Grace Emily Stark joins the podcast as we examine assisted reproductive technology (ART), which is used to treat infertility. As more women are freezing their eggs and more couples are using in vitro fertilization, it’s important to know the pros and cons. We delve into the data, the costs associated, the success rates, and whether or not employers’ policies line up with the desires of the men and women who work for them.
Grace Emily Stark is the Editor of Natural Womanhood and a freelance writer and speaker with published work and media appearances in multiple outlets. Grace is a current Ramsay Institute Fellow at the Center for Bioethics & Culture, and a former Novak Alumni Fund Journalism fellowship recipient. Grace holds an M.A. in Bioethics & Health Policy from Loyola University Chicago, a B.S. in Healthcare Management & Policy from Georgetown University, and she has experience working in public health policy on both the state and federal level, including time spent working for the U.S. FDA.
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg. And on today’s episode we look at assisted reproductive technology, also known as ART, which is used to treat infertility. As more women are freezing their eggs and more couples are using in vitro fertilization, we felt it was important to look at the pros and the cons. So we’re going to delve into the data, the cost associated, the success rates, and whether or not employers’ policies line up with the desires of the men and women who work for them.
And we have a wonderful guest to break it all down with me today, Grace Emily Stark joins us. Grace Emily Stark is the editor of Natural Womanhood and a freelance writer and speaker with published work and media appearances in multiple outlets. She is a current Ramsey Institute fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Culture. She holds an MA in Bioethics and Health Policy, a BS in Healthcare Management and Policy from Georgetown University. And she has experience working in public health policy on both the state and federal level, including time spent working for the USFDA. Grace Emily Stark, it’s a pleasure to have you on She Thinks. Thank you so much.
Grace Emily Stark:
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
And before we jump into the conversation, I did want to let our listeners know that Independent Women’s Forum doesn’t take a position on assisted reproductive technology, which as I mentioned does include egg freezing and in vitro fertilization. But we’re looking at this topic today because we know so many women and men struggle with infertility and have to make really tough emotional and financial decisions as a result.
So yes, this is a sensitive topic. It’s a personal topic, but because we value data and giving you the facts, we thought it important to explore so that you can make decisions that are in your and your family’s best interest.
So just a disclaimer up front, but Grace, I just want to turn it over to you. It’s an interesting area that you research. You care about this very much. What made you decide to get into this field?
Grace Emily Stark:
So I have been kind of working in the women’s health space for, gosh, since about 2016, 2017, now. My husband and I learned the Billings Method of fertility awareness when we first got married and started struggling to get pregnant. And we hadn’t really expected that. I was very young when I got married, I’ll out myself on that. I was only 22 and I thought my husband would look at me and I would get pregnant, and that ended up not being the case.
So we struggled and we were using the Billings Method, which is a method of tracking one’s cycle to determine when you’re fertile and when you’re not. And we weren’t getting pregnant. And so we started using the Symptothermal Method, which adds in the temperature sign, tracking your basal body temperature along with your cervical mucus sign. And in working with a NaPro technology doctor, and we can get into that a little bit later, we were able to overcome our primary infertility and get pregnant.
But in that process, as I was learning more and more about the benefits of fertility awareness, I mean, that was really what our doctor used to help diagnose the issues with my fertility and how little women are taught about their bodies and how their fertility works. It just really lit this fire in me to start writing about it and just getting the word out to more women. And so on about, I don’t know, 2015, 2016 when all this was going on, I started freelance writing, mostly in the women’s health space. And I became certified to teach the Symptothermal Method along with my husband through an organization called The Couple to Couple League and started writing for the organization, I’m now the editor of which is Natural Womanhood that promotes body literacy, fertility awareness for women and couples.
And yeah, that’s kind of where it all began for me. And I have a little bit of a funny anecdote too. When I first got my start in freelance writing, one of the first places I published was Verily Magazine. I’ll do a little plug for them because I think they’re wonderful. Where I actually wrote a rebuttal to a piece that you wrote, Beverly, in The Federalist.
Which one was it?
Grace Emily Stark:
So you had written a piece for The Federalist and I literally just made this connection yesterday.
Yeah. Oh, my goodness.
