Putting Your (Frozen) Eggs in One Basket


Maybe I’m nostalgic, but it seems like just yesterday that parents were instructing their teenagers to “use protection” in order to delay parenting for when you had the means and maturity (presumably adulthood) to raise a child. Now, evidently, parents are buying their law school grad daughters gift cards to have their eggs harvested and frozen for future use. The future being sometime after you’ve achieved all the important professional milestones and your body no longer wants to make a baby so you need to fall back on those younger eggs.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards has done exactly this and written a book about it: Motherhood Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her article on the same topic appeared in the Wall Street Journal this month. She froze her eggs between age 36 and 38. She describes her decision as “the best investment I ever made” because it “stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing the chance to have the child I dreamed about my entire life.” One of her main reasons for delaying childbearing was that she had not spent her 20s and 30s earnestly seeking the right man with whom to make and raise children.

I sympathize with Ms. Richard’s desire to have a baby and pressure to keep time with her biological clock. I entered law school without any marriage prospects and wondered whether I would ever be a mother. Once I met “the one,” we promptly married. Three months later, I finished law school, got pregnant, and sat for the bar exam.

I also turned down my offer to work for a big law firm and make six figures. It was a surprisingly agonizing decision. But I knew even at that point that a successful big firm practice is incompatible with motherhood. Indeed, it’s interesting that moms with MBAs from prestigious schools are choosing to stay home with their children at higher numbers than female attorneys.

Several friends who went on to firms have told me that they do not know how they will solve the puzzle of motherhood and law firm success. The female partners they have observed either have not had children, or have produced children that are raised by other people. One female partner, for example, had a “daytime” nanny and a “night time” nanny in order to sustain her work needs.

This tension perplexes liberal women just as it does conservative ones. Susan Estrich, a noted feminist and highly credentialed attorney wrote a special aside to women in her book, How to Get Into Law School:

Where to begin? I wasn’t supposed to be writing this in 2003. Things were supposed to be equal now. It should be possible for women as well as men to work in firms, be good parents, and good lawyers, without feeling like they are constantly forced to choose, up against the wall, lying to everybody, competing for the chairmanship of the Negligent Mothers’ Club (a job I have held for years).

There are exceptions. Perhaps there will be more by the time you read this. But most large law firms have not done nearly enough to accommodate the realities of the lives of most women who are mothers—and the result is that most of those women don’t become partners, or don’t stay; they become “of counsel,” contract attorneys, or quit altogether; the ones who make partner don’t have children, or never see them.

So what is the solution? Well, the answer deserves its own post. For the time being, I would say that freezing your eggs is not the solution.

First, freezing eggs for later use obscures a major biological problem. Even if your frozen eggs are young when you get around to squeezing motherhood into your schedule, you are not. You are forty. And a forty year old woman simply does not have the energy, nutrition, or vigor of a thirty-year-old much less a twenty-five year old women. Our bodies are not meant to start child-bearing at forty. If you have a problem with that, take it up with God, or Mother Nature if you don’t believe in the Big Guy.

Second, forty is not a better time career-wise to have a baby than thirty. Take lawyers for example. Lawyers often make partner in their late thirties. Making partner does not mean you cut your hours and start living off the fat of the land. Rather, your work shifts. You get a bigger office and, perhaps, spend less time grinding out first drafts of legal documents. But whatever time you gained is lost to client meetings and management, and editing documents. In fact, partners often work more than associates and carry more stress of the business.

Finally, egg harvesting is a very new technology that has not been proven safe. Women who go through the extraction process are injected with powerful hormones, sometimes even administering the hormones to themselves at home. Risks associated with the procedure include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, ovarian cancer, bleeding, infection, or damage to the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel, premature delivery and low birth weight, first trimester bleeding, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and birth defects.

So freezing eggs is not the panacea promised. And I haven’t even touched the ethical issue of what to do with unused eggs. Nor have I addressed the important fact that a child requires a mother to hold her, read to her, train her, and encourage her in order to properly develop, not a corporate climber with a robust 401k.

