When I got pregnant at 31, I felt like a child playacting. To me, it seemed there was no way I was old enough—or ready enough, for that matter—to parent. My friends were a little wary too; I was among the first of us to procreate.
This feeling of unpreparedness makes sense. We were pioneers in an inchoate movement that considers one’s 20s an extension of adolescence. After college I spent years traveling and working jobs like “Ballroom Dance Instructor” and “cocktail waitress.” I was in no hurry to fully embrace adulthood and all of the maturity it demands. But, apparently, my body was.
Having finally decided to pursue a career in publishing at age 30, I happened upon Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest forChildren. That’s when the needle on my personal That Girl soundtrack went screeching painfully across the record to a halt. Hewlett’s message was bleak. In the introduction of her own book, Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier ofEgg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It, published last week by Simon & Schuster, Sarah Elizabeth Richards provides a distillation of Hewlett’s ghastly communiqué:
"Your fertility fades much sooner than you think; your eggs deteriorate dramatically after thirty-five and are pretty much fossils by your early forties. So listen up, all you clueless careerists! You’ve got to make having a family a priority. You’d better think twice about all your indulgent plans for advanced degrees, foreign postings, and after-work cocktails. Otherwise you’re going to break your heart and the bank pursuing futile in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments in an attempt to “snatch a child from the jaws of menopause.” That’s not to mention the increased risk of having a baby with Down syndrome if you manage to get pregnant."
Way harsh. While for me, certain that I wanted to have children—and already married to the man I wanted them with—this was alarming, but I knew that compared to my single girl friends (of which I had many), my situation was much less distressing.
"Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life."
Sarah Elizabeth Richards was also stunned by Hewlett’s thesis but, as Richards recounts in Motherhood Rescheduled, her solution wasn’t to rush out and get knocked up. Instead, Richards went with vitrification—otherwise known as egg freezing. In a Wall Street Journal article about the book and her experience, Richards writes:
“Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life. It soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn't want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn't sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.”
Reading this, I couldn’t stop thinking about a few of my friends who are now in their mid-30s and freaking out with every day that goes by that they are not any closer to being in a relationship and starting a family. They seem almost paralyzed by fear—and when they do make moves to get things going, they do so in an urgent, frenzied way that only sabotages their efforts. It’s painful, confusing, and completely unfair that they are terrorized by this closing fertility window. I wish I had an extra $9,000 for each of them to do a round of egg freezing, just to take the pressure off. For many women, turning 35 without a baby somewhere on board seriously messes with their minds. At least with a few eggs stowed away, the anxiety would wane. Perhaps they’d never use them, deciding, after all, that they don’t want children. Or, they find love and conceive naturally—but the option would be absolutely freeing.
By the time I was 34, I had two daughters (and a stunted career). I love my girls beyond entirety, but I do sometimes wonder if I’d be closer to the top of my industry if I’d waited a few more years to breed.
Critics warn that egg freezing will make women complacent and cause them to dawdle when, clearly, biology had other intentions for their bodies. Richards disagrees: “Far from encouraging women to wait, I found that egg freezing made it easier for women to relax and find a partner.”
I know. I know. A First World problem. And $9,000 for a little breathing room is prohibitively expensive to all but those who live very comfortably in the First World.