Saturday, May 04, 2013

Lean in, freeze eggs

Better this than Idiocracy. You could also argue that men should freeze sperm as the incidence of de novo mutations in children increases with paternal age.

WSJ: ... Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life. It soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn't want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn't sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.

I decided to freeze on the afternoon of my 36th birthday, when I did a fresh round of baby math on the back of a business card at Starbucks. Even if the man I was dating at the time agreed to start a family in the near future, I was cutting it close to have one baby, let alone a second. Several months later, after injecting myself for nearly two weeks with hormone shots, I was in surgery at a Manhattan fertility clinic as my doctor pierced my ovaries, suctioned out nine eggs and handed them to the embryologist to freeze until I was ready to use them. As soon as I woke up in the recovery room, I no longer felt as though I were watching my window to have a baby close by the month. My future seemed full of possibility again.

Amid all the talk about women "leaning in" and "having it all," the conversation has left out perhaps the most powerful gender equalizer of all—the ability to control when we have children. The idea is tantalizing: Once you land the job and man you want, you can have your frozen eggs shipped to your fertility clinic, hand him a semen collection cup and be on your way to parenthood. You mitigate the risk of birth defects by using younger eggs, and you can carry a baby well into middle age. At a time when one in five American women between the ages of 40 and 44 is childless—and half say they would still like to have children—egg freezing offers a once-unimaginable reprieve.

Up until now, a woman who bumped up against her baby deadline could visit a sperm bank, make peace with being "child-free" or eventually break her heart and bank pursuing futile fertility treatments in an attempt to "snatch a child from the jaws of menopause," as the economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett so famously warned a decade ago while encouraging women to plan their families as carefully as their careers.

I spent the majority of my 30s alternately panicked about my love life or feeling kicked in the gut every time I saw an adorable child. Fertility anxiety isn't exactly helpful when you're trying to snag the locker next to Sheryl Sandberg in the executive gym. And it's a buzz kill on dates when you feel compelled to ask the guy sitting across from you, clutching his craft beer, "So do you think you might want kids someday?"

... Last fall, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the procedure's experimental label, citing improved success rates with a new flash-freezing technology known as vitrification. Several trials showed little difference in in-vitro-fertilization success rates using frozen rather than fresh eggs. That rate is 30% to 50% per try, depending on the age of eggs and expertise of the doctor. Despite early fears of how freezing could damage eggs' chromosomes, a recent review of 900 babies born from frozen eggs found they had no more risk of birth defects than those conceived naturally.

See also The price of eggs.


David Versace said...

Let's get a few things straight. First, Sheryl Sandberg isn't where she is because of leaning in, feminism, or anything else. She was the child of very successful connected parents who got her on the right track to go to Harvard and then work for Summers. Then companies that wanted access to her inside connections to banks and government hired her for those connections, not because of who she is as a person. Thus Facebook got advantages both in its IPO and its taxes (they are getting a refund despite being wildly profitable). This is a well worn path many men went down too, its got nothing to do with feminism or anything she herself did.

Back to egg freezing. The simple solution is obviously to do things like not "frittering away my 20s with a man I didn't want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn't sure he even wanted children". How does freezing eggs solve this problem? The main problem isn't the eggs, the main problem is finding a man to raise them with. 40 something women aren't a catch for much greater reasons then their eggs. If freezing your eggs gives women the feeling that its no longer important to secure a man while young then its definitely going to be a net negative for most women.

As usual this is just more advice for a tiny tiny subset of the population.

tractal said...

Nepotism can get you a lot of things, but it can't get you top of the class at Harvard. Sandberg's a smarty.

5371 said...

What contribution to the gene pool of the human species will frozen, designed or artificially fertilised eggs make? A vanishingly small one.

dwbudd said...

I am sure that Sheryl Sandberg is "a smarty," as you say. She was graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard (and then went on to get an MBA - a degree of somewhat dubious intellectual merit in my book - but again, she wasn't plucked from the streets of Boston for that, either).

That said, her abilities, such as they are, and her accomplishments, such as they were, don't guarantee anything. Harvard rejects an enormous number of "smarties." She was selected as the COO for Facebook over a fair number of people with impressive credentials. I would probably be somewhat understating the case to say that there is probably a dozen people in Facebook who are much smarter than Sheryl Sandberg.

Mr Versace is right, in my view, that she was selected due to her pedigree and connections - after all, how many "smarties" can claim Larry Summers as a mentor? A man who has the ear of not just the current president, but at least one former one. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are now (somewhat clumsily) getting into the lobbying game, something that it cannot but help to have someone with Sandberg's connections in the executive suite.

I find it personally amusing that Sandberg is held up as a vessel of liberal, feminist fantasies.

Mr Versace is also spot-on in his second and third paragraphs. These sorts of stories - wealthy, elite women held out as examples of triumph over basic biology - are not really applicable to the concerns of the vast majority of women. If anything, they may have the opposite effect.

David Versace said...