Grace Emily Stark:
Just Googling you, Googling IWF and whatnot. You had written a piece called, “I’d Rather Die Alone Than Date Online.” And I actually met my husband online. And so while I thought your piece had some really great points in it, I actually wrote kind of a refutation, a rebuttal of it for Verily Magazine on their online website.
That is so… Well, we appreciate debate on the show, so it’s good to have debate and yes, you actually circle back on that. I wrote that article, I want to say it was 2015 or 2016 when I was-
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah, it was awhile go.
It was a while ago in the midst of trying to navigate online dating in Washington DC and then during Covid, when I moved to South Carolina, I had a friend encourage me to try online dating in South Carolina and I said, “No, I’m not going to do it. I’ve even wrote an article saying, ‘I will never do this.’ I’m never going to date online.” I actually met my now husband through Hinge, the app Hinge. So I tried it in a different location and it worked better for me. So, I probably should write a follow-up to that because I did end up meeting my husband online, but I still stand by the many pitfalls and frustrations with online dating.
Grace Emily Stark:
And that was what I wrote my article about was, I acknowledged that all of the pitfalls that you brought up were very real pitfalls. My article was about how I thought they could be avoided and that you didn’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of online dating. But I love that you and I have actually been in debates since, I don’t know, a decade ago.
Yeah, we’re going to continue it here. And even online dating, we talked about that a little bit just for our listeners to know on an episode I did a few weeks ago with Mark Regnerus. He’s the author of the book “Cheap Sex,” and in that episode, we look mostly at the declining fertility rates in the United States and the world. Please check it out. I think it’s really important just to summarize. In the last 30 years, fertility rates for women age 20 to 24 has declined by 43% while first time motherhood between the ages of 35 to 39 has increased by 67%.
So, that’s just a summary of the conversation I had with him. And that those data points also lead into my first question to you, which is yes, there are many factors for women not having kids till later in life. We’ve had that conversation before, but I think it’s good to get into just fertility itself.
Now, we know that for the best fertility years for women are in their 20s. Why don’t we get into some of the data past that? We know that fertility declines, but what do women need to know about their bodies and fertility?
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah. So, we’ll start with menarche, which if anyone doesn’t know, that’s the technical term for your very first period. So, you have menarche, your first period when you know, gosh, the ages are actually getting younger and younger, and that might be another reason why our fertility is declining because we’re actually fertile earlier and not taking advantage of it. So for whatever reason, be it hormonal factors in the environment, girls are starting their periods a lot earlier. We’re seeing girls as young as nine and 10 get their periods these days. And my mom got hers at 15, and that was normal for her age group in the, I guess it would’ve been the 70s because she was born in 1960. So we’re seeing girls get their periods a lot earlier and they are getting on a hormonal birth control a lot earlier for that reason.
One hallmark of puberty and actually starting your period is the capstone of puberty, even before you start your period, there’s all these other biological things going on in a young girl’s body that to the trained eye can let you know, okay, if you’ve got a young daughter, you can say, “Oh wow, I need to be prepared for this and I need to prepare her for that because I’m seeing these changes.” Because as soon as the hormones, estrogen and progesterone start working in the body, we start seeing things like breast buds develop in young girls. We start seeing body hair in their armpits and their vulva.
So there’s all these signs. And actually we have a program at Natural Womanhood called the Mothers of Pre-Teens program that we’re kicking off this summer to help mothers. It’s specifically for moms of young daughters to notice these signs and to kind of help them navigate this with their daughter, their burgeoning fertility. So it all starts very early and like I said, it’s starting even earlier.
And so you’re actually most fertile in your late teens and your early 20s and into your mid and late 20s too, you’re still fairly fertile as well. But even at age 30 now, we’re seeing there’s a little bit of a drop off starting at age 30 with how easy it is for you to get pregnant and certainly how easy it is on your body to handle a pregnancy.
I had my oldest, my five year old, soon to be six year old when I was 25, and I just had my third baby at 30. And the difference was remarkable. I have to say, just about how I felt in my body, it was still fairly, we got pregnant very easily with her, and most women at 30 should be able to get pregnant fairly easily if they’re healthy. But certainly by age 35, we do start seeing this really steep drop off in fertility.
