In recent months the media has been overflowing with features about the social freezing of a woman’s egg cells, a procedure which is supposed to enable a woman to carry and birth her own biological children during or after menopause. The debate in this context is predominantly about ethics, chromosome mutations and gender equality, as a lot of people seem to consider this option essential in the process of equalising men and women in their freedom of creating their personal life plan, regardless of biological clocks.
My burning question in this matter has nothing to do with ethical difficulties parents may be facing, or whether a woman beyond her fifties is still fit to be a new mother. Why is it that so many women nowadays don’t want to have kids until it’s (almost) too late? I, for instance, am 26. I have spent seven years studying in higher education and have correspondingly high expectations for my career. I consider myself a driven, fun-loving and optimistic woman in the years just before my best years. I am also a single parent, my daughter just turned two.
Although I have done things in my life that may have led to one thing or another, I am conservative enough to believe that being raised by two parents that are happily together is what every child ideally should have. Which brings me to the ‘social’ in social freezing: I understand that women may choose to postpone getting pregnant for certain social reasons. Why get pregnant before you have the perfect partner? Why not use the advantages of social freezing and boost your chances of raising your children in the best possible context? I get it, I really do. In theory.
My personal concern here is my conviction that many women nowadays subconsciously prioritise social reasoning instead of following their personal instincts. I have arrived at this conviction after years of secretly discussing the baby-topic with a varied group of female friends. Most of them are educated, independent and attractive; all of them are now in their late 20s or early 30s and all of them are child free. I am saying ‘secretly’ because that is precisely what happens. Two women get together on a rainy Tuesday night, they share a bottle of wine and just when they are about to run out of things to discuss one of them may lean over and whisper “I had a dream last night. About babies.”
Here’s the thing: women still do want babies and before they are ticking the ’39 and over’ box. However, saying this out loud whilst you are in your twenties has somehow become an impossible thing. Eyebrows and polite smiles will tell you that you are deluded, now that you are finally on the verge of breaking into the job market. It is an inconvenient truth that wanting babies is increasingly seen as a sign of weakness. If you’re a woman, that is.
A lot of people today seem to confuse a young woman’s wish to procreate with her giving up her ‘personal goals’. A personal goal can be anything. Finishing uni, getting that job, travelling to India, losing 30 pounds. A baby is, for women under 30, no longer accepted as a personal goal. Instead, it’s considered some form of female surrender, or something that happens to the troubled and underprivileged. Or both.
When I met my personal adviser in my third year to discuss my (unplanned) pregnancy she told me, after I had laid out my masterplan of how to juggle coursework and breastfeeding: “I thought I was going to meet a highly depressed person today. I must say, I can clearly see you are – fine!” Whilst she tried to support me wherever she could, it was evident that she thought my life was over.
Moments like these provide enough ground to assume that it is the social stigma that is attached to early motherhood that is making procedures like social freezing more and more popular. The discussion got darker since NBC reported in late 2014 that Apple and Facebook are supporting their female employees financially if they wish to freeze their egg cells for later. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against it. I just wonder how many of these women – women who must have an immense desire to have children by the time they freeze their eggs already – would refrain from this procedure and have their kids now if society would not make them feel like people with no ambition.
Most of my friends who all want kids but cannot tell anyone have this problem because they fear being called unprogressive from a feminist point of view. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a feminist, but to defer having kids until after your career in order to be called emancipated? Sounds like the opposite of emancipation to me.