June 22, 2015

“Freezing” the Biological Clock

Guest Blogger: Ali Epstein

Delaying motherhood is a common topic for discussion among women and their partners, especially in cosmopolitan areas like New York City, where ambition and high achievement are rampant, career priorities cause people to marry later and these two factors, together with the high cost of living, often conflict with having families. Throughout most of history, women’s reproductive cycle was dictated by nature – women are most fertile during their 20s. And while many women are able to conceive naturally until menopause, fertility declines after 35.

But “freezing” the biological clock has become a hot topic, so to speak, especially with the advent of egg freezing, a procedure that has gained credibility and popularity in the last decade. It involves surgically extracting several dozen eggs from a woman’s ovaries and storing them, frozen, until she is ready to procreate.

In the fall of 2014, both Apple and Facebook announced that they would cover up to $20,000 of costs associated with egg freezing as part of their companies’ employee benefits package. The heralding of this new and innovative policy stirred even more debate about the optimal time for motherhood and also prompted extensive media coverage and editorials about the merits of the program.

Egg freezing can be a compelling concept. The option of starting a family in one’s 40’s without the fear of age-related infertility is a tantalizing one. Preserving fertility, according to common wisdom, as well as countless editorials and online commentary, better enables career minded women to focus on education and professional growth during their most fertile years without sacrificing prime fertility.

But the advent of egg freezing, which the FDA approved about 10 years ago, also raises many important questions and ideas.

From a medical perspective, this is a significant technological advance. That said, there are downsides and limits to the protocol. For starters, it can be prohibitively expensive, with costs ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 per procedure.

Additionally, the success rate is by no means guaranteed and appears to vary by the health institution as well as the woman’s age, with a typical positive outcome rate of roughly 30 to 50 percent. Still, and despite its potential to create false hope, it is increasingly popular. In the past year, the number of women participating in egg freeing has doubled.

From a social perspective, for younger women, egg freezing may be liberating. It may ease the pressure of finding a partner, or settling for an unsuitable one when the biological clock is ticking and time is the enemy. In a similar vein, it may allow women to prolong their adolescence, giving them a longer interval for studies, travel, and recreation, without having to settle down and launch a family.

Indeed, a recent survey exploring women’s motivation found that 88 percent of women undergoing egg freezing stated they did so because they did not have a partner, and 60 percent did so as an insurance measure in case they could not conceive naturally.

What are the implications of preserving fertility, for women, families and society? Is this a victory for women? Or is it just another reminder that women must solve family challenges on their own and continue to face numerous challenges as working mothers?

Critical thinking about egg freezing programs and about employer benefits that cover them underscores a host of concerns. First, there appears to be an unspoken strategy to delay motherhood on the premise that career building and the perfect job come along at age 25 to 35 rather than at age 40 or beyond. This may be a flawed premise. But either way, opting to delay motherhood to demonstrate one’s commitment to work is not optimal. Second, it sidelines an important conversation about the need to create more family friendly work environments. There is a very strong argument that corporate America is unenlightened about enacting appropriate maternity leave policies, flex time and affordable, available, high quality child care so that women, and men for that matter, don’t necessarily have to postpone starting families and can excel in their occupation as well as in parenthood, at the same time.

It’s important to keep in mind that egg freezing may be a remedy, or a tool so to speak, for women who are unwilling or unable to start families when their reproductive systems are best outfitted to do so, either because of health, wealth or other life circumstances. It is a stunning achievement in medicine and in personnel policies and practices. But perhaps this option is best considered as a last resort; indeed it is not an insurance policy because it isn’t unequivocally going to yield an outcome. Nonetheless it may be the right answer for some people, some of the time.

ali-epsteinAbout Ali Epstein
Ali discovered yoga as a college student attempting to find joy and ease amid busy academics and a brutally cold winter. Through yoga, she found a respite as well as a kind-hearted community, and developed a practice that continually challenges and inspires her. As a native New Yorker, Ali thrives on the energy of the city, but treasures the calm and quiet spirit of yoga. She draws on her experience as an artist and musician to create a spirited and playful atmosphere and aims to make yoga inviting, accessible and fun for students of all backgrounds and experiences.

Ali is a graduate of New York University, where she received a B.S. with honors in psychology and economics. She completed her teacher training at Yoga Vida NYC, and is currently studying under the mentorship of Cat Acquaviva. When not on her mat, she works on education and training for Planned Parenthood. Ali is a recent graduate from the Prenatal Yoga Center Teacher Training.




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