And I think, also as we see girls start to menstruate earlier and become fertile earlier, we’re seeing that creep earlier and earlier with this fall off because once you start ovulating, there’s kind of a clock that starts in our bodies and it’s about 30 years from when you first start ovulating. And of course if you’re menstruating, that means you’re ovulating. So, just to define some terms here, your period is the bleed that you see, but it’s only a true period if you’ve ovulated prior to it. So, otherwise it’s just a breakthrough bleed.
So if you’re using something like a fertility awareness method where you can monitor signs of ovulation because that’s really, that’s the big part of your cycle. Your period’s not the most important part of your cycle. Your ovulation is, when your ovaries release a single egg. And so that’s kind of what we call, at Natural Womanhood, we call it the main event of your cycle is when you ovulate and then it’s in a window of about seven days around ovulation that you are most fertile and you’re actually the most fertile leading up to ovulation.
And so what you’re really delving into there is as we’re seeing girls start their period sooner, getting into menopause can happen much sooner. So that’s something that we need to study and look at. But I want to focus on one of the things you just said because as we’re seeing more women past age 35 being pregnant for the first time, when you talk about pregnancy being harder, what encouragement would you give to them when they’re like, “Man, I don’t know how to live life because this is so hard.” Why is it harder? And I think we could think very realistically, just your body’s older, you don’t have as much energy, but what is it like for a woman at 40 to go through pregnancy and then have a young child versus somebody who’s in their 20s?
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah, I mean, when you’re in your 20s, right, you’re kind of used to that. The late nights, you’re used to late night studying or going out, it’s not that big of a deal for you to bounce back the next day after a late night. But definitely all of us who have gotten into our 30s and are starting to get into our 40s and whatnot, there’s definitely a marked difference in how you can handle late nights, constant night wakings, that sort of thing. And so that’s a huge factor that I think goes really overlooked when people are contemplating parenthood is are you going to have the energy to handle everything it takes to handle a newborn? Because it is exhausting. It is the most exhausting thing you will ever do is, as a woman is to carry a baby, deliver it, and then have that newborn period where you’re not getting any sleep, your body feels like it’s been hit by a truck.
It’s just a lot harder to bounce back the older that you get. And I don’t really like that term, bounce back, because you’re, you’re never going to get back to where you were before. We see that language around celebrities. She got her body back so quickly. Your body permanently changes after you’ve had a baby in a lot of ways that are actually good. And it shouldn’t be the goal to reclaim the body that you once had. We should be encouraging women to embrace their new bodies that have done the amazing work of conceiving, carrying and delivering and then feeding, for a lot of women, that child afterwards. But certainly it is a lot harder to just regain that sense of normalcy the older that you get going through that process.
And I think so many of us do know, it’s very common knowledge, that as you get older your chances of having a child decrease. But this is where fertility treatments come in. And I want to talk first of all about egg freezing. And the reason why I think this is important is because there are a lot of single women, studies show that younger generations, about a third of them will not get married. So, there’s going to be a lot of single women trying to figure out whether or not they should freeze their eggs.
And my own personal experiences about age 34, 35 that my annual visit to the OBGYN they, I would even say, pressured me to freeze my eggs every year that I went. And it was this conversation that I had to have with them. And a lot of women face that.
So, I want to talk about egg freezing itself. And then just when we look at it, how common is it and is this something that women should consider? I know it’s different for every person, but what are some of the pros and cons of egg freezing? Because I think a lot of women think it’s a sure thing if I freeze my eggs.
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah. And certainly, so there was this really great profile in the New York Times in December of last year, so very recently published. And all the data is still very, very much up to date because the effectiveness rates of all these different ART procedures definitely do get better year to year as they kind of figure out more about how it works.
So, this profile in the New York Times, specifically on egg freezing, and the reason why they published it in 2022 was because ever since 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine changed how they categorized egg freezing. Prior to 2022 it used to be considered an experimental procedure. And so that has implications for whether insurance will cover it for different reasons. So once they said, “Okay, this is no longer experimental,” the floodgates kind of started opening. And at first we saw mostly women and prior to 2012, this is what we saw as well, mostly women who were going to be undergoing some really serious treatment for cancer, say, and they were going to have chemotherapy and they were going to have to radiate their ovaries and possibly be infertile after it, were the ones who were taking advantage of this new technology of harvesting eggs and then freezing them. But after 2012, we started seeing this trend in younger women wanting to freeze their eggs preemptively and for these kind of egg freezing popups, startups that were popping up actually advertising to young women to do that.
