Apple and Facebook, two of the world’s biggest techno companies are willing to pay women staff to freeze their eggs because the companies want to help them build their careers– or as the women would like to have it, empower them to overcome family-related drawbacks in their careers.
Media recently reported that the Silicon Valley companies are willing to pay for the women employees to freeze their eggs until they are ready to have children. It seems Facebook, no doubt very women friendly under ‘Lean In’ lady Sheryl Sandberg, has already started the procedure while Apple, it seems, is working on it. Easily said but questions remain – how far will this go and how will it actually help women in the long run?
Those of us who have been through the career/family cycle know that as good as it may sound, putting off having a child is not the best choice a mid-career woman can make. Infertility among women who choose to study, qualify and work for a considerable period of time before getting married, usually in their early 30s, is already bad enough. How will freezing your eggs be, against such a backdrop?
Egg freezing advocates like to call it an investment in women who want to see their career blossom without having to worry about a pregnancy. Egg freezing seems to enhance our ability to join the boys’ club, where career advancement and no-holds-barred mobility upwards ring in success but does it really?
Some believe that such a move would send the wrong message to the thousands of aspiring young women who may see having a baby and raising a child as something that can be put off indefinitely. Some may even find the very idea incompatible with a burgeoning career. It may also encourage them to wait longer to have children, which may cause biological complications. Not everyone can handle a pregnancy in life; besides, having a child late may mean not having the energy to raise the child, not to mention the likelihood of the mother not being around for the child’s accomplishments in life.
Whatever the motives might be, it would not enhance career prospects in the way the libbers are hoping it would. A pregnancy is not merely a woman’s self-expression of her femininity but it is also taking on the responsibility of another human being. It calls for empathy, sacrifice, commitment, investment of time and energy not to mention money, sharing and everything else that goes against the very grain of self-centred advancement. How many women will be able to handle that?
Following the egg freezing procedure, the eggs can be planted into the patient’s uterus at time she chooses to, irrespective of whether she can produce them naturally or not. Although it sounds empowering and apparently ‘levels the field’ for aspiring women, the procedure has not received the kind of rousing welcome everyone perhaps was hoping it would get. However, the medical community in the US report that those choosing to freeze their eggs are increasing.
It is true that like most industries that call for longer hours, the tech industry is also led by the boys. Just as the careers are taking off and the men are stepping into the advancement phase, the women have to take time off to start families. A pointer not lost on the techies.
“Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do,” Brigitte Adams, an egg-freezing advocate, founder of the patient forum Eggsurance.com, was quoted on NBC, “By offering this, companies are investing in women and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.”
Experts believe that there’s more to this than what meets the eye - tech giants are keen to retain good and talented people and are willing to go the extra length in a bid to keep them. Facebook has truly gone the full length – the company offers new parents ‘baby cash’ while both companies are known for their generous wellness facilities.
One thing the firms have not reviewed, it seems, is the biological capacity for women to go through a pregnancy later in life. Despite the assurance of eggs being frozen, the women themselves may find a late pregnancy physically and mentally challenging. Although older women do have children routinely, more so now than before, it is often by choice. Even now, many are indeed postponing raising a family and are paying the price for it too.
Harvard Law School academic Glenn Cohen has raised a pertinent question – he wonders whether women who are entering their careers are in favour of or against the procedure – will they see it as an inducement for career advancement or see raising a family as an impediment?
The answer lies within we women ourselves. We have to figure it out that we must keep the balance going. You simply cannot postpone one in favour of the other. Career advancement aside, raising a family and being a mother to your children is a lifelong mission that is a labour of love – one that cannot be compared or weighed against a career, however important. Either you have to learn the art of balancing or you need to give one up for the other.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at [email protected])
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