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50 of the World’s Most Sexist Laws, Policies and Norms

34% of countries restrict women from working in certain jobs or industries. In 41 countries, employers can
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Deceiving the Biological Clock: A millennial’s take on egg freezing

Young women are considering egg freezing more and more often. I am too — but why? Do we fear career stagnation at an early age? Are our biological clocks making us nervous? Or is it just fear of the growing infertility rate, especially as we advance in age? And if we decide to pursue it, what are the financial ramifications?

Let’s start with the basics.

What is egg freezing? 

Oocyte cryopreservation for non-medical reasons, known as egg freezing, has enhanced the reproductive autonomy of women by allowing us to delay childbearing while preserving the possibility of maintaining a biological relation with our future kids. 

The general process involves three steps: ovulation induction, egg retrieval and egg freezing.

In ovulation induction, synthetic hormones are injected at the start of the menstrual cycle to stimulate the ovaries. This ensures they produce multiple eggs instead of the single egg that is usually produced every month. The follicles (small fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries that release eggs) are ready for egg retrieval after about 8 to 14 days. At this point, hcG hormones or other medications are injected to help mature the eggs. 

Egg retrieval is a short procedure carried out under sedation. The most common method used for the purpose is transvaginal ultrasound aspiration. In this approach, an ultrasound probe introduced into the vagina identifies the follicles. Then a needle is passed through the vagina to reach the follicle, where a suction device attached to the needle removes multiple eggs from the follicle. 

Egg freezing involves retrieving the unfertilized eggs and then cooling them to a sub-zero temperature so that all their biological activities stop and they can be preserved for future use. To prevent ice crystal formation during the freezing process, substances called cryoprotectants may be used. Proper freezing of eggs is important because if not preserved correctly, it can impact the chances of a successful pregnancy.

Egg freezing is a costly procedure, with expenses typically ranging from $5,000 to over $20,000 for a single cycle. Costs vary based on the fertility clinic and medications used. But even so, the popularity of the process is increasing. Between 2019 and 2021, in the UK there was a nearly 64% increase in egg storage cycles. And in the US, the number of egg-freezing cycles grew from 16,786 in 2020 to 24,558 in 2022, a marked 31% increase in fertility preservation treatment.

Meanwhile, the topic of egg freezing has nearly 75 million views on TikTok, so those of younger ages are being exposed to the trend. In fact, nearly three in five surveyed Gen Zers and millennials admitted to being worried about their fertility.

What motivates women to freeze their eggs?

With needles and sedation involved, the motivation to undergo this procedure must be pretty strong. What’s driving women to do this? 

For some, it’s a sense of control and freedom. Actress Priyanka Chopra, for example, said, “I felt such freedom, I did it in my early thirties and I could continue on an ambitious warpath, I wanted to achieve and I wanted to get to a certain place in my career. Also, I had not met the person with whom I wanted to have children.” 

Similarly, British TV personality Vicki Pattinson shared, “It has taken the pressure off loads. We are planning a wedding and we want to enjoy married life. This has given us the luxury of time and options.” She adds, “I had spent my whole life in a rush to be loved so I could do all the things I thought a woman was meant to do but now I’m doing things when they are right for me so I feel really empowered.”

Sara Jacobs, a member of the House of Representatives, decided to freeze her eggs in her late twenties to ensure she would be able to become a parent alongside her highly demanding career. A co-sponsor for the Access to Infertility Treatment and Care Act, she asserts, “Egg freezing is very expensive, and it shouldn’t be limited to those who can afford it. It’s about ensuring prospective parents can choose when and if to start a family.”

And there are medical justifications as well. Actress Emma Roberts froze her eggs to preserve fertility when diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing severe pain in the pelvis and making it harder to get pregnant.

