For the Law School Graduate In Your Life: Gift Certificate to Have Your Eggs Frozen

I’ve been travelling a lot recently and in Anchorage (American Bar Association Family Law Section Meeting) I was on a panel with a doctor who does fertility work in southern California.  He mentioned that it was now possible to give a gift certificate that allowed the recipient to have her own eggs frozen.   It turns out to be a popular gift from parents to their daughters who are graduating from law school.

The idea here is that the eggs can be harvested when the daughter is young and in her (reproductive) prime and then they can be safely stored away until after she finds Mr. (or maybe Ms?) Right and/or gets her career up and running.   It’s a way of stopping–at least for a while–the biological clock.   Now, thanks to the wonders of technology and the generosity of her parents, the daughter has a choice.   Freezing her eggs lets her have it all.

But I worry about how sometimes choices can be illusory and sometimes something that looks like giving people a choice can be a way of exercising control.   Indeed, this has been preying on my mind.

There are probably young women (I’m thinking here of women in the early/mid 20s) who really know they want to do this and so for them maybe it really is a gift.   But I think there must be plenty of women in that age group who aren’t so sure about this and what, then, does this gift mean?   Is it just giving them one more option?

I see pressure running in two different directions.  First off, suppose what they were thinking about is having a kid first and either integrating that with their career launch or delaying the career launch.   Or even having a kid in the next five years.   Without egg freezing that path could have been defended by invoking the biological clock. Having a kid didn’t mean that they choosing not to commit to their careers and picking motherhood instead–it was what you had to do because the clock was ticking.

But with the certificate in hand, what excuse do they have for choosing early motherhood except that they are choosing to put that ahead of their careers?   It is, after all, a choice.  They could easily freeze those eggs and wait ten or fifteen years.   The choice to instead have the kid now means they’re not so serious about their careers.    And if that’s the calculus and they really are serious about their careers then I think they are under much greater pressure to use the certificate and defer motherhood.

This brings me to a second dimension.   Many women in their early 20s aren’t sure about parenthood yet.      But once you’ve got that certificate, you need to act promptly.  After all, the idea is to freeze your eggs when you are in your prime, not wait until you are 30 or 35.   And since all the costs are covered and everything, you might as well just go right on ahead and have the eggs frozen, right?

And then what?  Now you’ve got these frozen eggs and sooner or later you’re going to have to figure out what to do with them.  Keep the stored?  Use them?  Give them away?  Sell them?  Donate them?   Of course, you don’t need to decide this when you are 22 and getting your eggs frozen.  But once you do get your eggs frozen you will need to decide.  And I think for some people this is likely to be a very messy and difficult decision, whenever they get to it.

Ordinarily you avoid the whole thing simply by not getting the eggs frozen in the first place, but if you have this certificate, then doesn’t it seem the more prudent course to freeze now and figure it out later?

And of course the certificate didn’t come from just anyone. It came from your parents–so it’s also about their potential grandchildren.   Surely the conversations between parent/adult child about producing grandchildren are complicated enough without adding this in?   It really does seem to me like it could be an effort by parents to push their daughters towards child-bearing.

In general the advent of egg freezing makes me uneasy.  It’s not because of the prospect that the egg market will come to resemble the sperm market.  The big play these days really does seem to be aimed at women, encouraging them to freeze their own eggs for their own use.  While this might seem much less problematic (no issues about genetic lineage, etc. if you use your own eggs), it actually worries me as much if not more.   And the news coverage  of this new technology and market seems to me woefully inadequate (as one of the comments on that story suggests.)


20 responses to “For the Law School Graduate In Your Life: Gift Certificate to Have Your Eggs Frozen

  1. I agree, there are certainly reasons other than the biological clock why someone might prefer to have children in their 20s or early 30s. Fear of loss of fertility is rather low on the list of reasons why I am trying to get pregnant at age 28. I feel I will be a more energetic parent at a younger age, it gives me a longer window to consider a second child if finances allow for it – I personally wouldn’t want to have any children past my mid 30s, regardless of fertility, and it increases the chance that my parents, who are very involved grandparents to my niece but who are not going to get any younger, will be able to be similarly active in my child’s life throughout childhood. I think it’s unfortunate if women who make an informed, considered choice to have children before their mid 30s for a multitude of reasons beyond the biological clock will end up being pressured to put it off simply because modern technology has made it biologically possible.

