free speech to challenge. Ideas need to be out in the open where they get reviewed by their peers. There is nothing worse to the survival of a country than having bad ideas gaining credence by being forced underground.

Dennis said...

Isn't this the "National Offend A Feminist Week?"

Anonymous said...

Sam: Fair enough. She does seem at least self-absorbed, if not foolish. If her desire to write it is enough for the editors to not find value in critiquing it, then that's fine. But I think it's a false premise and is part of the reason we are awash in data, but have very little information.

Let's consider the purpose of a newspaper editor. If his/her purpose is to filter what gets printed, this is ostensibly so the paper is worth reading and relevant, then these kinds of subjective, unimportant personal stories are just that... subjective, unimportant and personal. I suppose you could counter by saying that we're spilling lots of bits and bytes in this comment section talking about the native article Stuart is referring to. Indeed I would agree that we are talking about it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the content is substantive and relevant. Indeed, as a critique of the WSJ's editorial standards, we are in some form of agreement that it's a silly piece. That is hardly an endorsement, and I expect more from a significant publication like the WSJ.

So let's take a different tack and talk about the "significance" of the WSJ and why it is important to maintain standards for content. Putting aside the obvious points that I outlined above, another important human universal at play here is status. Not status as an attachment from ego (yet), I'm talking about the status of the WSJ as a significant publication worthy of being a source of record and thoughtful news and discourse. For example, Stuart's blog, while wonderful, does not have a scintilla of importance when compared to the WSJ's scope and reach. Because it is significant, it attracts a high-quality pool of reporter/contributor candidates, and hopefully the quality of their writing will do honor to the publication and expand its influence.

In expanding its influence then we do get into the personal component of ego gratification. The status of the WSJ carries direct value for the person's position or title at said publication. Therefore, one would hope that the quality of editing content for publication would reflect the status of the paper and the status of the editor him/herself.

The quality of Richards' topic and stance on the issue she herself raises as being important to her does not mean that it is objectively relevant or useful to us as readers. In fact, it is equally as useful as you would find my deconstructionist interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood as a national forest porn scene featuring bestiality. I mention this as the most random thing I can come up with. Just because I created it and find it interesting and clever, or say it is important does not make it so. We are not talking about a local rag, or the Village Voice or an X-Files fan publication. We are talking about the Wall Street Journal. Richards' column is beneath the dignity of the WSJ.

If there are no editors standing for the brand and purpose of the WSJ, then they will lose readers and their relevance. That's poor business.


Anonymous said...

Dennis: I'm not so sure that "the 'media' is increasingly the purview of women." At least not the way I sense you're seeing it. Men look at media plenty. How do I know. Look at all the logos on NASCAR cars. It's a growing "sport" that's seeking to attract more male eyes. The NFL is different. They've topped-out on men. The NFL's wearing pink thing is an attempt to expand market share. It's a business play. Focusing on prostate cancer isn't going to generate comparable advertising growth. Call me a cynic, cry me a river. The data will set you free. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings. The media doesn't care about men because men don't control the purse strings advertisers want loosened: the big home purchases...

What major media types have come to believe is Faith Popcorn's position that women make 90% of all household purchasing decisions. This gives them extraordinary influence and power, and advertisers have responded to it by demanding more female eyes on media content to they can persuade them to purchase products and services. Personally, I believe this is true for significant household purchases (in terms of total dollars), and I am assuming that the market research and sales data bear this out. No offense, but I am going to believe Procter & Gambles army of quantitative sales analysts before I believe you.

I suppose the solution is for men to either (a) buy a greater variety of stuff; or (b) assert control over the household checkbook again. As soon as Whirlpool thinks that Dennis cares about whether it's a Whirlpool or a Samsung, they'll start paying attention to YOU!

Regarding the STFU crowd, I must tell you that I do miss Veronica. Was it something I said? If I remember correctly, I actually complimented Veronica for being here to share her views, and then I followed-up by commenting that she seemed like a bright woman and that maybe throwing around a loaded word like "patriarchy" was beneath her. Then she vanished. Is it me? Don't worry... I still love you, Dennis. After all, you're the only person who thinks I'm funny and LOLs my jokes.


Dennis said...

We are of course commenting on two different ideas. I am commenting on the gradual take over of the information "media" like newspapers, TV and journalism by women. I could care less about who buys what or when. Your money, spend it how you want. Those decisions have no real affect on my freedom and the survival of this country as a free nation. In most cases I would rather not be bothered by those mundane decisions. Pink shoes in the NFL"???????????
How people deal with the important issues is predicated on the information they receive from various sources, especially that which covers those issues and the ideas that are inherent to the purveyors of that information. Once the male perspective is subsumed in to the "What women want" mentality, in most cases, the larger ramifications are lost and so is long term results from those actions. Just a cursory look at who is in the inner core of Obama's advisors should denote the reticence to take action when it is needed.
Does anyone really believe that Obama would be president if not for that "media?
I don't think I am going to think I need to buy more stuff when I am about to die. I do care about whether I lived my life in the freedom to do it "My Way." Read the lyrics to the song and it may give you an idea of what I am talking about. Also try the lyrics to the "Impossible Dream."
I respect your opinion, but I think love is just a little to personal.

Anonymous said...

I must live in a utopia, I know and work with many, many, degreed, professional women who are married and have kids. No egg freezing required.