Tick tock: can freezing eggs truly freeze time?
Lily Kershaw
Lily Kershaw • Jul 15

Tick tock: can freezing eggs truly freeze time?

by Lily Kershaw

The biological clock is an ever-present spectre for most women. The idea that time is always ticking is intimidating to say the very least, particularly as we are faced with the rather contradictory messaging of “aim for the top”, while also being bombarded with the idea that, to be successful as a woman, you also have to have a baby before it’s “too late”. It is an unquestionably tough decision to make, and leaves many women feeling disempowered, especially with this expectation that, as a woman, you can, and should, have it all. The gender pay gap appears to widen significantly once women begin to become mothers, often taking on more part-time work to make room for childcare or rejecting promotions so they can make more time for their kids. It is an apparent reality and one which places immense pressure on women who often feel that they have to sacrifice their agency in some capacity.

Egg freezing, we are told, buys us time, gives us options, empowers us, but is this the reality?

This reality, however, is not going unnoticed, as more and more companies are starting to offer their female employees the opportunity to freeze their eggs. From Apple and Facebook, to VICE, more and more organisations seem to be adding egg freezing to their list of company perks, framing it as a move for female empowerment through giving women the option, freeing us from the constraints of the biological clock. Through working in these industries, hypothetically, we are now free to pursue our career aspirations without having to sacrifice the potential for a family and children. Even beyond companies, many fertility organisations have shifted their marketing to focus on younger women – instead of offering a chance to have children despite fertility issues, these companies are offering the chance to preserve your fertility, ProFaM marketing their treatments towards women in their late twenties. Egg freezing, we are told, buys us time, gives us options, empowers us, but is this the reality?

Currently, egg freezing is the fastest growing form of fertility treatment in the UK, further exemplifying this growing trend towards prevention rather than cure, but popularity is not always a marker of success. Egg freezing is no real guarantee of “pausing” that biological clock, with one report revealing that it takes around 40 properly frozen eggs to give one woman a 97% chance of conceiving a child, yet, for the most part, the number of eggs extracted per cycle in the egg freezing process does not exceed 10 or 15, suggesting that egg freezing does not come with the guarantee that it is so often sold with. But therein lies part of the problem – fertility is a billion-dollar industry and one which is incredibly reliant on the hopes and fears of people, especially as they watch that biological clock tick by and, with it, the chances of conceiving a child. Investors are, unsurprisingly, less interested in the outcomes of such treatments, and more interested in their bottom line, and so egg freezing is sold with invasive marketing as an easy way of securing your future, rather than a complex and often difficult process that is rife with uncertainty.

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...egg freezing as a corporate perk exploits the fears that many women have regarding their fertility and their careers

The offer of egg freezing as a corporate perk exploits the fears that many women have regarding their fertility and their careers. It is hard not to be sceptical when companies like Apple frame offering these fertility treatments as an attempt to “empower women” when it is primarily a business decision. With egg freezing, these companies are indirectly telling women that, if they don’t take this opportunity and instead decide to follow the demands of their biological clock, they are actively sacrificing their careers. Do you not want to be empowered? Do you not want to have it all? As former Facebook product manager Bo Ren puts it, “more and more of our personal decisions and life planning choices are being unwittingly shaped by the paternalistic systems that supposedly are in place for our benefit”.  Choice, in this matter, is an illusion. I am not proposing that offering employees the option to take control over their fertility is a bad thing in the slightest but, as long as these companies don’t offer options for when this hypothetical child is made (extended maternity and paternity leave, subsidised childcare etc.) then these companies aren’t truly offering a choice at all.

The fact that “having it all” comes down to women being able to have a career and have a family is rather depressing as the bar is so low, yet so unattainable.

To add to this, isn’t it the bare minimum for companies to account for the biological processes of their employees? The fact that “having it all” comes down to women being able to have a career and have a family is rather depressing as the bar is so low, yet so unattainable. The reason why the ticking away of our biological clocks seems to be so pressuring and stressful stems partly from the fact that industry still doesn’t appear to truly recognise women. Instead, we are expected to be like men when we are at work yet act like women in our social lives – having children is often seen as the sign of a successful woman, but an unsuccessful worker, as children inevitably force your focus away from work and towards your family. This is of course only aggravated by the fact that the brunt of childcare mainly falls on women, a reality that has only become more apparent due to the recent pandemic.

With all of this in mind, it is the responsibility of companies and governments to ensure that this illusion of choice is no longer just an illusion, and adding egg freezing to the list of healthcare benefits that you offer just isn’t enough. Companies should not be encouraging the idea that the biological clock is to be fought against, nor should they demonise a woman’s desire to start a family as a disempowering decision. It is just an empty gesture if companies support women delaying their childbearing age without also supporting women deciding to have children in their twenties or early thirties. Our ideas of feminism have been commodified, shifting focus away from liberation and towards profitability. What does it matter if the company you work for is willing to subsidise the fees of freezing your eggs, when they are not willing to help or support you when you want those eggs to thaw… if those eggs are viable at all? If companies don’t support men with paternity leave, they are only furthering the expectation that childcare is a woman’s duty, and thus further limiting women’s options and opportunities.

No wonder so many of us fear the biological clock, as the more it ticks, the more aware we become of this contradiction and  injustice.

Sadly, as women, we are often told that our value lies in our youth, our beauty, and our fertility, but as workers, we are told that our value lies in our dedication to our careers. No wonder so many of us fear the biological clock, as the more it ticks, the more aware we become of this contradiction and this very injustice. When our value as women is so closely bound with our youth, time becomes an enemy, rather than just a neutral fact of life. As a reaction to this, companies exploit this fear, giving women the option to ostensibly freeze time, rather than also supporting the women who do want to get pregnant while they are at their most fertile. This acts to further affirm the very ideas which are already trapping women – ageing is bad, we need to freeze at all costs. These companies then have the gall to frame this as a feminist move, when it’s not. Feminism is about choice and liberation, not about limitation and exploitation, and as long as companies place their profits above their workers, their decisions will remain unfeminist, as controlling our fertility just becomes another method of controlling their profit margins. 

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Lily Kershaw
Lily Kershaw

Lily Kershaw is a journalist and student studying French and Portuguese at Oxford University

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