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The real reason women freeze their eggs | Eva Wiseman

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Its often assumed women freeze their eggs to stop the ticking of their fertility clocks so they can crack on with their careers. The truth is rather different, says Eva Wiseman

Theres a story that weve been told about why women freeze their eggs, which begins with ambition for a career and ends with them attempting to have it all, and it has always seemed a bit suss to me. Ive spoken to a lot of women considering babies, both when researching egg freezing, and in my real life as a woman, considering babies, and never have career ambitions been their reason for postponing a family.

Which is not to say it doesnt happen. I have a glossy image in my head of a professional woman in a nice silk shirt striding into a fertility clinic with a pile of binders and a four-year plan. But largely, no. New research confirms that women are not, as a rule, freezing their eggs for career reasons, but instead because they dont have a partner. Women see egg freezing as a technological concession to the man deficit, using it to buy time while they look for a suitable father. And the problem with this problem, is that its much harder to talk about.

Because where does it start? Here you have the women in their 30s, beautiful, confident, independent and hilarious, spending their flat deposit on a single hope, because there is nobody there at night to have a grown-up conversation with about fertility. And here you have the men who learned at school to lose interest in a girl if she texts back too quickly. The thread between the two seems baked in amber, the power imbalance in heterosexual relationships almost integral now to the way we date.

The women I met who have had their eggs frozen spoke noisily and despairingly about the process, becoming very quiet when discussing either a noncommittal boyfriend or their search for a partner. And its not just the egg freezers. Come 35, its common for women to knock a year or two off their age on dating apps, having seen interest plummet as men assume theyll be wanting kids within the year. They feel they have to step carefully, not appear desperate to settle down. But it comes naturally to many, because this is a game weve been learning since our first French kiss, the importance of letting him feel hes in control.

You see it played out everywhere, from Jane Austen to Love Island, where women must withhold something, whether sex or honesty, in order to drive the relationship forward. It goes unsaid, often, the way women must make sure the guy doesnt feel intimidated by her success, say, or her stability. The way they must tone it down, giggle rather than laugh, laugh rather than joke. Of course, all women arent after marriage and kids, but surely most want intimacy and honesty, whether thats as basic as simply replying to a WhatsApp message, or feeling able to discuss whether they want a family without her boyfriend feeling trapped.

Its not the mans fault were all complicit, everybody is reading from the same rule book, where men propose and women play games, but before that everyones casual, easy, looking for something, someone, sometime, but probably not you, not now, anyway. And, twist! The people profiting from this ancient can-can are fertility clinics, where women are turning themselves into patients on credit and a prayer. If they just wanted a baby, they could buy donor sperm, but these are women who want to wait for a partner, someone who will go all in and plan for a future.

While work undoubtedly impacts womens family lives, with its structures seemingly imposed by a minibreaking playboy, the issue that drives the success of the egg freezing industry has never been employers attitudes to motherhood, but instead, mens.

Even if its something that only strikes us as it becomes a reality, women know there is a time limit on our fertility. But its as if men are encouraged to ignore this icky truth, to look away as if from something obscene. So it seems inevitable, for relationships built among the smoke and mirrors of our flawed dating system, where caution must be exercised at every step to avoid saying something you really mean, that men and women will get to mid-life and be unable to commit. And then that it will be the women of my age left, Googling clinics, looking for a way to freeze time.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/16/the-real-reason-women-freeze-their-eggs-fertility-career-family

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