In late 2014, Silicon Valley giants Apple and Facebook announced they would begin offering egg freezing as a benefit to their female employees. The policy shift focused on helping female employees balance their career and family aspirations due to pressures to choose between climbing the corporate ladder or taking time off for child bearing and nurturing. Egg-freezing allows women to have children at the time of their choosing—and avoid the anxiety of the ticking biological clock.
Egg freezing or “human oocyte cryopreservation” is a process by which a woman’s eggs are extracted, frozen, and stored till a later time when she is ready to become pregnant, at which point the eggs are then thawed, fertilised, and transferred to the uterus as embryos. When the procedure first became popularized, it was aimed at three categories of women: those who have cancer and are to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy; those undergoing treatment with assisted reproductive technology; and those who want to preserve their future ability to have children either because they do not have partners yet, or for other personal or medical reasons.
Fertility is a concern for women of many cultures; however the conversation about technologies like egg-freezing are typically limited outside of the Western world. Will African women ever consider egg freezing an option because of their career growth? Even if they do will they find support from their husbands and families? Or is egg freezing going to remain a novel idea only to be heard and discussed but never fully accepted, just as IVF and adoption?
I grew up in the south western part of Nigeria, where children are the centre of society. Names like Omolayo (means “a child is joy”) and Omoniyi (“a child is honour”) depict the premium placed on children. There is a Yoruba saying “eni ti ko bimo o wa s’aye lasan” which literally translates to mean “she/he who does not bear/have a child has come to the world in vain.” In traditional households, it is often said that the more children you can have, the better. Delaying marriage is viewed with suspicion and it is not uncommon for a family meeting to be held to discuss solutions to your unmarried state. The conversation about marriage and children doesn’t end at the altar. In fact, just a few weeks after the wedding, the baby watch begins.
If, after a reasonable period (determined by those watching) the expected signs are not seen, then consultations begin as to the likely cause of this anomaly. Various strange and bizarre solutions are at times proffered to the fertility-challenged couple by concerned relatives. Many a frustrated woman has been forced to fake pregnancies and subsequent loss of such bogus pregnancies or even steal babies in extreme cases to remove the stigma associated with not having a child. A number of such stories have become commonplace and some criminally-minded persons even started “baby factories” in response to this, where teenage girls and young women are kept (both willingly and unwillingly) for the purpose of bearing babies, after which these babies are sold to interested buyers.With such a premium placed on children, one might expect IVF and adoption to provide a solution to infertile couples, but Nigerian culture still looks askance at these solutions as atypical and unnatural, and, admittedly, expensive. To carry out an IVF treatment in Nigeria, costs start from N500,000 – N2,000,000 ($2500 – $10,000) depending on the facility used.Other factors against the uptake of IVF include a lack of awareness and the limited number of facilities available offering the procedure. Most of these facilities are actually in Lagos, a state in the south western part of the country.
Based on Nigeria’s chilly reception to IVF and adoption, I don’t believe that egg freezing, a deliberate attempt to delay child bearing, will catch on in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. While it is true that more women are now involved in paid employment than before and a need to grow in their careers is important to them, the pressure to conform to the gendered roles and expectations will just not allow for a woman to freeze her eggs because of her career.
The only tenable reason I think it may be considered is a medical one. That is just a single opinion, however, and I leave the question open to the reader. Do you, as a woman, think you will freeze your eggs for your career? As a man, what are your thoughts on egg freezing? Will you support your woman if she decides to go this route, especially for a reason aside from a medical one? As a sister, brother, mother, father, or friend, what will you do if your relation decides to go for egg freezing?