When reports from the first egg-freezing parties emerged earlier this fall, it was easy to dismiss them as aberrant. Hundreds of elite New Yorkers, most of them women, gathered at trendy hotels in SoHo and NoMad for champagne, appetizers, and pitches on oocyte cryopreservation—a process deemed "experimental" by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine as recently as 2012. Tanya Selvaratnam, an expert on reproductive politics, likened the "Let's Chill!" party she attended to the plastic-surgery industry in an interview with Slate. "It was kind of disturbing how they were plying women with alcohol and trying to sell them what was basically a product," she said.
What's egg-freezing got to do with most women or families? Maybe a lot. Janelle Luk, a reproductive endocrinologist at a fertility clinic associated with EggBanxx, the organization that has thrown New York's egg-freezing parties, framed the technology as an everyday convenience: "part of technology that exists to help us all, just like the iPad, just like Skype."
It's as if Silicon Valley heard her appeal: Egg-freezing parties have now arrived on the West Coast. Complete with a website and a presence on social media, the aptly named Egg Freezing Party has scheduled events in several affluent Bay Area communities such as Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and San Francisco.
A video on the site introduces Aimee Eyvazzadeh, a reproductive endocrinologist and the ostensible host of these infotainment events. With its pastel serif font and jaunty martini-glass logo, the Egg Freezing Party campaign appears to have a chick-lit demo in mind: single career-minded women in their 30s.
Egg-freezing parties in Silicon Valley and Manhattan would seem to cater to the most well-to-do women in the nation, if for no other reason than the cost of the procedure. Harvesting and freezing an egg can cost more than $10,000, and insurance providers tend to treat it as an elective procedure. That puts egg freezing out of reach for most women.
Yet the circumstances that may be pushing elite women living on the coasts to consider technologies that will enable them to delay childrearing are not very different from trends affecting women around the nation. Women are delaying first pregnancies later than ever. As the technology is embraced more broadly by fertility clinics, egg freezing, in tandem with in-vitro fertilization, could be seen as a kind of family-planning insurance for women who are waiting to embrace motherhood for personal and professional reasons. Egg-freezing parties could very well be the new Tupperware parties.
One reason why egg-freezing parties are happening in the Bay Area now may be the recent announcement from Apple and Facebook that the companies would pick up the tab for employees who decided to freeze their eggs. The two leading firms in Silicon Valley will now cover egg-freezing as part of their benefits package—a value of up to $20,000 for women who seek the elective service. That's not a benefit that employers will be required to offer under federal law in 2015, when the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act goes into effect. But under pressure from competitors, other Silicon Valley firms could follow.
The policy marks Apple and Facebook as two of the most progressive companies in the country—or two of the creepiest. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Caille Miller notes that neither Facebook nor Apple offers on-site daycare for workers with children (although Facebook apparently offers doggie daycare). As far as Miller is concerned, the goal appears to be to accommodate the decision by women to delay childbirth until later in life, not to address the fundamental reasons that a woman may feel she needs to wait.
While all of these reasons are deeply personal, some motivations may have more to do with need than want. Women working in Silicon Valley, just like women working everywhere, do not receive equal pay for equal work performed by men in similar roles. And the U.S. notoriously does not require employers to guarantee paid maternity leave to workers.
If the cultural situation presents obstacles for women working for Manhattan hedge funds or Bay Area startups, how much worse is it for women paid less in other industries all across the nation? For these women, the newest advances in family planning may be a long ways off—especially after the architects of Obamacare took a pass on requiring coverage for fertilization treatments.
Egg freezing is far from a sure thing anyway, though the procedure is less a long shot today than it was when it was introduced in the 1980s (originally, as an option for women undergoing chemotherapy). The better thing for millions of women and would-be mothers for whom egg freezing remains an exotic option is more fundamental: pay equity, paid maternity leave, and a cultural expectation that men will share equally in childrearing duties. Unfortunately, these shifts may be even further off.