  2. egg freezing isn’t all its cracked up to be. it’s not a guarantee of any kind. besides, most people would rather not undergo fertility treatment if you don’t have to.
    What’s more, if we are talking about women in their 20s, what’s the rush? they’ve still got plenty of time to finish school and still be fertile. I agree with Rebecca, if you already know you are going to do IVF then there is no sense in pushing it off, but there really is nothing wrong with having children in your 30s, nothing at all.
    This being said, life is full of choices and I don’t see this as any different. There was a time when women didn’t have a choice to go to law school at all. But are we wringing our hands and the burden of increased options?

    • The success rate of egg freezing has definitely improved, but I think it’s still considered pretty experimental. Embryos can be frozen for a really long time now and not lose anything, I don’t think the same is true of unfertilized eggs.

    • So while it’s certainly an option, I don’t think it should ever be presented as a “sure thing.” I don’t think women should be given the impression egg freezing will guarantee they can have a biological child at any time they want. If a woman wants to wait until whatever age to have a child, that’s certainly a personal choice that is valid. I just hope women are getting realistic information about the success rates.

      • I don’t know how good the technology is right now but it is clearly markedly better than it was even a couple of years ago when egg freezing wasn’t feasible at all. And there’s every reason to expect it will improve further in the future, I think. I think we should probably anticipate a day not far off when freezing eggs will be like freezing sperm in terms of viability.

        • Yes, put a raw egg in the freezer and see what happens.
          I don’t think they are getting their own eggs back. I think they use the fresh eggs deposited on whoever wants them now and then later when the person who thinks they froze their eggs wants one, they will get a fresh one from some woman who thinks she’s freezing and banking her eggs for herself in the future. Like the way social security works – not a savings account but some kind of pyramid scheme.

          • For a long time the problem with freezing eggs was the amount of water in them–which I think is what you’re pointing to with your comment about hen’s eggs. But I do not share you disbelief–I think the technology has arrived. It’s not really surprising that they’d solve the problem. The technological advances really are amazing.

            But rather than debate that (which isn’t so profitable because neither of us has direct expertise) let me ask a different question: If you were to assume for a moment that it wasn’t a pyramid scheme but really was what they say it is, would you think it unproblematic.

            • Well let’s say that everyone’s intentions are marvelous and there were no physicians like the one’s at U.C. Irvine who did exactly what I just explained with giving the sperm, eggs and embryos of healthy patients to the unhealthy ones. There is still the issue of negligence just plain old unintentional human error by well meaning but sometimes tired and distracted workers to contend with – and the fact that to the naked eye and even under a microscope – all eggs look alike, all sperm looks alike and all embryos look alike. Keeping track of genetic material without somehow tagging it with its unique genetic code and then testing it and retesting it as a means of quality control seems like a rather foolish step to miss. And they skip right past that quality control step even though tagging it with the genetic code of the provider would be easy and even though testing it and retesting it every time it was moved would be easy and even though it would be easier to quantify and track the deposits in these savings accounts – they have not done it.

              I know someone in the silicon valley that works for a company that makes RFID chips for merchandise so that companies like Wallgreens and safeway don’t loose merchandise when its being trucked all over the US and so that batches of stolen merchandise can be tracked and traced etc etc. We are keeping better track of televisions and duncan hines cake mix than we are the live cells of human beings.

              It does not matter if its one cell or a whole arm or kidney, those cells are part of someone’s body and they belong to that person. Those cells should certainly not out live the rest of the cells in that person’s body. That is to say when someone is dead, all their cells are dead. Dead people do not reproduce, all their cells are dead. If some of your cells are still alive but your brain is dead, you have a problem cause someone else is controlling your body and you cannot fight them on it. I really think freezing has ushered in a whole new kind of dangerous.

              • I am inclined to agree that no matter how good the controls, mistakes will happen. I think that is the nature of life. I think we owe it to everyone involved to have strong industry standards, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we can attain perfection.

