Last week, I attended an event whose proverbial goody bag was an egg discount. No, not the chocolate kind Cadbury makes or the ones you scramble. Rather, I was gifted with a discount to help me afford insuring my fertility.
A mixture of talks, open Q and A and mingling, the event was hosted by Dreamers//Doers, an online community of women with a strong member base in NYC. The group boasts founders of venture-backed companies, women who fill senior roles at start-ups, and many change-makers/influencers (nearly half of the 2014 Forbes 30u30 women are represented). If rooms filled with powerful people tend to buzz in a certain way, the air at Dreamers//Doers is electric. Its founders Gesche Haas and Dawn Quaker have an instinct for curating evenings high-powered, busy New Yorkers (men attend as well) carve out time in their schedules to attend.
Billed as “Big Dreams + Motherhood,” the night included talks from Neway Fertility’s Dr. Janelle Luk, three women who’d had their eggs frozen, and several high-profile mothers.
Amanda Freeman, a Harvard Business School grad, was hilariously frank in recounting how a “Women Building Business” class at her alma mater made her “not want to be one of those CEO types who always broke down in tears when asked about work-life balance.” She nonetheless went on to become a trend forecaster, start a daily e-mail newsletter and eventually found SLT, the workout much beloved by the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Sofia Vergara. Freeman had a baby completely on her own just ten days prior to the Dreamers//Doers event, her first night out since giving birth. “It was definitely hard,” she explained of her several Chemical Pregnancy attempts, “but it is worth it.” Another speaker added that having children helped them establish work/life balance and restructure values; she also hired the help of a personal assistant to help with home matters. As highly successful bosses, these women work hard to afford help with both having and conceiving children.
The talk then turned to the topic of egg freezing. The women who spoke had no desire to leave their careers, and a recurring theme through the talk was that freezing eggs was an “insurance policy” of sorts. As The Today Show reported, companies such as Apple, Facebook and Yahoo are offering egg freezing benefits to their employees. It makes sense; these companies value their female employees and know that these benefits can keep them from losing valuable workers in the the long run. The hilarious and hyper-energetic Dr. Luk launched educated us from her medical perspective, stressing there is no such thing as thinking of this too young.
“Behold the simple power of education,” I thought as I excited, fears of potential motherhood having been assuaged. In my mid-20s, I’m completely uncertain if having children is “for” me, and not just because I’m focused on my career and can’t wrap my head around the idea of such precious responsibility. Vanessa Liu, COO of Trigger Media, echoes this sentiment when asked what advice she’d give her 25 year old self regarding family planning, explaining, “I didn't spend much time or energy thinking about family planning then because I was ultra focused on my career.”
Dr. Luk also noted the swift advances in the technology, noting “today’s eggs are better than those from even five years ago.” Aside from jokes about donating my eggs for money, I'd never seriously considered the procedure, which costs about $10,000, on average. That being said, my current disinterest in children is subject to change, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. As for managing the expense, Dr. Luk offered some hopeful advice to my own entrepreneurial question: "Can I finance my own egg freezing with egg donation." The answer: it’s a possibility. The future is here, ladies. You’re entitled to unashamed dreams, both as mothers and professionals.
I continued the conversation surrounding egg freezing with Monarq co-founder Irene Ryabaya. In addition to running a company, Ryabaya is passionate about reproductive education and empowering women. Read below for more on her own experiences with egg freezing, as well as insight into how taking control of fertility ultimately benefits your career.
Having had your eggs frozen, do you feel less pressure to "figure out" finding a partner to have children with?
I actually have a partner - I pointed him out as he was the only man sitting in the front row in the audience - and we have been together for 11 years. As I mentioned during the talk, I was not interested in having children (and told all my previous partners as much) until our relationship grew more serious. Now we are considering having kids but are still not sure it's for us or when we would have them.
That being said, not having to worry about fertility takes a tremendous amount of pressure off. We can take the time we need to make the decision of whether children are something that's important to us without having to be pressured into the wrong decision by the biological limitations of my body.
Would you say this allows you to better focus on your career?
Very much so, especially as a woman entrepreneur. I started Monarq with my co-founder Diana Murakhovskaya a year ago and when we did our partnership agreement it felt like we were getting married. We talked openly about what our thoughts were about children and family (we are both in long term committed relationships).
Now that my eggs are frozen I know that even if I decide I want children, I can still dedicate as much time as is needed to build Monarq into the best women-only friendship platform in the world and then focus on kids when the company and my support network is in the right place.
How do partners typically react when told you've taken this measure? Is that even a concern for you?
What men think of the decisions I have made about my body has never been a concern for me. Most of my former partners ignored me when I told them I don't want children and it lead to break-ups. He didn't, and that is a huge part of why we are still together all these years later and why he was the first person I told about vitrification after I read about it. The freezing process was a difficult for me and he was with me every step of the way.
My advice to all the women I speak to is be honest with your partners rather than being concerned about their reactions. This will lead you to the partners who will have the right reactions for you.
What advice would you give to other young women interested in egg freezing?
Empower yourself with knowledge. Learn about female anatomy and understand your own body and where you personally lie on the fertility curve. Also, analyze your finances to understand what you can give up to freeze your eggs and what financing options you might need to make it happen.
Also, please talk about it. Infertility and freezing is becoming a more public conversation and you can always find someone like me or the other amazing panelists who are happy to share their story. The more open we are about our failures in this space, the quicker we can all get to the successes and end the heartbreaks.
Do you think sex education for girls should include information on alternative methods of reproduction? To me, at 26, it feels like I "should have known" about this much earlier.
Absolutely yes. And not just the girls. We tell everyone that I froze my eggs - I am a very vocal proponent of women taking charge of their own fertility. So I get the opportunity to answer lots and lots of questions about it from women of all walks of life. That has made it obvious to me how shockingly little we know about our own bodies. It's a kind of betrayal almost. Why do I learn more about Napoleon Bonaparte than I do about my own ovaries???
And it's not just the women. There has been many a dinner table where I had to explain to a friend's husband or boyfriend that her body has a schedule and that these kids he is talking about hypothetically need to fit into that schedule very soon. It is shocking how many men don't know this. Our education system needs to start teaching kids about this so that both men and women can be equal informed partners in fertility and family planning decisions.
At what age did it become a consideration for you?
I started researching fertility in high school. I got my period very late and needed to know why I was "so weird" and what made me different. When I found in that research that female fertility has an expiration date I started looking for ways to extend it because it seemed just so unfair. I would revive that search every few years until 2012 when vitrification breakthrough made my dream a reality.
This is a guest post by Kristina Headrick, . Follow her on Twitter @thexteens.
Image via Neway Fertility.
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