Recently, Facebook and Apple announced that they would pay for employee egg freezing. This launched a heated debate about the place of employers in women’s reproductive decisions, whether egg freezing is a good alternative to starting a family, and how women juggle the anxiety of work and kids with the existing support structures. Quartz held a Google hangout discussion with a group of women to see how they really feel about egg freezing and the workplace. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation:
1. To freeze or not to freeze—and how to freeze
Joonji, 35, Freelance writer, South Africa
I’m 35, feel okay about not having kids, but can kinda feel the clock ticking. Would have them if I could make up my mind when or if I should even bother.
Gwynn, 36, Reporter, New York City
Hi, I’m a journalist, and am considering having kids at some point in the future with my (soon-to-be) wife. No egg-freezing plans as of yet, but for lesbians, reproductive gimmickry of some sort or another is pretty much fated.
Emma-Kate, 42, Journalist, Paris
Interestingly in France, egg freezing is not even legal except for long term hetero couples with defined infertility.
Manoush, 41, Radio host and managing editor, New York City
Sarah, can you tell us about the process? How much it costs and whether you needed to take time off from work?
Sarah, 43, Author, New York City
You take a couple weeks of hormone shots. You can definitely work up until the end, when you get your egg surgically extracted, although you feel a bit sluggish and bloated. I’ve frozen many eggs and hope to thaw in the next few years. It’s funny to be able to plan it so clinically. Still doesn’t take away the anxiety of it though!
Important info from Tanya: According to data for vitrification cycles published in Fertility & Sterility last year, implantation success declined from 13.2% for embryos from eggs frozen at 30 to 8.6% for embryos from eggs frozen at 40. But new data needs to be collected. The problem is no one controls the clinics and doctors doing the egg freezing, so there’s no obligation to report success rates.
Freeze early. Freeze often. Be the heroine of your own life. And relax!
2. Does fertility affect dating (and mating)?
Mamas out there: Would you have put off having kids if you’d had the egg freezing option?
Mitra, 38, Editor, New York City
I think it’s gonna change dating and marriage, no?
Sarah really nailed it in the New York Times by pointing out that most women i.e. 88% freezing eggs do so because they don’t have a partner. How can Facebook et al resolve that??
Such a good question. How can Facebook help people find supportive partners?
Christen, 43, Artist and Professor, New York City
I’m bisexual, and got married to a man because I knew I wanted to have children at 25—it was a physical sensation of “I need to have a baby.”
I sometimes question that I made big life choices based on biology and hormones.
I know a 43-year-old freezer, and she lets guys know, “Don’t count me out! I froze!” But most don’t bring it up. What guy wants to talk about fertility over your calamari?
I felt great after freezing my eggs. I felt like I was back in the game and took control of my life that had gone off track—was in a relationship with a guy who ended up not wanting kids.
Annalisa, 32, Reporter, New York City
As an Italian, one thing that surprised me about the debate—and generally about the US—is that it uses a very professional approach to having kids. Dating is like a job interview, finding someone is a goal, having kids is planned before a certain age, and then raising them too.
Sandi, 32, Founder, Silicon Valley
As a Canadian, I totally agree. Everything in the US is much more of an “action toward a goal.”
But I do think if you wanna have kids and have a career, you kind of set it as a goal. My practicality, I used to think, came from Indians’ pragmatism about arranged marriage but maybe it’s a sign that I’m American.
3. What women want: good, affordable childcare
Childcare is a mess in the US like in Australia. Private, costly, patchy.
Christa, 32, Lawyer, San Jose
To be fair, it is often very difficult for employers to get insurance for on-site daycare centers.
Where I used to work had great back-up daycare and sitter relief. And discounts on daycare. They were amazing. But they didn’t pay for IVF so I still ended up crying in the benefits office when we didn’t think we could have a second child…
Does anyone here have on-site daycare? From QZ’s article: “The plans for Facebook’s $120 million, Frank Gehry-designed campus include a doggy daycare, but nothing of the sort for children.” That really pisses me off.
Heather, 39, Editor, New York City
There is a large bank that used to have daycares at certain sites. But in addition to it being costly, employees at other sites were upset not to have the same benefit so they closed them down and instead offered companywide backup childcare.
You know who helped me out the most? My mother. She’s been spending two nights a week at our place for the last seven years. And my husband still complains that we don’t spend enough quality time together. Meanwhile, I’m getting the biggest opportunity of my career and I’m going for it. The guilt I get from everyone is exhausting.
I pay for a concierge service to do all the stuff I think I should be doing, tracking down handymen, scheduling appointments, updating the family calendar, ordering the best gift for 4-year-old boys for this weekend’s birthday party. A friend of mine and her husband were in counseling. It was really bad. Then I saw her recently and I asked what changed: “We got domestic help.” I type these words and know it’s so privileged and so bougie and so unfair.