Yes, I have no doubt her high IQ parents passed on high IQ genes to her. Again, that has nothing to do with feminism or "leaning in". We should expect people with her massive genetic and family advantages to do very well in life almost regardless of the decisions they make outside the extreme tails.

tractal said...

You guys might be under estimating the value of a Harvard degree. I'm sure she got some family help along the way (maybe it helped her get into H) but she got Summa on her own, and once you graduate Summa from Harvard the odds are pretty good you end up fantastically successful. So I guess I dispute the idea that "her abilities, such as they were, don't guarantee anything." They probably didn't guarantee a Harvard admission, but at the same time neither is a Harvard admission proof of an inside track: someone ends up with the slot, but I'll trust you that family connections were decisive for her.

She still ended up doing extremely well in school, and once you snag the "summa, #1 graduate in economics, Harvard" you're set for life. So attributing her success to her parents seems extremely uncharitable, since her academic achievement was merit, and that kind of academic success at Harvard is a near guarantee of success later.

David Coughlin said...

"Mr Versace is right, in my view, that she was selected due to her pedigree and connections"

So what you are saying is when you have a set of exceptional, and otherwise indistinguishable based on their resumes, you have to split hairs to pick one?

Iamexpert said...

She probably entered and excelled at harvard through a combination of high IQ, leaning in, family connections and ethnic nepotism and those same four traits got her to the top of Facebook, but I'm not sure her Harvard credential played any causal role in her success, because once you control for SAT scores Harvard students typically don't do any better than graduates of inferior schools.

Paul said...

This is what I was thinking. This is a numbers game and new technology isn't going to make having 5-6 kids any more appealing to the SWPL crowd.

dwbudd said... Not exactly. Your question presumes that the candidates are "otherwise indistinguishable," something not necessarily in evidence.

What I said was that she is smart, which is an ante, I would think, to her career. It is necessary, but hardly sufficient. I did not mean to imply that all else was equal, and in fact, I said that I believe that it's highly likely that there are many people at Facebook (and Google, incidentally, from which she came) who are much smarter than she. I believe that she was selected not because she was smarter (or even -as- smart), but because she was seen as a connected, rainmaker.

I don't see that as splitting hairs. Sorry if I implied it.

dwbudd said...

tractal: I apologise if there is any disclarity in what I wrote.

Of course a Harvard degree has enormous value; how else, really, to explain the enormous amounts of money and effort that people put into obtaining one. There was recently an article in the NY Times about the gauntlet that upper-middle-class and higher New Yorkers run each year to get their offspring into the "right" pre-school. All so they can get into the "right" elementary school, high school and ultimately, HYP.

None of us has Sandberg's high school transcript, but it's no secret that Harvard rejects an enormous number of applicants every year - I would guess that at the least, dozens of people who are valedictorians of their respective high schools with perfect (or near-perfect SAT scores). When I was graduated from high school (25 years ago), Harvard rejected about five of six applicants, and even then, the pool was highly self-selective. I was first in my high school class, and I was the only student who dared to apply to Harvard (the application was, if I recall, $50 or $60 back then). Our salutatorian recognised that his application would have been a waste of money.

Anyways, she got in; others - many to be conservative, equally qualified - did not.

She graduated Summa Cum Laude (I think at Harvard, that's the top five per cent of each class). Harvard has 1600 students per class, so that's about 79 other graduates. A quick look at the list of famous alums of the 1988-1993 period shows no one nearly as well-positioned (in my estimation) as Sandberg. I guess Mira Sorvino (1990) won an Academy Award.

Academic success at Harvard (undeniably true) is clearly highly correlated with success. There are ample data here on Prof. Hsu's blog to attest to that. Snagging the "#1 graduate in economics" (criteria are not provided, but even if it's a straw poll of the faculty, still damned impressive) certainly laid the path for her to connect with Larry Summers. I would say that THAT achievement is what set the table for Sandberg, not her academic brilliance or "leaning in," whatever that means.

But then, Ted Kaczinksy also was an academic star at Harvard, and we all know what he went on to.

The point isn't that Sandberg doesn't deserve her success - I agree she's very smart, and has an impressive set of credentials. My point is that that alone doesn't explain her success. She was able to parlay her smarts and interpersonal skills to bridge from the basic need ("the know how") to the equally important, less tangible punch on her ticket ("the know who").

I think this is what Mr Versace was saying, unless I'm wrong. I know it's what I am.

dwbudd said...

Exactly. Sheer numbers of the Idiocrats will overwhelm the rest.

Iamexpert said...

Of course a Harvard degree has enormous value; how else, really, to
explain the enormous amounts of money and effort that people put into
obtaining one.

gullibility? bounded cognition?

Paul Rain said...

And moreover- if it has little effect on right-tail total fertility rates, but pushes average age of conception to the right- that just equalizes (heck, maybe even accelerates) the decline.

H.L. Mencken II said...

Smart women fail at reproducing themselves. This does not seem very smart.

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