Apple and Facebook are on the cutting edge all right, cutting the “wo” right off the word “woman.” In their latest bid for coolness, they will apparently fund up to $20,000 for their female employees to freeze their eggs, so that these employees can choose to delay motherhood while they climb up the corporate ladder.
There are so many things wrong with this policy, how to begin? Let me count the ways that this supposedly generous move actually slaps women on the face.
First of all, here comes yet another pressure to conform and perform. It’s kind of like when the Blackberry was first introduced to employees at my law firm. At first it seemed like a great perk – wow, we get to have this cool gadget and take it home to play! But soon that wireless handheld becomes a chain around your neck, as you realize that you are no longer safely out of reach even in the washroom of your own house.
Now, if I imagine that my law firm had been offering egg preservation…thank goodness they didn’t! The message such a policy sends is this: if you get pregnant when young, then you can’t be serious about your career. If you truly want to make partner then have your eggs preserved and keep up your pace like one of the guys. After all, what excuse can a female employee possibly have for not taking advantage of a free option to make herself into a man for a decade or more?
Here’s another big problem with this apparently generous perk: it sells a lie. The lie is a false security based on the misconception that egg freezing works. The fact is that the success rate of egg thawing and subsequent pregnancy is not nearly as high as many young women employees might be led to believe. According to the NYU Fertility Centre, the success rate of using frozen eggs from young women (donors) is about 60%. Egg donors tend to be college-aged women in their early 20s, so that success rate is at the highest end of the spectrum. Eggs retrieved from older women will have lower odds of successful pregnancy, as Miriam Zoll pointed out on MercatorNet:
But what most employers don’t know is that even the “new and improved” flash freezing method–-known as vitrification–-has a 77 percent failure rate among women age 30, and in women age 40 the failure rate is 91 percent.
…The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) estimates that for a woman age 38, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2-12 percent.
And then there is this: the female employess will need to use (and pay for) IVF to use their frozen eggs. I don’t think Facebook and Apple will be footing that bill for that procedure, but there will be no other way for the women to actually get pregnant with these frozen eggs. And by the time the female employees might want to use their frozen eggs, their increasingly older bodies will require possibly many unsuccessful cycles of IVF, accompanied by a terrible roller-coaster of hope and despair. Check out these dismal statistics on IVF success rates, as published by the British government (the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority). These stats are based on the use of fresh eggs, so using thawed eggs will reduce these rates still further:
In 2010 (the year for which the most recent data is available) women having in vitro fertilisation (IVF) using fresh embryos created with their own fresh eggs, the percentage of cycles started that resulted in a live birth (national averages) was:
32.2% for women aged under 35
27.7% for women aged between 35–37
20.8% for women aged between 38–39
13.6% for women aged between 40–42
5.0% for women aged between 43–44
1.9% for women aged 45 and over
Please note that IVF and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) success are very similar and as such are no longer presented seperately. The above results are for both IVF and ICSI together.
Given the sad numbers above, many of the female employees who were banking on having frozen egg babies late in life might need to hire a younger surrogate to increase their IVF success rate. So how does this equation sound now: Facebook/Apple pays $20,000 for another 10 years of workhorse employee, and 10 years later, the same employee will need to pony up for possibly many rounds of IVF and/or a surrogate, while undergoing the physical and emotional trauma that comes with all of that. And success is definitely NOT guaranteed!
But never fear. In another show of generosity, Facebook (not sure about Apple) apparently also covers the expenses of adopting a child. So if all else fails, these dedicated female employees who relinquished their own fertility for their employer can now at least adopt for free – a nice consolation prize.
Some women have come out to applaud Facebook and Apple for their forward thinking in offering women such a wonderful world of choices. This is a sad development. After all, this policy is like Facebook and Apple saying that they will pay for your abortion in case you get pregnant. Thanks for the “generosity”, but how about helping me keep the baby instead?
If Facebook and Apple really mean to help their women employees have children, then how about enabling them to make the far more natural choice of having a family while still able to get pregnant naturally? In other words, how about increasing their rather pathetic maternity and parental leave benefits?
Many women in corporate America have 4 months of maternity leave or less – that includes high-level professionals, and it is true even at high tech companies. Facebook and Marissa Meyer’s Yahoo both give women employees 4 months off for having a baby. Google gives 18-22 weeks.
Do these companies think they are being exceptionally generous? Apparently they do, but they are very wrong about that. By Canadian standards they lag far behind. Having had 3 children I shudder every time I think about the cruelty of making brand new mothers abandon their newborn infants, at three or four months barely out of the womb and completely dependent. How can any civilized and prosperous country do that to their young families?
Here in Canada, I have a one-year paid maternity leave by law. Employers have adjusted to this legal requirement and life has gone on! My husband (who works for the federal government) also took a whole 9 months of paid parental leave from his job after the birth of our third child.
Along with increased parental leave, there are so many other far more important priorities for women in the workplace. We need positive options that recognize and respect our womanhood, which includes the fact that we have babies. Men, they are your children too. It is in everyone’s best interests that your children remain bonded with and raised by us, not by some childcare “professionals” who can never really replace us.
Enough of the faux improvements, it is time to get on with the real stuff. Develop a new workplace model that is based on the needs of women rather than on the traditional career trajectory and workplace needs and habits of men, and you will truly spark a revolution that needs to happen. Give us off-ramps and on-ramps. Increase our flexible hours and part time options, give us work from home options, give us freedom to arrange our lives to include our children’s needs.
And as for your cheap $20,000 buy-out of my fertility, thanks but no thanks.
Lea Singh writes from Ottawa, Canada. This piece is reposted from her blog.