Recently, South China Morning Post published an article about Chinese women travelling overseas to freeze their eggs due to legal complications surrounding the procedure on the mainland. These women, often career-driven and in their 30s, have had little time to find a life partner, let alone think about starting a family. They feel pressured to have children eventually, but the struggle of deciding between career and family leaves many feeling like they have to choose one over the other. Egg-freezing, they feel, gives them the peace of mind to start a family when they believe they are ready, not forced into a decision imposed by a biological expiration date.
“I have been thinking about this for more than a year. For me taking some out now when their quality is good and preserving them for future use is necessary. It allows me to decide when to have a baby,” said Shanghai lingerie designer Le Le, who froze her eggs in Osaka last March.
Le Le is not alone; many Chinese women flock to other countries, such as Japan and the U.S., to preserve their eggs for future use. Perhaps the most famous case of Chinese women freezing their eggs belongs to actress Xu Jinglei, whose only regret was that she wished she had done it sooner.
Here in the U.S., many women feel similarly to their Chinese counterparts.
Although the number one cited reason by women for freezing their eggs was the lack of a partner, there are other potential pitfalls in life that would make egg-freezing ideal. Cancer, severe endometriosis, recurrent ovarian cysts, surgeries that would require the removal of the ovaries, and a history of early menopause in the family are all factors that could prevent conception, according to the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine. In the event a woman is ready to begin having children but has experienced any of the above conditions, her efforts may prove fruitless if attempted without prior egg preservation.
Asian-American women are in a unique position when it comes to fertility; as the most widely sought after demographic for egg donation, they are routinely encouraged to educate themselves on reproductive procedures. And with the majority of these women separated from Asia by only a generation or two, the cultures and values of their motherlands influence their opinions on career and family. A Japanese woman who donated her eggs to other families speaks highly of egg donation and freezing for this reason.
“It’s part of the Japanese culture to pursue your career first, find the husband, find the house, and then have kids,” said Laine (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy).
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to have kids right now,’ and [biologically], it’s difficult for Japanese women to reproduce later on, but that’s when they’re financially stable.”
Additionally, Asian-American women may feel more familial pressure than women of other racial groups; as their cultures are often collectivistic, as opposed to individualistic, the burden of being the primary caregiver in the family is likely to fall on women. While some women may not mind taking care of their children and even their parents, adding this intensive workload to their plate can be too much to bear. For many, choosing to prolong marriage may be preferable until they are settled in their career.
“Married women are like candles burning at both ends,” said Chen Fen-ling, a professor of social work at National Taipei University.
“We say that women work two jobs. They make money with a daytime job but, when they go back home, they take care of their children and parents-in-law. This pressure often makes women hesitate when making the decision about marriage.”
Perhaps there’s a stronger allure for egg-freezing for Asian-American women than women of other racial groups, especially when considering many enter tech and tech-related fields as their chosen career path. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, Asian-American women account for one fifth of the technical occupations held by women; simultaneously, 56% of all women leave tech at mid-level points (10 – 20 years) of their career for varying reasons. This talent drain is what prompted many companies, such as Google, FaceBook, and Apple, to offer paying for the procedure as part of their benefits package; in an effort to retain female employees, shouldering the cost of egg-freezing seems like a no-brainer to employers.
Intel, one such company offering to pay for egg-freezing, weighed in on their decision to extend this benefit to their female employees. “We made these changes to help our employees reach all of their goals, not just work goals, by reducing the significant financial burden of fertility treatment,” said Danielle Brown, Intel’s former vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Offering egg freezing is another way for us to give employees choices and flexibility in deciding when to start a family while pursuing their careers.”
For those considering egg-freezing, the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) recommends taking action sooner rather than later. “There is a natural decline in fertility many years prior to the onset of menopause despite a woman having regular ovulatory cycles,” they advise. “It is reported that there is a slight decline in fertility at the age of 27 and a substantial decrease after the age of 35.”
Le, now free to continue to pursue career interests over finding a potential mate, is happy with her decision to freeze her eggs. “I have not found my Mr Right. I don’t want to wait passively – I want to take a proactive approach [by freezing eggs],” she said. “I don’t have to force myself to marry someone I don’t love for the sake of having a baby.”
This post was sponsored by CCRM San Francisco and is recognized as one of the top fertility treatment centers in the nation, providing a wide spectrum of infertility treatments ranging from basic infertility care to advanced in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology. CCRM San Francisco, founded by William Schoolcraft, Dr. Sunny Jun, and Dr. Salli Tazuke, is now open in Menlo Park, CA. CCRM has been ranked “The #1 Fertility Center in the U.S.” by Parents.com. To learn more, visit CCRM San Francisco at www.ccrmivf/sanfrancisco. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.