It's not a perk when big employers offer egg-freezing – it's a bogus bribe

Suzanne Moore
Big chill … companies are now offering subsidised egg-freezing for ‘career-driven millennials’. Photograph: Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

Although you may want one, you do not need a relationship with a man to have a baby. You need money and time. You can buy sperm; sometimes it even comes for free. These are the new facts of life. Or, rather, the alternative facts that we are sold in the name of that moronic catch-all “empowerment”. You can empower yourself as a woman by pretending that you can make any choice you like regarding fertility, when you like. Just like men do. But to think such female autonomy is now the reality is fundamentally disempowering, because it is not true.

Currently, British companies are talking to IVF clinics about offering “egg-freezing” as a perk for female employees. Care Fertility, the UK’s largest private chain of clinics, says this can benefit women in their 20s and 30s, allowing them to focus on their careers. Both Facebook and Apple have offered subsidised freezing for some staff, up to a cost of £16,000. They say it takes women 10 years of graft before they get to management positions and can take time out. They also use the language of empowerment and choice, and talk about “career-driven millennials”. To be frank, I do not know what this even means; most young women I know want jobs so that they can pay their rent. I tend to think that a perk of a job is more nicking a Biro than having your fertility considered for you, but then I am old-fashioned. For egg-freezing is an insurance policy that promises more that it can deliver. The success rate for the “take-home” baby, as the IVF clinics call it, is extremely low.

It is easy to see why putting your fertility on ice appeals. Not sure if you want kids? Your prince not yet materialised? If you are in your 30s, you can read about your biological decline every day. At the same time, you can gawp at Hollywood types who magically have twins at 51.

Why not spend thousands of pounds on an invasive treatment that means your eggs can live for ever, ready to be unthawed when the time is right? Why not take control? Take the drugs that can take you into menopause, the hormone injections, a needle in the ovary. A round of this will set you back about £3,000, and you will need a few. Then pay for the maintenance of egg storage. Hopefully more than 20 eggs will be harvested, but endocrinologists describe this as a “leaky” process, with some eggs being lost at each stage. The younger you do it, the better – ideally in your early 20s. But there is a surge of women undergoing the process in their late 30s. What are their chances? Well, better than they were in 2012 when, in this country, about 18,000 eggs had been stored and 580 embryos transferred, resulting in just 20 live births. Vitrification – in which the eggs are frozen much faster – may improve success rates. Even so, figures vary because this is a new process. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Hefa) say it is too early to judge its success. They do know that a take-home baby is more likely from the implantation of an embryo than an egg, but this is not the situation of most women who go for “social freezing”. Some European clinics are citing higher figures. Australian medics say that the chance of a baby from one egg is 5%. So, this is no guarantee of anything other than hope.

But the main issue with “social freezing” is the social part. Science can step in, but the reason women want to do this is because of the way the workplace is organised. And because many men in their 30s do not want babies with women in their 30s. As Jessa Crispin noted wryly in her book Why I Am Not a Feminist, money can buy you out of patriarchy, up to a point. It cannot buy you totally out of biology. We do not own the means of production.

That we were to own the means of reproduction was once part of radical feminist thought. Shulamith Firestone said pregnancy was “barbaric”, and we would one day be able to grow babies elsewhere. One day we might: artificial wombs are being developed. For now, we are at the behest of private medicine, and many have succumbed to “choice feminism”, which is so dependent on a middle-class idea of an interesting career, a salary that can cover childcare and a man who is good at sex, friendship and fatherhood. Well, how has that worked out? Many women just do not have these choices.

Being child-free happens for social reasons, not simply because of fertility issues. The structure of the workplace is still not meeting the needs of women, and the culture is not producing men who meet the desires of generations of women who thought they could have it all. So we end up with huge corporations offering female employees the possibility of reproduction at a later date in return for the “best” years of their lives. This hardly strikes me as a perk. It is a bribe. Worse, one that is unlikely to be paid.

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