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Daum: What's behind Facebook's 'egg-freezing'

Faced with stiff competition for skilled engineers, Facebook

Faced with stiff competition for skilled engineers, Facebook and Apple have upped the ante to attract top talent. This is Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2012. Photo Credit: AP / Paul Sakuma

Here are three things you can always count on: death, taxes and that anything related to motherhood or women's reproductive choices will stir up enough cultural debate to make us forget about death and taxes for a news cycle or two.

And so it's gone with the Great Egg-Freezing Debate, prompted by Apple's announcement that it would cover the cost for female employees (as well as the female partners of employees) to have their eggs preserved.

On one side are the cheerleaders who see this development as an extension of reproductive freedom for women. On the other side are the alarmists who see it as subtle corporate control at best and, at worst, the first step along a dangerous and dystopian reproductive path.

Those in the middle have made the point that if companies are so worried about workers leaving their jobs or reducing their hours after they have children, maybe they should direct more resources toward things like on-site day care.

For what it's worth, Facebook is famous for having some of the most family-friendly benefits in Silicon Valley. It doesn't have day care, but like a lot of tech companies, it has enviable perks for employees who add children to their families. In fact, the egg-freezing benefit was rolled out as part of a larger plan that included things like surrogacy costs and legal fees for single men and LGBT employees seeking to build families through nontraditional means.

Not that egg freezing is poised to cause a population boom. Recent data show that for a woman who freezes her eggs at age 25, the chances of a successful pregnancy in three cycles of in vitro fertilization are 31 percent. And the older the woman at the time of freezing, the lower the chance of success. If you freeze your eggs when you're 40, there's a less than 15 percent chance the process will result in a live birth. The average age at which women freeze eggs today is 37.

Of course, the idea is that women in their 20s and 30s will regard egg freezing as yet another option on the menu of reproductive choices and freeze at the optimum time. One problem with this option, however, is that it's expensive -- $5,000 to $15,000.

And even if your boss is paying, do we really want to go there? Isn't the danger that 25-year-olds will feel pressured to go to extreme lengths to "take control" of something that may, in the end, remain uncontrollable? Meanwhile, those who don't go to those lengths risk being blamed later for passing up a golden opportunity.

Still, within all those unknowns, the technology's mere existence may have real value. It invites women to check in with themselves early and often and think about what they really want when it comes to kids.

That process might be extraordinarily useful, even revelatory. A woman who finds herself giving serious thought to freezing her eggs at 25 can take it as a pretty good sign that she wants a family someday, and that self-knowledge might be helpful going forward. The woman who has no interest at 30 or 35 might do well to ask herself whether she wants to be a mother at all.

 

Then again, the whole thing might not be about women's needs or corporate greed. It could be a scheme to keep young men safe from the tethers of commitment and family altogether. Said one commenter: "Something about this policy feels like Silicon Valley men plotting to get the women off their backs about marriage, so they can go back to their video games."

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.

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