How do You Like Your Eggs?

There has been a lot, and I mean a LOT written about Apple and Facebook's announcement that they are including egg freezing in their health care packages. I don't understand why this has become such a major news story, but certainly almost every blog I follow has been writing about it. I figure I shouldn't buck the trend.

I don't really give a wit about Apple and Facebook and their employee benefits. I don't work for them. I think most of the women that work for them probably make enough money that they could figure out how to pay for this procedure on their own if they really wanted to. For women who are making minimum wage, this is something that is never, ever going to happen.

But how many women want to do this anyway and why is it even an option. Some of the discussion on this has pointed out how this gives women more options in terms of managing their fertility and their family planning decisions. I would beg to differ that it really doesn't. The press on it makes it sound as if this is a simple thing to do, if you have the money. It's not simple at all. Harvesting ovas for freezing is a long and invasive procedure which involves the use of hormones with major side effects. Long-term side effects for these procedures aren't really known but most women who take these hormones suffer, in the very least, from major mood swings, anger, and depression. Bloating and weight gain are pretty common as well. This is only the first part of the procedure and is the only thing that anyone seem to want to talk about in relation to this.

The second part of the procedure is actually using those ova to get pregnant. Invitro-fertilization also involves a long process of hormone therapy with major side effects. The success rate for IVF is abysmal. Depending on the statistics you look at, about 30% of first time IVF treatments result in a pregnancy. That success rate varies with age and drops dramatically as the woman gets older.

I fervently believe in women's rights to have access to these options if they want them but I think we need to tell women the truth about them. And the truth is that they are invasive, difficult, and not highly successful. We seem to be selling women the idea that they can get pregnant any time they want to because we can freeze eggs and we can do IVF but that's just not the case. Many women undergo these procedures and do not get pregnant.

IVF and egg freezing are not the only way to manage fertility. Most women never learn how their reproductive cycle works in the first place. If we actually taught this to young women in school, they would have a much better understanding of how to get pregnant and how not to get pregnant. They would understand more fully what happens to their bodies as they age and be more aware of when their chances of getting pregnant will begin to decrease due to age and start to make some decisions based on that.

The other piece of this discussion, which no one seems to be talking about, is the larger issue of making the workplace fair for women who want to have children. We do have maternity benefits in Canada but that only goes so far. Many women fear losing their place in the promotion line, or even losing a position they love, because they took a year of for parental leave. In this country, it is illegal to fire someone because they are pregnant or because they were off on maternity leave and yet I know so many women who's employers found creative ways to do it anyway. Many people I know arrived back at work to find that their 'job description had changed' or the 'company had down-sized' or that they had otherwise been worked out of a job. These are the choices women have to make which may make them reconsider getting pregnant until the time comes that they run out of time. Then, they may find themselves with fertility issues that they weren't expecting. Freezing eggs isn't really going to prevent this problem. Making workplaces more inclusive and supportive to young mothers is the only solution to that problem.