After spending Valentine's Day alone -- curled up on the couch in the fetal position downing pints of ice cream in between fits of sobbing -- the single 30-something (daughter of a) friend sought my opinion: She is considering freezing her eggs, postponing motherhood until a time down the road when she is married, she said. She asked me, "Does that make sense?"
Parenting, for me, is a two-person job. So yes, the idea of not becoming a single parent by choice while you work full-time makes perfect sense. While I give a lot of credit to those who parent alone, for me, single parenting would be a result of circumstance, not intention. But I also get that while single parenting is hard, so is the feeling that you've missed the boat. Egg-freezing is giving some women another boat to hop on, so brava to that. And then there's singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins (who had 15 embryos frozen about 20 years ago) showing the world that becoming a mother at 50 is perfectly fine.
But "you are never too old to parent" isn't really what we were talking about, my friend's daughter and I. For years, she's been saying that she is too busy focusing on her career to pay sufficient attention to her personal life. And for years, that's not entirely been the truth. What has remained unspoken is this: She has really awful selection skills when it comes to prospective mates.
She has wasted about five years in an on-again/off-again relationship with the same man despite all the signs that he is unfaithful, commitment-phobic and wants different things than she professes to want. He, as her mother says, is just not "marriage material."
Yet during the periods when they are split up, she is lonely and sad that he's not around. During those periods, she spends hours on online dating sites where she writes off men as boring based on little more than their photo. "I can just tell there's no chemistry," she says. On occasion, she has sought comfort in one-night stands, which leave her feeling even emptier and lonelier.
So now the conversation has progressed to freezing her eggs, an attempt to trick her biological clock into slowing and giving her more time before becoming a mother. Egg-freezing -- the medical term is oocyte cryopreservation -- is the technological process during which a woman's eggs are extracted, frozen and stored for safe-keeping. Later, when she wants to get pregnant, the eggs are thawed, fertilized, and transferred to her uterus as embryos. It's an expensive process and not always covered by health insurance although increasingly, companies -- Apple, Facebook and Citibank to name a few -- are providing at least partial coverage for the process.
For women with cancer who will be undergoing chemotherapy treatment, it's a godsend to know that your eggs can be harvested and preserved in this way. And for many young women like my friend's daughter who want to delay pregnancy until their careers have evolved or they meet their life partner, it's a process growing in popularity. Old eggs, they say, can be bad eggs. So better to freeze them when you -- and your eggs -- are young.
For years, I've told my friend's daughter that she's been looking for love in all the wrong places. I've urged her to let me and others -- yes, her mother -- fix her up on blind dates with men who are "known quantities," who are marriage-minded and ready to settle down. More than once, I've advised her to dump the never-gonna-marry-you boyfriend and move on to one who will -- because she says that a husband and family are what she wants.
But it wasn't until the freezing egg conversation that I realized how misplaced my advice has been. You know what they say about how you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink? My friend's daughter ignores my advice because she is unwilling to change anything about herself or what she values in a partner.
My friend's daughter thinks her inability to form a permanent relationship in her 20s and 30s will miraculously reverse itself when she reaches her 40s. And all egg-freezing is doing is allowing her to believe in miracles. Harsh? Perhaps. But sometimes the solution lies within us, not in medical technology.