The 2008 comedy flick Baby Mama opens on 37-year-old Kate Holbrook (played by Tina Fey) leaving the office, bustling down a busy street, clad in workplace attire, past a glowing young mom in casual clothes with a baby on her hip. Kate’s voiceover says, “Is it fair that to be the youngest VP in my company, I will be the oldest mom at preschool? Not really, but that’s part of the deal.”
The film follows the raucous relationship between Kate and Angie (played by Amy Poehler), Kate’s surrogate. The Saturday Night Live take on surrogacy explores—in typical Fey-Poehler fashion—one of the many options that working women who want children have when it comes to postponing pregnancy. Other options include adoption, donor eggs, and—freezing your eggs.
As more and more women shift to pursue career before family, the number of women freezing their eggs rises. In 2016, close to 7,300 women froze their eggs, and in 2019, that number has climbed to more than 10,000 women in the United States.
So why is this becoming a popular choice? The short answer is that women don’t want to choose between their careers and having a family. An increasing number of women want both—on their own timeline, and they don’t want to lose career momentum or money along the way. A majority of mothers see their earnings drop once they have children while their male colleagues and female colleagues without children continue to climb the ladder. Although career is the most common reason women freeze their eggs, any number of other reasons exist: autoimmune diseases, cancer treatment, postgraduate studies, dating.
No matter the reason you might be considering freezing your eggs, it’s important to see both sides of the “should you” or “shouldn’t you” argument.
Should you freeze your eggs?
Egg freezing, aka mature oocyte cryopreservation, is a technique that allows a physician to harvest your eggs from your ovaries and store them for later thawing and implantation. Women who postpone pregnancy to pursue their career often choose egg freezing because younger eggs give them a higher chance of fertility later in life.
It’s hard to know whether freezing your eggs will help your chances of pregnancy later in life. Research on egg freezing is still in its infancy. However, we do know that thawed eggs only have a 2 to 4 percent chance of growth and successful implantation. And that’s if you’re not experiencing any other fertility challenges.
You can’t know for sure if you’ll face fertility issues later in life unless you’re tested, and testing can be expensive. In a clinic, it can cost anywhere from $800 to $1500. Not to mention, if you’re early in your career, thinking you have plenty of time to have a baby, fertility testing may be the furthest thing from your mind.
There are cheaper options if you want to get a sense of your fertility timeline before you freeze your eggs. One option that’s been gaining attention recently is Modern Fertility, a $159 at-home test that gives you personalized results on how your hormones relate to egg freezing, IVF, and conditions such as POI (primary ovarian insufficiency) and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). You can even take it while you’re on birth control. It’s simply a way to learn more about your body and to start the fertility conversation with your doctor.
Egg freezing and the workplace
If you do decide cryopreservation is the route you want to take, there are companies that provide subsidies for it as an employee benefit. Facebook, Apple, and Google led the charge for their employees back in 2014, but more companies are adopting the benefit each year. (It's worth noting that subsidies vary, and there are costs incurred both when freezing and fertilizing. You'll want to do the math.) The bottom line is that egg freezing is good for business because it keeps employees in their jobs and allows them to focus on their careers now and their family later.
It’s also likely good for your career—though, again, egg freezing and postponing pregnancy aren’t for everyone—because you'll be able to work through your most productive years. In the corporate world, the “motherhood penalty,” or the money and status women lose when they have children, assumes that women can not maintain their professional timeline as well as their male colleagues and female colleagues without children. The motherhood penalty also affects earning potential.
The majority of mothers in the workforce see their earning power drop by 4 percent for each child they have, while men see their income rise by 6 percent upon becoming a father (this is fittingly called the “fatherhood bonus”). Women also see a drop in earnings when they take time to shift into a part-time or lower-paying job to spend more time with their families. Other women simply don’t come back to work after maternity leave to stay home with their children.
There are, of course, ways to counter the motherhood penalty by putting more toward your 401k to compensate for lower earnings or investing in a Health Savings Account. Just because you take a career break to have children does not mean your career has to suffer.
Ultimately, choosing whether or not you want to freeze your eggs is your decision. If you want both a career and a family, you should have both, and there are a multitude of options for you, including and beyond egg freezing. The most important thing is to consult your physician concerning all medical procedures and to stay attentive to your personal and professional needs.