Mitra you are spot on. What you have done is shown up in the research of Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson the brilliant young economists with kids. We need to look at the costs and benefits and outsource the non-essential so we can work, have good relationships AND see our kids!
But nowadays, many of the mothers of women having children are still working themselves. Or they live far away. As my dad says, the demographic shifts in this country (ie aging, retirement, trend of people moving away from their parents, which didn’t used to happen so much) are really going against women today, because now that more of us are working, we need our own parents even more than perhaps our mothers did.
Rita, 30, Social Media Manager
I was basically raised by my grandparents, which is common in many Indian families. My grandfather drove us everywhere. My grandmother did all the cooking and most of the cleaning.
The African way of doing things is with the whole community helping out and pitching in. Though that structure is being eroded as more and more black women move away from their families, into the suburbs or other cities as they advance or get more opportunities.
Domestic help is what enables the SA middle class, and you’ll be disgusted to know how little we pay them to clean the house and take care of our three kids.
What I tell my husband now is that I wish I had kids when I was 16 so that I could have just started a career at 30 when the kid was off to high school and not had any interruptions. It turns out that making the baby (with fertility issues) and having the baby and coming back from work while caring for a baby was the easy part, versus the daily—sometimes hourly—challenge I feel to manage work and my husband’s work and my kid’s needs now that she’s older.
So far we’ve all agreed: “It takes a village”….”call my assistant”…”work/life balance isn’t possible”…”you don’t have to have a child to be a mother.”
4. Before the freeze: other benefits companies should provide
So then is egg freezing what women (by and large) want? Is that what would free them, or is it a more accepting workplace, more maternity leave and support?
I think in some ways the whole FB/Apple thing is kind of a distraction from a deeply problematic issue in the US right now: the huge tradeoffs women must make to have children. Instead of figuring out how to delay having kids, we should be focusing on how to make it easier to have kids. And it shouldn’t be the job of corporations, though they’re just reflecting what the market wants.
I talked to my boyfriend about it the other day. Since we both live/work in Silicon Valley, for us we get why they’re doing it with regard to the battle for talent. I think people here recognize that there are massive inequalities in tech/the valley, but this is hopefully one step to enable women to have one more choice.
What happens if you leave your job at Facebook and can’t afford to keep your eggs frozen? Is it also sort of a retention tool in that respect? Or is that too cynical?
Is adoption no longer even really discussed now that egg freezing is so front and center? What about company aid to help women and couples adopt?
I think a lot of the resistance to making institutional change is that so much rests with “HR”—this mythical place disconnected from our daily realities.
Workplace policies are left largely to the discretion of the employer, which means there are big discrepancies in which companies are more mother friendly or father friendly, etc.
I have noticed that in the US often there are some allowances for mothers who work (though very little) but dads of little babies get nothing! And this impacts moms and kids.
So I would add concierge services to the list of What Women Want. Daycare, paid leave, egg freezing, IVF, and a person to schedule the flu shots.
Sonali, 23, Reporter, New York City
I think millennials aren’t sold on the “women can have it all” message—we’re told that you can have kids and have a job, but it’s very very difficult and you’ll always feel inadequate somewhere.
Tanya, 43, Documentary Filmmaker, New York City
It’s a myth that there is such a thing as work/life balance, but we can advocate for the system in America to be more accommodating of women who are mothers. The system was built by and for men’s needs and schedules. That system is broken and inherently misogynist.
What do you wish you could tell your (maybe male) manager or co-workers?
Get a fucking clue.
Guaranteed parental leave for both parents and subsidized childcare are some measures to improve the system.
I think I also envision a workplace where we are more open about TTC (trying to conceive), miscarriages and the drama that awaits as they grow up…
The best managers are fathers whose wives had post-partum depression.
The best managers are fathers who have daughters!
My final thought is about how this affects younger workers/women, in terms of work being the thing that is supposed to be the main priority in their lives. It could be seen as the beginning of a dystopian nightmare—a Margaret-Atwood type situation (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake)—it’s as if corporations are taking over every aspect of intimate life.
Something else (maybe) worth mentioning… I think women, whether they have kids are not, are prone to really losing themselves in their work. I almost think men are better hard-wired for work-life balance, because often they’re better at compartmentalizing. When 5pm comes and they have to go pick up the kid (IF they had to pick up the kid), they’d just go. Whereas for me, it’s a constant struggle to pull myself out of my work that way.
I always tell moms to tout the fact that they are such a key to their companies’ bottom lines… Moms with purse strings, purchasing power, pulse of the people/schoolyard/etc.