Frozen Eggs

(WOMENSENEWS)– Are Facebook’s and Apple’s new policies good for women?

The two companies made headlines recently by announcing that they would pay for "egg freezing" for female employees. The procedure will allow women to preserve the viability of their eggs if they wanted to halt their "biological clock" and delay childbearing.

Some critics charge that the companies are pushing women away from having children during their most fertile years. But, in fact, the new policy would only enhance what women are already doing.

The Pew Center reports that births to women ages 35 and older grew 64 percent between 1990 and 2008, increasing in all major race and ethnic groups. In fact, the only group of U.S. women among whom fertility is increasing is those over 40. Women are already opting to have their children later, often in order to complete their education or get established on a career path. They are making this choice even in the face of more information about the health risks of late pregnancies.

So, women using their frozen eggs for a later pregnancy may reduce the risks of these pregnancies and would clearly be a boon for women. In 2012, egg freezing, which had long been labeled experimental, got the nod of approval from the prestigious American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The group cited studies showing that "younger women are about as likely to get pregnant if they used frozen-and-thawed eggs for their infertility treatment as if they used fresh ones. And, there is no deterioration in egg quality with time." Rates of birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities are no different from those observed in the general population. A recent review of nearly 1,000 births from frozen eggs found no increased risk of birth defects.

Less Work-Baby Stress

Having children later makes sense in many ways. Women are getting more education, and this trend is contributing to their later marriages and pregnancies. They may just be finishing their training when their fertility naturally wanes. (The consensus is that fertility declines by age 35, due largely to "aging" eggs.) Having to manage the tension between the pull of preparing for their life’s work and having a baby before their clock runs out generates considerable anxiety.

There’s a temptation for such women to opt for less-than-ideal marriages just to beat the biological clock. One career woman, approaching her 40th birthday, told us she feels "more upbeat about motherhood" now that she’s got her future frozen. "When I was 35 or 36, I was wrapped up in anxiety about how I am going to meet that person. Now I’m really happy I was proactive and froze my eggs. It gave me a sense of calm and freedom."

A decade or two ago, worries might well have been raised about whether an older women could carry a baby to term without incurring health risks. But according to Dr. Samantha Pfeifer, an associate professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, "The uterus does not age and can carry a pregnancy well into the 40s and 50s."

Even beyond the pregnancy, many worried that older mothers would not have the stamina to rear a young child. Thanks to a host of medical and lifestyle changes, those worries have been largely put to rest.

Longevity Factor

Indeed, at a time when people are living longer and healthier, it may make perfect sense to have children in your 40s, when other life crises are past and when you still have many more healthy years to live.

In October, the centers for Disease Control announced that life expectancy is at its highest peak; 78.8 years (81.2 years for women; 76.4 for men.) Research indicates that thanks to new medical technology, exercise and diet, many of us are already healthier at 70 than our parents and grandparents were in their 50s. We are entering what we call the Age of Longevity, in which not only will we live longer, but expanding new technologies will delay the ravages of age.

Some say that 70 is the new 50.

Dr. James F. Fries of Stanford University Medical School reports that adult vigor can be extended well into the ninth decade of life, with illness and disability compressed into a period that shortly precedes death.

Having children later could benefit women in a tough economy, allowing them to have better jobs and keeping them from sliding into poverty and its hazards for children. For married couples, women’s incomes are often the key to keeping the family in the middle class.

The prospect of living a long and productive life is already changing the decisions we make. People are taking six or more years to finish college rather than the four years that were common years ago. They are marrying later, having their children later, staying in the workforce well beyond age 65, and starting second and third careers during their "post-retirement" years. Egg freezing is an option that gives women a better chance to take full advantage of the possibilities that their long lives afford them.