Tic Toc Goes the Clock (Women Freezing Their Eggs?)

Women and their clocks. If only there were a way to stop that damnable ticking. Who says a woman is defined by biology, anyway? The Pill took us part way there, so why not a means to extend the period of time we might bear children?

Maybe by a decade. Possibly longer. How’s that for a bright feminine and feminist future?

Well that (so-called) fantasy isn’t a pipe dream. At least, if you have the money, the determination, and access to the requisite medical technology according to a recent article appearing in the May issue of Vogue: Time to Chill? Egg Freezing Technology Offers a Chance to Extend Fertility.

It’s a fascinating read, and I recommend it – an examination of the procedures, probabilities of success, potential pitfalls, monetary investment, and reasons that women are opting for this sort of biological backup plan. It’s also no surprise that it’s big business. And growing.

As time marches on, so do the advances in reproductive technologies. But what if it isn’t quite so simple as conception at 45 or 48 or 50 – or older?

Make Money Now, Marry Later, Kids Later

We don’t always meet someone to partner with when we’re young, or at the ideal age to become a parent – whatever we might think that is. And even if we do marry, it may not last. Or, conception may not come easily.

Thankfully, millions of women have been helped through (now) traditional fertility treatments. Among them is IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), which takes money, time, and a kind of courage and persistence that I can only imagine. My hat is off to those women who go through it, and the men who stand by them.

As for harvesting eggs and freezing them (preferably the younger the better, according to experts), it is – among other things – expensive. It may cost $15,000 for each round of the process of extracting viable eggs – and of course – there are annual storage costs for your baby-futures, as they must be carefully housed indefinitely in a cryogenic vat.

While the process has been deemed experimental (since 2006), officials of the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) are not discouraging women from using it. However, according to Dr. Samantha Pfeifer, a reproductive endocrinologist (head of the ASRM’s committee on reproductive-medicine guidelines):

“It may be an amazing chance for women to have control over their reproductive future. We just don’t think there are yet sufficient studies.”

The article continues:

Pfeifer worries that some doctors may be giving patients a false sense of security. Even for a woman in her mid-30s, it takes about 20 frozen eggs to be reasonably sure of a single pregnancy – women of all ages produce many eggs that are unusable, and the percentage climbs as we grow older… At 50 percent success rates per cycle, half the women who believe their frozen eggs will ensure a baby will be disappointed each time they try.

But here’s my concern, which is only mentioned briefly: How old is too old to become a mother?

And taking it a step further: Just because you can give birth to a baby at 60, should you? Or for that matter, at 50? What about everything that follows conception, birth, and infancy? What about actually raising your children?

It may be worth noting that a 2010 Forbes Woman article on freezing eggs more closely ties the deferred parenting choice to leveling the career playing field.

Parenting Realities

Whatever the real or perceived reasons for delaying pregnancy, I cannot imagine the heartbreak of infertility; I haven’t lived it.

But I have experienced a decade of being a largely solo mother, and an “older” one at that.

And I gave birth in my mid-late 30s, not my late 40s or 50s.

I’m thrilled for those women who have additional options when it comes to getting pregnant, whether it’s more traditional methods, or egg harvesting and storage which is, incidentally, expected to eclipse the already multi-billion dollar IVF business.

But what about the children? Assuming these babies would ultimately be born healthy (no evidence to the contrary at this time), what about their lives with older mothers?

Who is talking about the reality of parenthood in middle-age, or parenthood when you are – dare I say it – old?

I’ve stated this before and I will again: being a mother has been the hardest and most rewarding work of my life. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But I believe that women in their 60s bearing children makes no sense. I’ll go on to say it’s selfish and unreasonable. I would characterize women becoming mothers in their 50s as equally foolish, with the caveat that there are always exceptions.

I do believe in fertility treatments, in advances in reproductive technologies, and in responsibly focusing on the quality of life that the child would lead being born of older parents who are truly too old.

Would I take it upon myself to say how old is too old? That’s not a role I seek. But even if you have money now, what if circumstances change, including your health, marital status, and finances? And if you’re determined to become a parent, what about all the children without homes?

Real-World Parenting Profession

Setting aside money for the moment, what worries me is the fantasy aspect, potential exploitation of a woman’s desperation, and the emphasis on conception rather than parenting. However Orwellian and intriguing, isn’t it off the mark? And I repeat – just because you can, should you?

But babies are the easy part. What about everything after giving birth – the heart and hard work of the parenting profession?

Children are not a female entitlement; they are a privilege and a responsibility. They need to be taught, encouraged, tolerated, disciplined; compassion should be modeled, reasoning exemplified, character developed. They need to be listened to, spoken to, challenged, reined in, cuddled, cared for when they’re sick or scared, cheered on, worried over.

Then there’s homework, picking your battles, managing bullies, getting through the first crush, dealing with disappointments, burgeoning sexuality, spirituality if that’s part of your plan. There’s explaining about cigarettes and drugs, alcohol and sex, strangers and the Internet, and hoping that some of it will stick through sheer repetition and consistency and that somehow, whatever they go through as puberty crazies them and adolescence reshapes them – the children you love so profoundly – will come out the other side, intact.

And by now you’re 60 or 65 or maybe even pushing 70 if you buy into this notion that the biological clock can be set aside, and that your right to give birth trumps a child’s right to a chance at family. Or at the very least, one parent who has a shot in hell of being there. Really being there.

For the six thousand five hundred days – and more – that it takes to do the job.

© D A Wolf