What does every 19-year-old need? A backup plan, apparently.
At least that’s what comedian Mindy Kaling suggested recently in an interview with Marie Claire magazine. “I wish every 19-year-old girl would come home from college and that the gift — instead of buying them jewelry or a vacation or whatever — is that their parents would take them to freeze their eggs. … They could do that once and have all these eggs for them, for their futures,” the actress best known for playing Kelly Kapoor on “The Office” said.
Kaling, who became a single mother to two children in her late 30s, advises young women to focus on their careers as long as necessary and then, when they’re financially secure, they can have children — with or without a partner.
“The choice to have a child — by yourself, on your own terms — it was the best part of my life,” she said. “It’s the thing that I hope women feel confident doing by themselves.”
As long as Kaling is offering medical advice, she might as well give her young followers an accurate picture of the success rate of this plan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about a fifth of cycles among patients using their own frozen eggs ultimately ended in live births. The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology says that the odds of a live birth are closer to 11%.
It is not that there is no success using such methods, but they can be expensive, painful and frustrating. Banking that you can put off childbirth by a decade or two is a big risk. As one infertility specialist told NBC a few years ago, freezing your eggs is “an expensive lottery ticket.”
“If you win, you get the best payout ever: You get a child. But if you don’t win, you feel scammed,” Dr. Emily Goulet said.
But it’s not simply that Kaling isn’t being completely forthcoming about the success rates of the invasive medical procedure she’s recommending. There’s also the matter of the psychological costs. Parenting alone is not easy. Even if you are as wealthy as Kaling (most readers of Marie Claire are not) and can afford round-the-clock child care if you need it. Children require a lot of time and energy. Having a partner generally makes it an easier and more pleasant experience.
But even that is not the worst problem with Kaling’s message, which doesn’t even casually mention what you would think would be an important word — “father.” Her remarks suggest that she doesn’t think fathers play much of a role in raising children. Or, if they do, they can be easily replaced.
The research on children raised in single-parent homes does not bode well for women taking this advice. And it definitely doesn’t bode well for their children, who risk higher rates of drug use, crime, dropping out of school, as well as the earlier age of the onset of sexual activity, teen pregnancy and just about every other negative social outcome you can imagine.
So what should we be telling 19-year-olds when they come home from college? How about something about the importance of finding a partner to spend the rest of your life with?
Career prospects may come and go, but college, or maybe graduate or professional school, is the ideal place to find that partner. It’s the environment in which young people are likely to be around a large number of people around their age, with similar sensibilities and enough time on their hands to actually get to know one another.
Putting off finding a partner while you tend to your career can also leave women feeling distraught. In a heartwrenching video released earlier this month, former Olympic bobsledder Lolo Jones, who is now 39, describes how she is now going to freeze her eggs because she still hasn’t found someone. Tearfully she notes, “Terrified. … Nothing has scared me more than feeling like I’m running out of time to have a family.”
Maybe you don’t want to get married at 19. But there is research to suggest that those who marry in their early 20s are often more satisfied and more likely to remain married in the long run.
Maybe you want to put off kids for a few years. There is a lot to be said for building a life with a partner (a “cornerstone marriage”) instead of building a life and then adding a partner later (a “capstone marriage”). For one thing it becomes much more difficult to adjust to someone else’s needs and desires the more set we become in our own ways. People in their 20s are much more flexible than people in their 40s.
And by the way, this is true for raising children as well. Having children will upend your life no matter when you have them. But being a little more willing to adapt (even getting by with a little less sleep) makes things easier.
As long as we’re having important conversations with our daughters about their futures, we might as well tell them the whole truth.