False facts and half truths can make us unreasonably fearful. They make us suspicious and guilty. And women are specially prone to guilt.
Talking to a friend in her late 30s recently, I learnt about the pressure on 20 and 30-somethings to consider freezing their eggs. And then later that week I heard a radio program on the same issue. The guilt comes in because women hear the body clock ticking and egg freezing is being promoted as a simple, practical way to prolong the chance of having children. Inquiries about egg freezing at private fertility clinics in the UK surged by more than 400% between 2014 and 2015, mostly from women under 35.
Apparently, Apple and Facebook now offer to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as part of their benefits package. Perhaps their staff welcome such a benefit (maybe lobbied for it) but it also sounds like a corporate ploy to encourage young women (and men) to work hard and not think about taking time off for family.
There are three big provisos that make egg-freezing a rather false solution for singles. Number 1, nobody really knows whether egg freezing works. The ideal is that once a woman meets her man, age will be no barrier to pregnancy. The eggs are unfrozen and the woman goes through IVF to create a much wanted baby. But the older a woman is, the less likely it is that any IVF procedure will be successful. According to the NHS in the UK, around one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems. This rises to two-thirds when the woman is over 40. Egg freezing is not an answer to issues surrounding pregnancy as we get older.
Even though we might feel entitled to it all, unfortunately, we cannot cheat our bodies and my friend is one of many single women who should not be made to feel guilt about being single. If parenthood happens, it will be wonderful but we should not be pressured into a procedure that is dubious at best, and which cannot guarantee peace of mind.
That brings us to proviso number 2. Women have to fork out big money for this procedure. It costs around £5000 to freeze eggs for 5 years and of course the companies that promote it downplay any doubts about the success rate of IVF years down the line.
Which brings me to proviso 3. We are simplifying and ‘medicalising’ much bigger social and ethical issues around being single, finding a life-long partner and delayed parenthood. There are big questions here that should involve discussion amongst men and women.
We should be discussing the changing shape of relationships in church rather than simply bemoaning the lack of eligible males. We should ask honestly, “Is any age too old to become a parent?” Sarah in the Bible (wife of Abraham) may have been 91 when she had Isaac but do we really think that having a baby when we are 50 or 60 is a good idea. We should also talk about women and men in the workforce, our careers and whether we need to actively encourage a more balanced vision of work and family.
The problem in discussing these big issues honestly, is that false fears and prejudices always end up screaming at women like a tabloid headline – blaming us, whatever happens – a woman is branded selfish if she delays having children and selfish if she does not want children and selfish if she has them too young. We can’t win.
We should not contribute to the constant guilt trips. Why don’t we make men feel guilty for their decision to delay commitment and parenthood?
To my female friends who are single and long for a partner and babies, I have to cling to the hope that God sees our desires and wants us to feel fulfilled. We trust that God will give us good things, just as he did for Hannah and Ruth.
Parenthood is wonderful (most of the time). But that does not mean a single life is second-best. Are women only hanging around in some metaphorical waiting room till they have babies?
Single women (and men) are not failing in some way. It seems to me that apart from a small number of women who will benefit from egg-freezing – maybe they face major surgery or chemotherapy – it is mostly a marketing ‘false fact’ designed to play on women’s guilt.