I really loved the Mindy Project. I think Mindy Kaling is hilarious from The Office when she had a TV show called the Mindy Project, she was an OBGYN in New York City, and towards the later season, her character actually developed one of these egg freezing startups. And so she was having high school and college girls come do a camp for a week or two in New York or however long and have them do all the hormone injections and she billed it… There’s actually anybody who has an egg freezing startup would probably do really well, this study, with what she did in the show because it was very attractive. She said, “Come to New York City and stay here and we’ll give you the injections and we’ll do the egg freezing.” And you have kind of this fun camp in New York here, and then you go home, go back to college, and then you’ve got this insurance policy in your back pocket.
And that really is how it’s being billed to young women as an expensive insurance policy against future infertility. Because as we do know, younger eggs are healthier eggs. So that’s another facet of this fertility equation is that as you age, the quality of your eggs also degrades.
What’s a really interesting fact that not a lot of women know is that you, and maybe they do, but I usually see people’s eyes get really big when I talk about this. But you’re born with all the eggs you will ever have, right? Men are constantly on about a three month loop producing new mature sperm. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. And which is also kind of a neat thing about that is the eggs that are in your body were also once in your mother’s body.
So there’s kind of this, I don’t know, I think that’s just kind of a neat intergenerational thing. When you think about a baby and a female baby in her mother’s womb, she has all the eggs she’s going to have. So half of your DNA was inside of your grandmother. Is that the right way to say it? I don’t know. But anyway, your children’s, half of your children’s DNA was one once inside of their grandmother. That’s the right thing to say. But anyway, I just think that’s super fascinating. Not really relevant.
But your eggs are healthier when you’re younger. And so again, that’s why they’re kind of saying to young women now, young college women, young professional women, “Hey, you don’t want to have to wait around for the right guy. You don’t want your future ability to have children to be dependent on when you can get a guy to finally settle down and want to have kids with you. So let’s get you in here. Let’s harvest your eggs, we’ll freeze them for you, and you’ll just know you’ll have it in your back pocket.” And when they profiled women at the New York Times who had done this, you saw really mixed bag of responses to it, and women who had undergone it. There were women who said, “Yes, it was this great insurance policy. It allowed me to take my time with finding a husband and not feel that biological clock being under that gun. I need to find somebody so I can be the mom that I want to be someday.” And for some women, it worked out, and it does work out that way. They are able to use those eggs when they’re older and they’ve found someone successfully.
But for a lot of women, that’s also not the case. It’s really hard to find good data on artificial reproductive technology in general because different clinics have such wildly varying success rates. Some of them use some different techniques. Some of them will only take certain kinds of patients who are more likely to have successful cycles. There’s just a lot of variation from state to state and even clinic to clinic on how successful these clinics are at getting women pregnant and in live births. The national average on the whole is only about 25 to 30%. So again, you might find a clinic that says that they’ve got a 50%, 60% an upward success rate, but the national average per recent 2019 CDC data is only about 25 to 30%.
And that just seems so low based on how it’s sold. You used that phrase, insurance policy. So when you think insurance policy, you’re thinking, “Okay, it’s here. So if I need to use this in my 40s, I’m set. I’m good to go.” And just to get into a few of the costs and what’s involved. So you have the egg freezing involves obviously, fertility testing, there are medical consultations, there are hormone injections, health monitoring, there’s the egg retrieval, the incubation, the freezing and storage. And I found this stat, they said the average egg freezing patient may spend 30 to $40,000. So you’re talking about a huge financial investment. There is the physical side, the time component and what you’re telling me is that the likelihood that this could be successful for somebody doesn’t even get to 30%. Correct?
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah. I mean, again, it’s highly dependent on so many different variables. If you’re using eggs that were retrieved in your early 20s and you’re using them in your late thirties, there’s probably going to be a higher success rate there because we know IVF itself is a lot more successful in women who are younger. Past 40, again, just even with natural fertility, it’s the same thing. It’s a lot harder even to have a successful IVF round.
