This week, Facebook and Apple announced that they were going to reimburse female workers eggfor the costs of cryogenically freezing their eggs in case they want to delay pregnancy. Apparently (no pun intended) Google is also considering it.

The media has been abuzz with whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  My jury is out.

On one hand, in a post-Hobby Lobby world, bravo to major tech firms for recognizing that women’s health issues are just that: women’s health issues. If insurance plans cover things like gastric bypass, Viagra, and contact lenses, then things like fertility should fall into this camp too.  And if traditional insurance companies aren’t covering it, then good for large employers for doing it.

Also – part of me is hopeful that is a sign of some movement towards far better recognition that while men and women may have equal things to contribute at work, their contributions to child creation just aren’t the same (chicken vs. pig?), and that has be addressed.  I yearn for a world with far better universal support for maternity leave, breastfeeding, and childcare, all in the name of women being able to reach their potential more easily at work.  If that means helping women get pregnant when they want to, then employers should be supporting both IVF and egg freezing.

And for some women it may take what is often a awful distraction of the treadmill of meeting-The-One-falling-in-love-and-getting-pregnant-before-35.  Some people are looking for a partner for companionship and to build a life together, but for many that is inextricably tied to fertility. The flexibility that someone might feel from no longer having that pressure may be a lifted burden.

But the other side is scary.  Mobile phones used to be the exception and now they are the norm.  Will egg-freezing become a de facto standard for working women?  Will we ever get to the point where women are asked (or tacitly expected) to delay pregnancy until it’s good for their employer?  It is hard to feel like there is a “right time” even without freezing eggs.

And what is the actual impact on maternal and fetal health – there aren’t conclusive studies on the efficacy of long-term egg cryogenics on fertility.  And there are lots of studies on maternal age impacting all sorts of health concerns (like diabetes and high blood pressure), not just fertility.  Certainly every decision has tradeoffs and any number of factors may mean that having a baby at 40 is a far better decision for someone than having that baby at 30.  But is this encouraging women towards a medical decision whose impact on both mother and child we don’t actually understand yet?  

The calculus of when to have children vis a vis also having a career is wicked complicated. Prime fertility and the resultant childrearing occurs during prime career-building years.  As an industry (a society?) we have to work out how to make this better.

I just can’t tell whether this move by large companies is helping or hurting families decide how to balance it all.

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