Elizabeth Brown, 29, an associate at Rosenberg & Estis, and two of her best friends are all seriously considering freezing their eggs in the next few years if they’re still single. She loves her job and doesn’t want to tear herself away from it.
“Knowing that you can freeze your eggs, it takes so much of the pressure off,” she says of being able to focus on her career instead of going on dates every night. “I value my time and would rather go home and have a glass of wine and watch Netflix than go on a random date because I feel like I should be having kids in the next few years.”
When Brown was in her third year at Cardozo School of Law, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the experimental label from oocyte cryopreservation or egg freezing, The idea that it was possible to freeze eggs—rather than embryos—changed the way that millennial lawyers thought about childbearing and ushered in what fertility specialists are calling a new era of reproductive autonomy. The takeaway: women can have a child from their own egg as late as age 56.
Lawyers, of course, weren’t the only ones to flock to preserve their eggs. But experts say they were more likely to do so because they could afford the $20,000 to $30,000 in out-of-pocket costs for the medicine to stimulate egg production, the extraction of the eggs, the storage fees and in vitro fertilization.
Plus, the long career path from college to law school to the bar exam to a clerkship, an in-house job or a stint in the U.S. Attorney’s office meant that lawyers often reached their prime childbearing ages just as they were establishing themselves at law firms. Brown, for instance, arrived at Rosenberg & Estis in the summer of 2018 after an in-house counsel job.
Jacqueline Klosek, counsel to Goodwin Procter’s business law department, said, “it would have been really hard to get the career off track and assume I could get it back on” if she had wanted to become pregnant at an earlier age. By her late 30s when her gynecologist asked her if she wanted a family, she was still ambivalent. “I honestly wasn’t sure whether I wanted to have children, but I wanted to keep my options open,” she said.
So she went on medication to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs at the age of 38 and ended up with 30. Because she had a boyfriend with whom she had a serious relationship, her doctor suggested that she divide the eggs, fertilizing half to create frozen embryos and leaving the rest unfertilized in case she chose to have children with a different mate. (Doctors prefer freezing embryos to eggs when that’s an option because they are more stable and can be tested for abnormalities.)
Klosek did end up staying with her boyfriend, Tom Lozinski, who is now her husband, and they conceived Kayla six years ago. But three years later, Klosek wasn’t able to get pregnant a second time, and she had one of the frozen embryos implanted. Luca is now 2.
What would have happened if the gynecologist hadn’t asked that fateful question?
“Thinking that I could not have my son, I couldn’t even think about that,” she says. “To have missed that because I waited too long would have been really hard to accept.”
Until the last five years, lawyers like Klosek and Brown would be unlikely to see a fertility specialist unless they were having trouble becoming pregnant. Stories abound of an earlier generation of lawyers who found themselves unable to conceive because they were too old by the time they sought help.
“For decades a lot of young lawyers have missed opportunities to build families and this technology puts that ability back into their hands,” said Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Health System. “When I started practicing 25 years ago I was seeing a lot of 40-year-olds who had missed their opportunities to have families and I could only do so much for them.”
Copperman, who is also the medical director of RMA of New York, said he sees a lot of lawyers especially from the firms near the fertility clinic’s offices at 59th Street and Madison Avenue. “Just as a birth control pill is great at preventing unwanted pregnancy, egg freezing is really getting pretty good at enabling wanted pregnancy,” he says.
He suggests that lawyers who are not ready to start families after law school have fertility checkups in their twenties. This involves a family history, a pelvic ultrasound and a blood test for the anti-mullerian hormone, which is an indicator of how many eggs still remain in the ovarian reserve. More eggs must be extracted if a woman is older when she chooses to extract them because 90 percent of eggs are normal in her twenties but 90 percent are abnormal by her forties.
“So whether someone has cancer and they’re about to have chemotherapy or whether someone is 39 and they’re about to be 40 this is a medical condition,” Copperman says. “Medically we’re preventing disease.”
Even though Copperman sees it as a medical procedure, that doesn’t mean that traditional insurance companies are covering egg freezing. It was estimated in 2017 that 5 percent of companies, including Facebook and Uber, are making it an employment benefit and Copperman said the list is growing.
But there are detractors.
Cynthia Thomas Calvert, senior adviser for Family Responsibilities Discrimination at The Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of the Law, thinks egg freezing is “a bandaid” for lawyers.
“If it catches on and becomes the solution to the long hours culture it gives the law firms a pass. It allows them to take their foot off the gas and not find a solution that helps men and women find balance. This might really be a step backward if it takes some urgency out of those issues.” she says.
“Are you doing this because you truly love your job?” Lauren Stiller Rikleen, an attorney who is the founder and president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, asks women who are considering egg freezing. “Then I think that’s what science and choice should be about. But what I worry about with respect to young women that they do it from a fear that if they get pregnant earlier they will be perceived as not committed to their careers.”
While there have been tens of thousands of babies born from frozen eggs, even the supporters stress it won’t work for everyone.
“This isn’t life insurance. This isn’t flood insurance. What we’re trying to do is change a woman’s reproductive trajectory,” Copperman says.