The recent news that aging rock star Mick Jagger just fathered his eighth child despite being a great-grandfather is just the latest reminder of the stark differences between male and female reproductive biology. Most notable is the age of the mother to Jagger’s latest offspring: ballerina Melanie Hamrick is 29. Jagger is one step behind actor Mel Gibson, who is expecting his ninth child with his similarly young girlfriend, just 24.
The age-old reality that women are most fertile in their 20s and early 30s, while men can procreate into their waning years hasn’t stopped the fertility industry from ballooning into a multi-billion dollar enterprise intent on stomping out the female biological clock. Recently, a sleek Forbes article splashed through my news feed about the latest front in fighting this reality. The headline read: “Meet Prelude Fertility, The $200 Million Startup That Wants To Stop The Biological Clock.”
Prelude is a company that specializes in egg harvesting and freezing for young women, something perfectly befitting an Aldous Huxley novel. The company, according to the article, intends to “turn the fertility industry on its head” and “usher in a world where [women’s] decisions about family and career aren’t ruled by their biological clocks.” It continues:
Rather than cater primarily to women nearing the end of their childbearing years, who often find it harder to conceive, Prelude will target women in their late 20s to mid-30s, when it’s easier to harvest eggs and when those eggs are more likely to lead to healthy babies.
But is egg harvesting, or the in vitro fertilization required when the woman is ready for a baby made from a previously frozen egg, ever really easy? A sampling of recent articles in mainstream women’s media outlets cast a harsh light on the egg harvesting process, even for young, healthy women. “It Happened To Me: I Donated My Eggs and the Process Almost Killed Me,” read one headline in xojane.com. Marie Claire recently ran a piece entitled, “Donating My Eggs Almost Ruined My Life,” and The Guardian ran one with the header, “I Had My Eggs Frozen. I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me How Difficult it Was.”
Mainstream outlets are full of regret stories from women who have endured the egg-harvesting process, which involves pumping women with risky levels of hormones that bring countless nefarious side effects, followed by the painful and invasive procedure itself. Wind and repeat if you use IVF to get pregnant with the frozen fertilized eggs down the road. And yet industries devoted to these procedures are booming, so much so that corporate giants, like Facebook and Apple, are tapping into them as a means to retain more women.
Egg harvesting is just another way our society tries to manipulate the female body to function like a man’s.
Even the U.S. Military is getting on board the egg-freezing train, announcing earlier this year that the procedure would soon be covered as a benefit, according to The New York Times, “to encourage women to stay in the military during their 20s and 30s, a time when many leave after giving birth.”
Egg harvesting is billed as progress for women, or to quote Forbes, “an insurance policy that gives women more control over their childbearing choices,” and yet women give it poor marks from their own personal experience. That shouldn’t surprise us, as egg harvesting is premised on battling nature, but in particular against woman herself. Underpinning the notion that “stopping” the female biological clock is good is the assumption that the female body’s reproductive timeline is the wrong one, while the male reproductive timeline the right one. Egg harvesting is just another way our society tries to manipulate the female body to function like a man’s.
While I don’t deny the real impulse that many women have to put off childbearing until the time feels right, in the long run, women are better served by ideas, policies, and technologies that help them achieve their goals without having to fight against their own selves and without feeling pushed to make their bodies more like men’s. At a minimum, women are owed the full picture about egg harvesting and freezing if these procedures are to be sold as a fabulous way to “have it all.” With honest information about what egg harvesting entails, something tells me it’s a procedure most women will determine they aren’t interested in having anything to do with.