Why the term "social egg freezing" sucks
What's a name?
Maybe quite a lot. The term "social egg freezing" does not smell as sweet as alternatives.
Can we ban it now?
"Planned" egg freezing
High five to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), who released an ethics committee statement clarifying the terminology healthcare professionals should use: "planned" egg freezing.
Prevention is better than cure
Let's get something clear: egg freezing is preventative medicine, not a lifestyle surgery, as it is frequently depicted. As such, it is a strong and positive action, certainly not one that should be belittled or implicitly criticized.
The World Health Organisation classifies infertility as a "disease". So just like a woman might opt to have breast tissue removed if there is a high likelihood it will become cancerous in the future (i.e. develop into a disease with time), women opt to freeze their eggs when there's a high likelihood they will become infertile (another disease) before they have started or completed their family.
The ASRM says the terms "social" and "elective" egg freezing are "trivializing and insufficiently respectful of the fact that the treatment is being undertaken to avert infertility that, if it arises, will in fact be a medical condition."
Calling a woman's decision to freeze her eggs "social" is like terming someone's breast surgery a "social mastectomy". It's elective. It's not essential. It's to try to prevent something unwanted that might happen to her body in the future.
As with all preventative surgery, there are pros and cons. Not only is it eye-waveringly expensive, but there are health risks and side effects attached to injecting yourself in the stomach with high doses of hormones for weeks. [Read about the process here].
The decision making process is anything but flippant.
"Social" makes it sound like something you do lightly for fun. It devalues the serious thought and decision making process that goes into it.
That's certainly a caricature of the "kind of woman" who freezes her eggs - that she spends her days taking a sledgehammer to the ceiling at work and is too busy acting like a man to find one. That's why she's running out of time, so goes this tired tale.
"Social" supposedly relates to the reasons this woman freezes her eggs - she's buying time until it's more socially convenient, until a baby fits in better with her career.
Sometimes egg freezing is described as women ‘‘delaying’’ or‘‘postponing’’ childbearing, which the ASRM criticises as implying affirmative choice or even blame that women have brought their lack of readiness to start a family upon themselves.
Even the alternative term to "social" egg freezing - "elective" egg freezing - carries that same negative aura.
Back in the world of real facts, Yale University research has found the vast majority of women freeze their eggs actually not because of career or ambition, but because they can't find a man who is willing to have one within their fertile years.
The group who are delaying childbearing most are, in fact, college educated men.
And thanks to pervasive social douchebaggery too complex for individual women to unpick alone, the expectation is that women "succeed" when they find a partner just as, if not more so, educated and accomplished as them. If those guys aren't biting...it's no surprise women of 35 or 37 years old regularly tell us they just don't come across any men anywhere near "ready".
The rate of first births to women has been rising since the 1970s and many factors contribute to this trend. Career considerations are valid ones, too, but the answer lies in reforming workplace and healthcare policies, not using shaming terms to describe the actions women take to cope with the slippery playing field.
Data shows that many women who want to have children face tough conflicts balancing educational and career advancement that can't in reality be called "choice". Similarly, when life circumstances like being in a good partnership and having stable finances are not as they or society demand, we can hardly expect women to rush into getting pregnant.
In our opinion, the ASRM have it right. The word "planned" is powerful. It implies taking some measure of control. It describes egg freezing for what it is: making the smartest choice available at the time, taking out an insurance policy for the future.
What do you think about the different terms? Let us know your thoughts...