Illustration: Karolina Burdon
Illustration: Karolina Burdon

WOMBS ETC

Should I RSVP to the egg-freezing party?

Arwa Mahdawi is suddenly being urged to think about her fertility over cocktails. Does this mean she’s a grown-up?

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By Arwa Mahdawi on

"Egg Freezing Party in NYC", the Facebook ad announced. “Curious about egg freezing? Learn more over cocktails.” The ad linked to an Eventbrite page where you could RSVP for an evening of drinks, nibbles and presentations from fertility-clinic executives about the wonders of oocyte cryopreservation – or, in non-scientific lingo, the process of preserving your female baby-making machinery in lab-based limbo.

Curious about egg freezing? I hadn’t been before I saw that ad. The adverts you get served online are normally based on your browsing behaviour or your demographic information. In other words, they’re targeted at you based on what you’ve already demonstrated an interest in (like that pair of shoes you clicked on once, which then follows you around the internet for a week) or what you really ought to be demonstrating an interest in (like a baby). There was nothing in my online behaviour to suggest I was yearning to pop out some progeny. However, I was a woman in my early thirties so, obviously, what else could I be thinking about other than babies? It’s a biological fact that once a childless woman hits 30, 90 per cent of her brainpower is spent worrying about whether she’ll ever conceive. The other 10 per cent, of course, is spent thinking about what to wear to cocktail parties.

I can just imagine the marketing brief that led to that ad: “Let’s make egg freezing fun! While reminding urban females in their thirties that their eggs are expiring, as is their worth as a woman. But that’s nothing a few thousand dollars can’t fix!”

In the last few years, egg freezing has gone from being a niche medical procedure to a mainstream (albeit pricey thus privileged) practice. Around 2014, for example, the likes of Apple and Facebook started offering egg freezing benefits to employees. And, in America, where I live, having moved here from the UK, there’s been a growing trend of Egg Freezing Parties, like the one I got an ad for. These are normally held at swanky hotels and paid for by profit-driven clinics. While the efficacy of egg freezing is still far from clear, it’s started to become a rite of passage for the career woman who wants – and can afford – to have it all. A handful of my female friends have already had their eggs frozen; most of them have at least considered it.  

While the efficacy of egg freezing is still far from clear, it’s started to become a rite of passage for the career woman who wants – and can afford – to have it all

Women are supposed to have strong feelings about motherhood, basically from the moment they’re born. It’s just biology after all! Something must be slightly wrong with my biology, however, because I’ve never felt a strong maternal urge. It’s not that I’m averse to having kids; I’ve just always been indifferent. Being a mum might be nice one day, I’ve always thought. But it can wait. I love my life as it is and there’s nothing missing in it. Oh, but there is, that ad was telling me. If you miss the fertility boat, you’ll end up regretting it. Make the responsible, adult decision, and keep your options open.

In modern Western society, certain sorts of people get to remain kids far longer than other sorts of people; there’s a reason Peter Pan was a white boy. Black men in America, for example, are treated like culpable adults the moment they’re out of the womb, while white men get to eschew responsibility and fall back on the excuses of adolescence longer. When American athlete Ryan Lochte made up a story about being robbed during the Rio Olympics, the International Olympic Committee excused the 32-year-old’s behavior as just a “kid”… “hav[ing] fun.”   When Donald Trump Jr was embroiled in the Russian-collusion scandal earlier this year, his father described the 39-year-old man as “a good kid". 

In modern Western definitions of adulthood, men can stay desirable bachelors all their lives and are rarely lectured about their fertility. As a woman, however, the authenticity of your adulthood is often directly linked to the traditional milestones of marriage and motherhood. If you’re not someone’s wife or someone’s mother, then you’re just someone’s child. You’re not a real adult; there’s something missing.

Egg freezing is supposed be an empowering way to take the pressure off your biological clock. Ultimately, however, it’s yet another reminder that a woman’s worth is intrinsically linked to preordained social expectations. When we decide to shell out for egg freezing, we’re not just paying for the privilege of a little more time – we’re buying into a whole lot more.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t RSVP to that egg-freezing party (somehow, sipping wine over slides about hormone injections didn’t seem the most inviting of evening plans); nevertheless, the ad achieved exactly what it was supposed to achieve. It made me start to worry about my withering womb and wonder whether I should buy myself a few more years of fertility – you know, just in case. It made me feel rather grimly grown-up. I’ve always done my best to put my biological clock in silent mode, but that ad suddenly turned up the volume. After all, it doesn’t matter how young you feel, when Facebook ads start fertility shaming you, you know you’re an adult.

@ArwaM

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Illustration: Karolina Burdon
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Wombs etc
Health
Ageing
Adulting Actually

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