                In the same way, cheaters can and will cheat. This, too, is inevitable, I’m afraid. You see it everyone–the builders who cut corners, the food providers who substitute or adulterate, etc.

                I think this leads me to two thoughts. First, how do you set up systems that minimize the risks, of both mistake and bad action? I do think this probably means regulation. Second, if you do try to minimize the risks, can you reduce them to an acceptable level? If yes, then I think you go ahead and take the chance of the risk happening, but if no, then you don’t. Different people will doubtless disagree both about what the level of risk is and whether it is acceptable.

                None of this seems to me to be specially applicable to the reprotech industry. The risks of mistake and bad behavior are present in most human endeavors. I don’t think this means we ignore them, but I also don’t think (as a general matter) we bar the activities.

    • I think we’re watching the development of a new market in reproductive technology. Egg freezing may not be a panacea–doubtless it isn’t–but it offers a big potential clientele.

      In some ways it’s much less controversial than most of ART–people simply preserving their own gametes for their own eventual use. But the sales pitch is disturbing to me.

      I don’t think this would bother me if I thought people were really making their own free choices. But I worry that people make their choices in specific social contexts. Young women who graduate from law school may have a harder time landing certain sorts of jobs because employers look at them and say “she’ll want to have babies.” This might look to an answer–you can assure the employer that you won’t be doing that in the next ten years. But what about the possibility of insisting that work has to accommodate having kids, too? This makes that stance even harder. Freeze your eggs and you can have it all…..

      • I don’t think this is a great country for working parents. Canada does that much better IMO.

        • Sad but true. The perfect worker here is basically a person who has someone else at home raising the kids. Historically, that would be a husband, but I think we are moving beyond that, at least. Still, child-rearing is often incompatible with a professional career.

      • I never had a problem getting a job simply as a female. but i’m not a lawyer.

        • when i was a manager i was warned NEVER to discuss children and so forth on interviews with employees because it might lead to a sex discrimination lawsuit. If anyone asked me such a question on an interview I’d walk right out the door myself. even when i had no kids.

        • You’re a nurse. You’d have a harder time if you were male.

          That said, I inspect large construction projects and have never felt discriminated against and it is a male dominated field so I have to bow down and thank all the women that toughed it out before me, paved the way to make it possible for me to get a job based on merit disregarding gender bias.

        • Promotions are a bigger issue than getting a job – getting tenure, becoming partner, stuff like that.

          • Tenure is a really difficult one. Essentially you have seven years to publish enough to get tenure at the same time as you are teaching, etc. It’s more than a full time job even though the hours can be quite flexible.

            For women who get teaching jobs in the mid/late 20s (which is a common age by the time all is said and done) those seven years coincide with peak child-bearing years. You can take time out to have kids, but the reality is that having kids is pretty disruptive and you’re much better situated if you have a stay-at-home parent to take care of the child.

            Many institutions now give people parental leave–and they offer it to men or women. That means a semester off when you become a parent. But my observation is that often men who take that semester spend some time with the child but also do a lot of research/writing. By contrast most women who take that time off really take that time with the new child and so don’t get research/writing done. I’m not assigning blame here–there’s no grand conspiracy. It just seems that it often works out this way.

            • I have no experience in academic work places. I was on regular maternity leave and I went crazy because I’ve never been much of a kid person and I much prefer to work on my own projects that do motherly stuff I have to really force myself to stop doing what I’m interested in and go to the park or whatever. So when I was home on leave I studied for my Architect’s exam and she was always interrupting me – it takes me so long to do anything and I’d barely get going and she’d be waking up from a nap. I was thrilled to get back to work but felt awful about it because I knew I should have used the time home with her to bond more closely and knew I should want to be home with her because I only get to be her mom when she’s a baby once. I am so filled with regret that I am not a different person and do not feel differently. I love my child so much but alas I think I’m more inclined to be like the Dad’s you describe above. I have to fight it because I do know that she is the most important person I’ll ever meet and I want to make a good impression,

  3. We’d be better off to teach women to breed with supportive partners so that she’s not stuck having to choose between parenthood and career.

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