Dr. David Adamson, founder, chairman and CEO of ARC Fertility, described the situations he commonly encounters in his practice. “Many decide to freeze their eggs so they can finish their education or advance their careers before having children. It’s also a choice for those facing cancer treatments that could affect their fertility or medical treatments that might harm their egg quality. Some women freeze their eggs because they haven’t found the right partner yet but want to have kids later, while others are waiting until they’re more financially ready. For some, egg freezing is a valuable option when they’re dealing with health issues or other situations that make having a child right now difficult.”

What surprised me is how many women in my age group and network, primarily working in the tech industry and in their late twenties, are considering freezing their eggs as well. They have various reasons, like uncertain career stability, timing, and the challenge of relocating to different countries. The major hurdle for them is the high cost of the procedure — but they also note that there’s often a stigma attached to egg freezing, and in places like China and Turkey, unmarried women face restrictions. This shows that the ability to freeze eggs is not only a financial privilege but also influenced by cultural norms, highlighting the continued need for more accessible reproductive options for women.

Is the motherhood penalty to blame?

The motherhood penalty stems from a stereotypical view that women are primary caregivers and have a duty to stay at home and raise their children. Based on the assumption that mothers are often distracted by their kids, those who choose to work may be seen as less competent or less committed to their jobs. The motherhood penalty affects many aspects of a woman’s career, such as earnings, ability to get hired, evaluations, and promotions. And fear of discrimination may cause some women to delay having children until their careers are more established — thus making egg freezing more attractive. 

According to National Health Statistics Reports, the trend of delayed childbearing — having a first child at 35 or older — has risen significantly. It increased ninefold between 1972 and 2012 and continues to rise.

In fact, having a first child at an older age may improve women’s wages and career paths. Studies and data have shown that women who reach executive levels with higher earnings before having their first child may have a better chance of maintaining their career success post-kids. 

Even so, Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of return-to-work program provider iRelaunch, counsels women against waiting for the “right time” professionally to have children, insisting that “no time is perfect. Women we have heard from over the years regretted trying to time their pregnancies strategically from a career perspective.” The longer they waited, the more likely they would be facing high risk pregnancies and related problems.

Does offering egg freezing as a workplace benefit really empower women?

Despite the costs, as of 2020, almost one in five (19%) large U.S. employers offered egg freezing benefits to their employees. That’s up from only 6% in 2015. However, new research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that egg freezing benefits can send a negative signal to employees and prospective employees. The problem is that some feel the company is encouraging employees to freeze eggs so they can work more years unencumbered by pregnancy and child-rearing. So the benefit can inadvertently signal that the organization pressures workers to sacrifice their personal lives. 

But the researchers don’t suggest that companies scrap their egg-freezing policies. “Despite the negative reactions egg freezing coverage evokes, our work does not imply organizations should not offer the policy; it is likely a valued benefit for employees who would like to freeze their eggs and could not otherwise afford to do so.” While it can be seen as an empowering option, it’s essential for corporate leaders to take steps to ensure that this benefit is not misinterpreted as pressure to prioritize work over family.

According to Dr. Adamson, “most companies include egg freezing benefits with other fertility-related benefits. They do so to be inclusive and comprehensive in their offering and also equitable. As such, more people are now seeing egg freezing benefits as a positive reflection of the company’s commitment to the reproductive needs of their workforce.

In pursuit of both family and career

Ideally, women would simply have kids when it felt right, there would be childcare resources to help us once we resumed our jobs, employers would welcome us back without bias and with open arms, and we’d continue to be paid what we’re worth. But since that’s not the case just yet, egg freezing plays an important role in allowing women to gain some control over our reproductive future. It’s not about choosing between career and family; it’s about empowering women to pursue both. By promoting inclusive family-forming benefits and challenging stereotypes, together, we can make reproductive choices a reality.

Shivangi Mehra is an Associate at Liftery and founder of Limitless Stree, an initiative to empower women and girls in India. She also serves as the Research Mentor for young researchers at UNESCO. She can be reached via LinkedIn.


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