Monetizing Motherhood

cryopreservation - egg freezing - has boomed over the last decade

As long as we’re on the subject of women…

Some countries have social policies that make it less stressful to combine motherhood and career. Not the good old US of A.

In the absence of benefits like widespread maternity leave and accessible and affordable day care, American women who want to combine careers and motherhood are making “interesting” choices.

About two dozen women ate cheese and canapés in a swanky Midtown Manhattan building in early December. It could have been mistaken for a networking event if it weren’t for the women’s singular focus – egg freezing.

Formally called “oocyte cryopreservation”, egg freezing has boomed over the last decade. Since 2009, there has been an 11-fold increase in the number of women who choose to “bank” their eggs. During that time, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine officially removed its “experimental” designation.

“It’s a conversation more women need to talk about, just like miscarriages and periods,” said Florence Ng, a 35-year-old real estate broker in New York City who froze her eggs this year. “These are really important and relevant today.”

Now, Wall Street is taking notice of the fertility industry. Analysts see it as one “ripe for a merger and acquisition cycle”, according to one group.

As the article notes, a new breed of fertility clinic is selling a promise: that capitalism and technology can buy women time. And this being the good old US of A, where government provides very little in the way of a social infrastructure, “entrepreneurs” see dollar signs in career women’s dilemma.

“The US Fertility Clinic market has come of age and is ripe for a merger and acquisition cycle,” wrote Capstone Partners, an investment banking firm, in early 2017.

“The wave is already beginning,” the firm wrote, ticking off a raft of private equity and venture capital firms that recently purchased clinics: TA Associates, MTS Health Partners, Lee Equity Partners, TPG Biotech, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Extend Fertility is partially owned by a hedge fund called North Peak Capital LLC.

“The trend for couples to marry later in life and to delay starting a family in pursuit of professional careers and financial security is also boosting demand for fertility services and accelerating industry growth,” wrote Capstone.

Men, of course, can make new sperm throughout their lives; we women are born with all of our eggs. If we use them to make babies in our 20s, most of those eggs will be good. But as we age, we’ll not only have fewer eggs, but a higher proportion them will be abnormal. By our mid-40s, most fertility doctors believe it will require donor eggs to get pregnant.

Egg freezing, once reserved for cancer patients, is increasingly sold as the solution to this problem…

Women are encouraged to freeze their eggs as young as possible – in their 20s preferably – to ensure the largest number are viable.

“Freeze your eggs!” said one Extend Fertility ad on Instagram. “Take control of your biological future – freeze your eggs and freeze time”. Extend pitches testimonials from women who have already frozen their eggs as “masters of time”.

Is this really the way we want Americans to address the issue of women in the workforce? Do we really want to make motherhood a consumer item, convenient only for those who can afford the blessings of technology? What about women who have “jobs” rather than careers, and cannot afford pricey egg freezing? What about women who prefer to have children while they are relatively young, rather than waiting until they are mistaken for their child’s grandmother–if they can conceive at all?

Other countries provide well-baby clinics, maternity supports, child care and other social supports that allow women to participate in the economy while providing for their children.

What does the lack of support for working mothers say about the value Americans place on women and children?

 

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on January 23, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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