Technology will not solve our problems, nor magically realize all our wishes. We cannot have it all. $50,000 worth of hormone shots and a bag of frozen eggs will not get you what a twenty-three year old women has when she marries a good man, quits her job, and cuddles her baby. You cannot trick Time.

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6 Responses to Putting Your (Frozen) Eggs in One Basket

  1. Kay says:

    I guess it just comes down to priorities. I don’t know how I feel a bout that practice. My brother’s fiance just finished her last chemotherapy for ovarian cancer in

    • Kay says:

      Sorry! I hit enter too soon. She finished her last chemotherapy in march. By the time they found it one ovary was already dead and because of the stage they were advised against harvesting the other and immediately doing surgery and starting chemo. She decided to harvest anyways, but she was risking her life to do so. It worked out for her and she is currently cancer free, planning her wedding again and hoping that the ovary left will kick back in and she can become pregnant herself, but at the very least surrogacy is an option. It could have ended so different though just for taking the extra weeks to harvest.

      At the same time her case would certainly be an exception. When my oldest son was 6 months old I was working for the same company my husband still works for. I was on the lowest position of upper management and he… was not, lol. We sat down, decided to make some sacrifices and eve though I made more we decided we could make it work with me staying home. That was almost 6 years ago. My husband is (as of last week) at the position directly above the one I left and makes about what the both of us made together when we decided one needed to stay home, and it should be me. The last week, for both of us, has kind of felt like we’ve come full circle. We put a our trust in God and have worked through the last years on trust that everything will work out for the best if we followed where we felt he was leading. We’ve never doubted that we made the right choice, when both son’s ended up with the same genetic disorders I knew me being home was right and the way it should be. Now that Trevor is getting closer to where he feels his place is in his career it feels even more like validation.

      So overall I agree with you, I just think that freezing the eggs if you can may not be a horrible idea, not to have a baby at 40, but in case cancer or some other malady rears it’s ugly head.

  2. Jennifer says:

    So good to read your post on this new social trend of egg freezing. Of course, this breakthrough is being touted as the answer to this predicament of the biological clock, while I see it as creating a whole host of new problems no one seems to be considering and the profit side of this industry doesn’t want to discuss – that pesky business of hurting the bottom line. I could spend the day listing the problems with egg freezing, but won’t. I will look forward to your next post on this topic!

    • Bethany says:

      Jennifer – I am a big fan of your work and of the Eggsploitation documentary. Thank for stopping by the blog!

  3. Christine Miller says:

    Looking forward to your solution!

  4. Demiati says:

    even though I totally agree with you that freezing one’s eggs just in order to fit children into ones timetable doesn’t seem right (a matter of priorities), I felt that your article was a bit harsh on those moms having children at age 40. I am one of them. Not by choice. I have been wanting to find a good Jesus-loving husband since my late teens, but had to wait until age 33 for God to send him. All my life I have longed to be a wife and a mommy. Then we found out we couldn’t have children naturally. We were more than devastated. So after laying it all down before God we went on to go through in-vitro fertilization. It was tough, we lessened our chances as we decided not to have more eggs fertilized than the number allowed to be reintroduced the first time (we did not want any babies frozen). They said we had a chance of 12% to get pregnant and God in His mercy let it happen. Now I am 40, a few days before delivering our third child (conceived through the same procedure). And yes, it is harder at age 40 than when one is younger. But not everyone is fortunate enough to meet God’s partner for them at a young age. And it is difficult enough for these long-time christian singles, who have to deal with loneliness and the constant longing for years and years… Even though I might be a bit off-topic now… some grace for these older moms who might end up there not because of their own choice or selfishness. I think that even as Christians we can still use technology as long as it does not violate God’s Word. And yes to go through the hormonal treatment has its dangers and definately is no fun. But for some of us it is the only chance of having children… And maybe not because of selfish choices or sinful behavior, but simply because of some minor surgery in our youth that we had no control over… Personally I am thankful that people like us nowadays also have a chance to have children of their own, even though we might be older, have less energy… but oh boy do we love our kids and are we ever grateful to God for the gift they are!

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