And on the whole, they’ve done studies of health practitioners, doctors about their perspectives on IVF and how successful it is. And all across the board people, even medical professionals, have this really inflated idea of how successful IVF is that does not match reality. It’s not this insurance policy that you can just guarantee that it is sold as, and we have to talk about IVF when we talk about egg freezing because obviously if you’re freezing eggs to be used later, they’re going to be used for IVF. They’re not putting those eggs back in your body for them to be fertilized in a more natural manner. You’re going to be using IVF with those eggs, which is why it might sound like we’re conflating the two when we talk about IVF versus egg freezing. But there is no reason to freeze eggs if you don’t have IVF in the picture as well because it’s necessarily going to require you to use IVF if you have frozen eggs.
And interestingly though, most women who do freeze their eggs, I think the New York Times article that I mentioned earlier said that only about 6% of women even go back and use them.
Grace Emily Stark:
So they spent all of this money upfront, they’ve been paying an… one number that isn’t often quoted too for women, is the storage fees. You might have a monthly or yearly storage fee that you are just paying for years and years and years on these eggs until you decide, “Okay, well I’m just done with that. I don’t want to pay for it,” or until you use them. So that’s a cost that doesn’t get talked about, and it’s a continuing cost and-
And Grace, I found out one other cost as I was researching this for our conversation today that really surprised me. So I just never had thought about it. So women often move. It’s very typical for people to move, paying to transport your eggs. So there’s also this other process that that’s added. Now that one’s not astronomical like everything else, but just as you start looking and it starts adding up, so you go through the cost of egg freezing and then you go to the cost of IVF, and you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars when you get to that point with no guarantee that this is going to work.
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah. And they’ll say egg freezing, the actual harvesting of the eggs. And we can talk about what’s involved in that process because it is very invasive. And I think it’s given this, certainly in the media, I mentioned the Mindy Project earlier, it’s given this kind of rosy glow. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just something anybody can do very easily. It’s very invasive. It can be dangerous. But anyway, they’ll tell you it only costs between $4,500 to eight grand to do it, right. And isn’t that, less than 10 grand? Isn’t that enough to know that you’re going to be able to be a mom someday?
But again, that’s ignoring the fact that you have to pay storage fees. If you move, you have to figure out how to move them and the IVF costs that you’re going to experience on top of that. And right now the average cycle is going to run you between $15,000 and $20,000 and that’s for one cycle. And on average, a healthy couple takes about three cycles to be successful with IVF. So you’re looking at all of the eight grand that you spent when you were younger to harvest the eggs, the storage fees you’ve been paying all those years, then you’re looking at an additional 20 grand to use the eggs one time. And then if that doesn’t work, you’ve got a second and a third. And gosh, some people just keep going. They just don’t know what, they can’t stop. They feel like they can’t stop. There’s been interesting articles over the years about, I’m addicted to IVF, and it’s hope really, right? That’s what women are addicted to is the hope.
And I have a lot of friends who’ve used IVF, those who’ve had successful treatments are thrilled that they did, and so happy that they did, and it’s worked for them. But I can say from any of my friends who’ve gone through it, there is such an emotional toll. So the injections that you take, the hormones you have to put into your body, there’s weight gain, there’s emotional changes due to the hormones. There’s a lot that women go through to get to this point. And then there’s just the, when you get that call from the doctor to say it didn’t take. I have one friend who it was her last embryo and she had gone through, I think six or seven disappointments, and it was the last one it finally took, which of course was thrilling. And they have a wonderful daughter. But there’s a lot of emotions surrounding this.
And I think obviously, it’s a personal decision for every person to decide whether to do this. I think the fault of so many people in the medical industry is the false hope they often give. When you look at the data, the chances of freezing your eggs being a guarantee, that is something that I think is falsely advertised when we really don’t know enough yet. And I think it’s important for people to look at the pros and the cons. What is actually the data? What are your chances of success as you’re making such a big emotional and financial decision?
Grace Emily Stark:
Absolutely. Yeah. And what we do know is that egg freezing, the use of frozen eggs appears to be one of the least effective means of artificial reproductive technology.
