The Cold Truth Behind Silicon Valley’s Egg Freezing

All right ovaries, time to lean in!

To top off the bevy of perks that their employees already get, such as chef-prepared meals and office razor scooters, Silicon Valley giants Apple and Facebook are offering another insurance benefit to women employees: cryopreservation, also known as egg freezing.

In a self-congratulatory press release, Apple said:

We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cryopreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments. … We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.

The reaction was mixed. Some applauded the move as a way to stymie the exit of women from the workforce. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 56 percent of women in tech leave midway through their careers, double the rate at which men leave the industry. The desire to raise families is a major factor in this.

Also, egg freezing can be a viable option for women who wish to be mothers later in life and who may find the procedure too cost-prohibitive to pursue on their own. (The egg freezing procedure can cost up to $10,000 and storage of the eggs is around $500 a year—the insurance covers $20,000 in costs.)

However, there are plenty of women who desire motherhood but don’t see egg freezing as the perfect fix. Egg freezing isn’t a cakewalk. It can be time-consuming, invasive and uncomfortable to extract one’s eggs and, even after all that, the likelihood of pregnancy from implanted embryos isn’t always a sure thing—especially for women over 40.

Fertility expert Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, founder of The Fertility Institutes, explained to Ms.,

Success with egg freezing depends very heavily on the baseline fertility of the woman undertaking the egg freezing. That is, how fertile the woman is to begin with. Clearly, younger women have the best chances for ultimate success.

He went to say that women in their 20s freezing their eggs could expect success rates of 65-90 percent, women in their 30s, a 50-78 percent rate and those in their 40s, only 5 to 15 percent.

To be fair, Facebook and Apple do offer some benefits to women who decide they want to be mothers now. Facebook offers four months of maternity leave and awards new mothers, biological or adoptive, $4,000 in “baby cash” to help with newborn expenses. Along with the egg-freezing benefit, Apple introduced extended maternal leave.

Maternal leave is great, and every company should have it, but what help does Apple offer to mothers who have returned to work and are still determined to climb the ranks?

Neither Facebook nor Apple offer onsite daycare. (Even though Facebook proudly offers doggie daycare for employees, since one should never be faced with choosing their career over their corgi, amirite?) But a workplace certainly can be more helpful to new moms, as Sabrina Parsons, the CEO of Palo Alto Software, pointed out in an op-ed she wrote for Business Insider:

I didn’t want to part with my children when they were first born, nor did I want to take time off from my business, as we were at a crucial make-or-break turning point. I didn’t think it was fair to have to choose one over the other, so I brought all three of my children into the office with me when they were first born. It worked out so well for me that I now extend this policy to all of my employees at Palo Alto Software.

The challenges of motherhood/career are too entrenched to be solved by sticking some eggs in the freezer. Egg freezing doesn’t eliminate the question of “Can I have it all?” It simply delays the question for a later date—after a company has profited more from a woman’s productivity. Egg freezing offers a very business-centric answer to the child-rearing timeline: It allows a company to avoid the “interruption” of its women employees’ careers (men, after all, rarely take paternity leave), while not paying attention to whether men postpone childbearing.

The real answer to helping women juggle parenting and work starts with finding more supportive ways to ease the burden of childrearing in a way that allows women to stay on their career path. The U.S. keeps company with Liberia and Papua New Guinea among nations that don’t mandate paid maternity leave. Universal daycare has been a feminist issue for decades but still hasn’t gained traction. Compensations such as working from home, worksharing and flexible work schedules could also go a long way in equaling the playing field for mothers, but they’re not standard practice.

By encouraging women to freeze their eggs, Apple and Facebook are saying that women can have it all, but preferably on a timeline that’s best for the company. Who is the main beneficiary here? The gendered expectations that come with childrearing aren’t problems that can just be put on ice.

Photo courtesy of Pietro Izzo via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine