Recently, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the experimental label from human egg freezing techniques. The Practice Committee of ASRM issued an October 22, 2012 report that egg freezing produces pregnancy rates “comparable to IVF [in-vitro fertilization] cycles using fresh eggs” and resulting in the birth of a healthy baby.
Marcia C. Inhorn, a Yale professor of anthropology and international affairs, wrote an opinion piece for cnn.com explaining the wonders of this new fertility technique.
The prospective mother’s eggs are flash frozen and stored in an egg bank, which paves the way for “ambitious” career women to put off motherhood until they are good and ready. This means that women can stop worrying about their biological clocks, become mothers in their 40s and 50s, and voila! have it all.
It’s true that many professional women put off having children in order to build their careers. Some wake up one day and realize that their fertility is dwindling. But even if it’s possible to become a birth parent in middle or late middle age, is that necessarily a good thing?
Dr. Inhorn lightly touches on the negatives of being an older parent: The age gap between mothers and their children may lead to “poorer, less energetic parenting;” an increased possibility that young children may lose their mothers early on through death; and on the work front, a culture could develop wherein some employers expect professional women to postpone becoming parents.
The issue of older parents being far removed from their children’s social milieu can be a real problem. Two comments posted in response to Inhorn’s piece tell the tale:
“I can attest that having parents in their 50s while I was a teenager was not the most fun. This article lacks any insight into what the effects on children of this sort of thing are.” While it is not at all uncommon for people to become parents in their 30s, thereby having teenagers in their 50s, this commenter had problems.
But it could get worse. “My parents were 47 and 50 when they had me,” says another commenter. “You can’t parent at that age; no energy and too socially removed from the child’s generation.”
The increased probability of older parents’ deaths before their offspring graduate from high school or college, or marry, is an issue as well. While older parents have the advantages of mental stability, financial security, and inner resources that make them more relaxed parents, they also have concerns related to illness and death. Will they live to see their child become an adult? Will elderly parents become a burden to their offspring just as the kid steps into adulthood?
Given these concerns, why do youngish professional women want to freeze their eggs to be fertilized at a later date? Simply to have the option of bearing children in middle age and not give up their professional life to do it, of course.
“My female graduate students often ask me for advice on how to become a successful professor, while also having kids,” Inhorn wrote in her CNN opinion piece. She usually recommends that they find a supportive partner. But she’s added one more piece of questionable wisdom. “Consider freezing your eggs as you approach your mid-30s, so you can choose when to become a mother.”
Never mind the selfish motivation to be a parent at any age, or the seven billion-plus who already over-inhabit the planet, or the older-parent effect on offspring. Never mind that there already are Enough of Us. Just keep opting to have it all.
For related issues, we encourage the reader to check out our two-part column, “As Americans Age … “