Grace Emily Stark:
So, yeah. You’re more successful if you’ve got fresh sperm and fresh eggs. That’s pretty much the most successful combination, I believe. And that’s also where it gets really hard to talk in terms of averages with the data because there’s all these different ways it can be done. You can have fresh eggs, fresh sperm, you can have fresh sperm, frozen egg, you can have fresh embryos, you can have frozen embryos, you can have donor eggs versus donor sperm. And it’s just the permutations of it are crazy now, all the different ways that you can mix and match to create a baby, and they all have varying success rates, but it does appear that even frozen eggs are not as successfully used as even frozen embryos are more successfully used.
And that’s an important thing, yeah, for women to consider when they may be pressured by their doctor to do this, especially in their 30s.
And I want to touch on another area, I’ve seen people write about even more. It’s people who’ve gone through IVF and realize, let’s say, it takes the first round that they have healthy embryos left and what do we do when we have multiple embryos? I want to read a portion of an article I found on NPR following a couple who used IVF, and this is what they wrote. They said their first round of in vitro fertilization produced seven healthy embryos. One of those embryos was successfully transferred, resulting in their son Matthew, who is now six years old. While the couple feels their family is now complete, they are still in a quandary over what to do with their six remaining embryos, what they call their, maybe babies.
Every year they’re forced to weigh their options again. And when a letter arrives from the fertility clinic asking whether they want to destroy the embryos, donate them for medical research, give them to another infertile couple, or continue paying $800 annually to keep the embryos frozen, they don’t know what to do. “Every time we read the destroy option on the form, my stomach does a somersault. It feels as if our future children are showing up once a year to confront us.”
And I looked at the date on this, and according to the Health and Human Services, it’s estimated that in the US there are almost 1 million frozen embryos now in storage, a number that includes embryos reserved for research as well as those reserved to expand a family. So let’s say IVF is successful, you have this other major decision on what do we do now with the embryos? And I think that’s something that most people don’t necessarily consider when they get into it. And then they’re left as this couple is with an emotional decision on what to do next.
Grace Emily Stark:
And nobody knows, right? It’s the million, billion dollar question is what do we do? And scientific researchers would like just the floodgates to be let open and to have them all be used for research and a lot of them are. It’s a way that I think folks kind of rationalize for themselves that their children can still be doing some good in the world, kind of similar to cadaver donation. That’s a really morbid way to think about it. But I think that’s the way it’s rationalized with people who donate them to research.
I have heard of something, I think it’s called a compassionate transfer. I might not be completely correct about the term, but it’s where they will transfer all of the embryos at once in a part of the cycle that they know is infertile, so they know none of them will take. But then the idea, rationalization being that at least there was something of a chance. And the babies die naturally inside their mother. And I’m saying babies, but obviously we’re referring to the very smallest form of life, which is the embryos that are formed in the Petri dish.
But either you do that, either you have them thaw, and then some people will do funerals for them after they’ve thawed and died. But just across the board, it’s a lot of, I think a lot of solutions that don’t really feel like solutions to people. Some folks say that they find peace through doing these different things, but again, everybody’s going to have to grapple with that on their own terms and with their own kind of moral considerations for how they view embryonic life.
But yeah, I think when you’re in the thick of infertility, it’s, gosh, I mean, I’ve been there, as I mentioned earlier, when my husband and I were struggling with infertility. And this is why I personally would’ve never considered IVF. I don’t want to disparage the women who are considering it because I know how just broken you feel and how you’re just grasping for anything. But I do think we do women and couples a really big disservice in presenting both egg freezing, whatever form of ART, you’re talking about surrogacy and that has its own implications that could be an entirely different episode of the podcast.
We do women and couples a really big disservice by making it seem like this is a silver bullet kind of thing. And again, also not talking about what all the upfront considerations are going to be. What are we going to do with embryos that are “leftover?” What if it turns out that your sperm are the problem? Are you going to be okay with another man’s sperm coming into the picture? Because I do think a lot of the considerations are not talked about upfront. And when you’re in the thick of it, you’re kind of flying the plane as you’re building it kind of thing because you’re just so desperate to get somewhere, to have some kind of solution, to be moving towards something.
