Skip to main content

Women, consider freezing your eggs

By Marcia C. Inhorn, Special to CNN
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Tue April 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marcia Inhorn: Egg freezing allows women to postpone having children
  • Inhorn: For ambitious women, career and family tend to collide when they're in their 30s
  • She says egg freezing is not an ideal reproductive technology, it's also costly
  • Inhorn: But it is a viable choice that allows women to rewind their biological clock

Editor's note: Marcia C. Inhorn is the William K. Lanman Jr. professor of anthropology and international affairs at Yale University. She is a Public Voices fellow at the Op-Ed Project.

(CNN) -- I wish I'd had the option of egg freezing.

Egg freezing is the newest reproductive technology: a recently perfected form of flash-freezing that allows human eggs to be successfully stored in egg banks. Only commercially available in American IVF clinics since October 2012, when the "experimental" label was lifted, egg freezing is being heralded as a "revolution in the way women age," a "reproductive backstop," a "fertility insurance policy," an "egg savings account" and in particular, a way for ambitious career women to postpone motherhood until they are ready.

With egg freezing, women can use their own banked eggs later in life to effectively rewind their biological clock, becoming mothers in their 40s, 50s and beyond. It's a technological game changer that just might allow women to defy the notion that they can't have it all.

Marcia C. Inhorn
Marcia C. Inhorn

Trying to balance career and family is difficult for many professional women. I am one of those educated career-driven women who completed my Ph.D., found a good husband and landed my first tenure-track job at a major public university by 35.

But as my husband sometimes reminds me, I took only a single day of vacation during my first year on the job. I worked relentlessly to prepare lectures for four courses, to convert my dissertation into the mandatory book manuscript for tenure, and to advise the throngs of students coming to my office hours.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



At the same time, I wanted to have children. I had already waited for two years after marriage before going off oral contraception. I realized that the time was not exactly right to have children. But, at age 35, I felt that my chances to have children were rapidly slipping away. Given that my own research focused on infertility and IVF, I knew a woman's fertility declines rapidly at age 35 and becomes negligible by age 40.

Those years between age 35 and 40 were difficult ones for me. My dual desires to establish myself in my career and to become a mother were literally colliding.

In the midst of my demanding job as a tenure-track professor, I became pregnant naturally, but then had to take medical leave for a rare pregnancy complication, which ended in the stillbirth of twin daughters. My next pregnancy ended in miscarriage. At age 37, I finally delivered my first living child, a son named Carl. At age 39, still hoping to have a second child, I was warned by an Egyptian IVF colleague to "yallah"-- get going -- before it was too late. Against the odds, I had my second child a year later, a daughter, Justine, without IVF assistance.

My children, who are teenagers now, are the truest joy of my life. But I know I am one of the lucky women. Many of my female colleagues who wanted children were not able to have them. Data show that this "fertility penalty" for highly educated, professional women is real.

In America, 43% of corporate professional women between the ages of 33 and 46 are childless. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, which has the highest European age at first birth (at nearly 30), almost a third of women with college degrees remained childless at the end of their childbearing years, according to one study.

To be sure, egg freezing is not an ideal choice. It involves half an IVF cycle, is costly (as much as $18,000 in the United States), and should ideally be undertaken when a woman is in her 20s or early 30s, before her eggs have begun to age significantly. The good news is that frozen eggs have a high survival rate, and no increased risk of genetic defects among frozen-egg offspring have been reported thus far.

However, feminists like me worry about the potential backlash that may accompany the use of this technology. For example, employers may come to expect women to postpone childbearing through egg freezing. Women may be pushed into a burdensome and costly medical procedure that cannot provide guaranteed future fertility outcomes. Also, an increased age difference between mothers and their children may lead to poorer, less energetic parenting, as well as an increased likelihood that children will lose their mothers early on.

Moreover, promoting egg freezing as a quick-fix technological solution does not solve the unfavorable employment policies that cause women to lean out of their careers.

There are no easy answers to these issues, which so many career women face. Nonetheless, the recent availability of egg freezing does provide one more viable option for talented women who want to become future leaders and future moms.

My female graduate students often ask me for advice on how to become a successful professor, while also having kids. I usually tell them to look for a supportive partner who has a nontraditional, flexible career path. But now I am going to add: Consider freezing your eggs as you approach your mid-30s, so you can choose when to become a mother.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marcia C. Inhorn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT