Thursday, October 16, 2014

Would you sell your fertility to your employer?

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Finally, huge corporate giants like Apple and Facebook have ushered in a level playing field. After free laundry, unlimited vacations, baby care facilities, the two corporates have come up with an unprecedented perk of freezing the eggs of their women employees. This move should enable them to continue working undeterred by the cruel, ever-ticking biological clock. Both companies have generously offered to pay a whopping $20000 to cover the cost of freezing the eggs and storing them. It’s a day of victory for American women and Indra Nooyi stands vindicated. The dream of motherhood and an excellent career - women can finally have it all!

Or can they?

The move is being touted as an attempt to bring in parity between the workforce which consists of men and women. Women tend to take breaks to have and nurture children setting them back in their career. So, the companies have now decided to free them of this crushing worry. Women employees can now happily concentrate on their careers while their employers will take care of the cost of preserving their fertility.

It’s a great move for the organizations who get the best years of a woman’s life working for them. But are they not encouraging women to delay having children by dangling a sense of false complacency about motherhood in front of them? Are they trying to say that work comes first and parental instincts can wait? Is this a call to compromise on the best phase of a couple’s life nurturing for their child, which translates to better quality of personal life? It’s like saying that since women’s absence while having babies is an inconvenience at work, let’s just take babies out of the equation. Perks to entice talent is great and desirable. But managing the fertility of your employees is taking it a bit too far! To me, it just exposes the sinister desire of companies to win employees’ commitment and cut down on hiring and training costs by giving out a false sense of welfare.

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Let’s look at it from a woman’s perspective. Women have already been meted out a raw deal by Nature and society. They have enough on her plate juggling home and career. The fact that child birth sets them back in their career leads them to postpone it, anyways. But the companies are now offering the delay as an incentive which forces women to hedge on a future possibility which has a very meager chance of success. At least the ticking of the biological clock gets them to consider babies before it is too late. But this perk might ensure that it is too late. Women in their 20‘s, which is the best time to have a child, are hardly thinking about motherhood and fertility issues.

Whether a woman wants to have a baby and when and how she wants to have it are deeply personal issues. Leave alone the company they work for, I don’t think anyone else, except the couple involved, should have the right to decide this critical issue. The employer has no right to tell a woman what she should or should not do about her fertility issues.

Also, are women better off if they postpone motherhood and don’t take breaks? Are they as successful and well paid as men? You wish! There is research to back up the fact that no matter what, women are paid less than men. Even at the cost of postponing motherhood. So who’s losing again? Women! If you want to treat women equally, a good start is to pay her what she deserves. Don’t rob her of it just because of her gender.

Even if a woman chooses to delay pregnancy, how can one be sure that a she will be in a better position to take a break in her career to have kids at 35 than at 25? By that age, wouldn’t she have given up everything she had, including the joys of motherhood, for her career? She is more likely to be in line for promotions she worked hard for all her life. Would she want to give it all up and use the damn frozen eggs because her employers planned it that way for her?

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Okay, given that freezing eggs in lieu of a worry-free, flourishing career is a fair deal. But medically, the process is not a party women would love to go to! It’s a 6-week long, invasive, hormones-induced process which makes the ovaries produce multiple eggs, sometimes upto 15, in one cycle. A woman’s body is injected with high doses of hormones to induce the ovary to produce so many eggs in a single cycle. So it’s like dialing up the pressure of hormones multiple times to achieve the results. The eggs are then removed through an invasive procedure and frozen for future use.

Someone i am close to went through the process for IVF, recently. She told me that the process is so long and painful that she wouldn’t wish it for anyone else go through it. Her advice - the best thing for women to do is conceive naturally by planning babies at a younger age.

After going through the arduous process, can a woman stop worrying and fearlessly go back to work? Scientists unanimously agree that the answer is - no. Frozen egg is not equal to a baby in the future. With the advancing years, the success rate also plummets considerably, sometimes dropping to just 35% in the 40's. Hence, the logic that the facility of freezing eggs can preserve the fertility of women to be used anytime in the future is a myth. Freezing doesn’t guarantee children. What do the employers intend to do if 5 years down the line women are unable to conceive through those eggs? Any answers?

Also, are we bidding adieu to the natural process of conception? Is sex, which is also important for deeper bonding between couples, being sacrificed at the alter of professional success? Freezing is supposed to be the last resort and the norm of having babies. Are our conversation in the future going to be - “Honey, it’s time to have a baby! Let’s defrost!” If nature meant babies to be conceived in a particular way, who are we to question and worse still, defy it?

What about men? Why are women being discriminated against here? Are men not going through fertility issues due to long working hours, stress, lack of physical activity and reduced intimacy? Or is it conveniently been ignored in the scheme of things? What if women have frozen their fertility but men lost it in the game? I guess the male fertility preservation can be the perk offered for next year!

If companies care for their employees, both men and women, they should encourage them to have well-rounded lives which don’t expect them to cut back on family life. If corporates indeed want a level playing field for men and women, enable the woman to balance the responsibility Nature entrusted her with. Don’t manage her fertility for her. Accept her the way she is! Encourage her to have children at a biologically safe age without the fear of losing out in her career. Don’t tweak her biology to ensure steady workforce. If you really want to be a caring employer, assure her that you will treat her equal to men when she comes back having fulfilled her personal duties. Give her the power to decide when she wants to enjoy motherhood and not worry about being penalized for it. Give her the right to love her child freely and indulge in her maternal love, not deprive her of motherhood.


  1. Very well written Sum. :) I agree with one thing that you write here 'it is for the couple to decide'. If the couple decides that they need to freeze their eggs, isn't this a good incentive for them to do that? This could be a perk for all those who are well-informed and well-decided people, no? :)

  2. Thank you for your comments, Tony and Kapil! This topic is rife with controversy and everyone has their own opinion. But at the end of the day, one has to make a choice depending on their circumstances.

  3. Nice points made Suman. A woman will not be in a better condition to manage a child at the age of 35 than at 25. Plus age will start catching up meaning she has lesser time to spend with the child.

    Also, while good intentions may be involved here, it also could be a move to make the women indebted to these firms for life... And women can do a lot more with $20,000 which the firms are charging for freezing the eggs...