And there is that pressure. You shared about your doctor pressuring you into freezing your eggs. I had a doctor who didn’t even know me when I miscarried. We miscarried our first child and we were on the other side of the world. We had been living on Guam at the time when we were trying to get pregnant.
We were visiting the states in California, and I miscarried there at eight weeks. And the doctor that I saw in the hospital really didn’t know me from Eve. I wasn’t his patient. He had no relationship with me, but they brought me in for this consultation with the OB, and he started talking to me about IVF, as soon as he heard that we had been trying for over a year. He said, “Okay…” My husband was in the military at the time. He said, “I know they say the military won’t cover it, but there’s some ways we can get around that. Maybe we should start considering that.” And I just said, “That won’t be an option for us. Thank you.” And he kept pushing it.
And again, this is a doctor who knows nothing about me, nothing about my medical history, nothing about how my husband and I would want to build our family. And yet he’s jumping to this right away and he’s almost handing it to me on a silver platter like, “Here I’m going to help you with this. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
And this is your solution. This is your guaranteed solution. And I think that’s, I’m glad that you shared that and thank you for being transparent about talking about something that’s difficult.
Grace Emily Stark:
I think that’s the point of this whole episode is that women just need the information. You’re going to be told that it’s a silver bullet more than likely, but look at the data, figure out financially if this makes sense for you. Think about the success rate, think about the embryos, if it’s successful, what do you do there? I just think women and men need informed decisions and they’re often not getting that from the medical community.
And before you go, I have one more question for you. I want to get into, and that is just the employer side of this. We don’t have a ton of time, but hopefully we can touch on this just a little bit about how employers are using health insurance to cover egg freezing or any type of in vitro fertilization. Do you think that this is an effort to help women or to get them to work more because they often don’t cover family leave the same way they may want to cover some type of in vitro fertilization or egg freezing?
Grace Emily Stark:
Yeah. Personally, I think this is yet another example, and I owe this language to Leah Libresco Sargeant, who’s done some really excellent writing on this topic. But I think this is another example of the workforce trying to make women fit it rather than making the workforce something that will fit women. The pro woman, pro family, pro life, pro baby, whatever you want to call it, solution would be to make it okay for women to take a step back from their career when they’re most fertile and to have avenues of entry when they’re in their 40s after they’ve done their pregnancy and their childbearing and are maybe ready to reenter the workforce, to have pathways to make that easier.
Again, also, if they are still working when they’re younger and fertile, to make family leave a workable solution, to make flexible schedules for, not only moms but fathers too. We need a more family-oriented approach to these policies if we want to really truly attract young talent in a meaningful way. Because as we’ve seen, these egg-freezing policies actually might turn prospective employees off.
There was a really interesting study that was done, and they wrote about it in Forbes about how it actually did turn people off from companies because they looked at that, women specifically looked at that, and said, “Oh, so they just want me to give up all my fertile years to them. They want me to just work nose to the grindstone and let me know, ‘Okay, you work for us now, but we’ll make sure later on you can do that family thing that you might want to do.” And it does turn some prospective employees off.
So, the 20% of large companies that now offer egg freezing as a benefit might want to sit up and pay attention to that data and look at it and say, “Okay, what is it that women actually want?” And fortunately we have a lot of great answers for that. My friend Serena Sigillito, she did a great project for her Novak Fellowship project. We were fellows together in 2019. Her project was specifically about that, about what women want in the workforce. And women want flexibility. They don’t want to work full-time when they have young children and they want to be able to reenter when their kids are a little older and they’re ready to give a little bit more of that side of themselves. So yeah, they should pay attention.
They should listen to women, they should listen to She Thinks, because we talk about what women want on this podcast. And I think what you point out there, which is an important part, it’s not a one size policy for the entire country that government mandates. It’s having employers work individually, I think, with their employees to figure out what works for them, because it’s going to be different for every woman, for every family unit. Just like the decision about whether or not to move forward with some type of fertility treatment is an individual decision. We just have to have the facts, have the data, and have the conversation as we did today.
Grace Emily Stark, editor of Natural Womanhood, I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for your work on this and joining us today.
Grace Emily Stark:
Thank you for having me.
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