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The kids are alright .. in the freezer
July 6, 2010 8:03 AM   Subscribe

A D.C. couple wants children, but not now, and are worried about infertility creeping up on them as they get deeper into their thirties. They came up with a novel solution -- donating frozen embryos to their future selves. The procedure is not uncommon for couples with fertility problems; will it become a popular insurance option for young couples who just aren't ready for kids? They might want to think about what to do if they have more embryos than they want. Or what happens if they get divorced.
posted by escabeche (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm always conflicted by stories like these. On the one hand, if you can't have children after age 35 your problem is not infertility any more than a person who fails to the 100m dash at the Olympics has a problem with unfitness. Your body is not designed to produce children at this advanced age.

On the other hand, (far) future generations will definitely thank us for breeding for longer life spans.

(And on the gripping hand, I will enjoy being the youngest empty nesters on all the holiday jaunts we take later and/or laughing at all the 50-60 year olds with toddlers and tweens.)
posted by DU at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, (far) future generations will definitely thank us for breeding for longer life spans.

They'd probably thank us more for breeding for infertility.
posted by hermitosis at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Awesome!

I bet that couple plans the most intensely thought-out vacations ever.

This is a good idea. Maybe I'll do it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:27 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, (far) future generations will definitely thank us for breeding for longer life spans.

I kind of think there should be a big ol' "it depends" tagged onto that.
• Thanks for making it possible for us to live to be 175.
• Now...about how all the oceans are covered in oil and Atlanta is a beachfront...
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2010


Gillian E. St. Lawrence (the woman in the article) is holding a chat on WashingtonPost.com right now to discuss the issue. She says at one point, "People could choose to have children earlier but the fact is that this is not going to happen in our society. Parenthood is getting delayed." She leaves out the part "for some people", of course; plenty of people are still having children at a young age. I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:43 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age.

My generation would have to get over themselves and realize they aren't the center of their own little VF/NM diorama filled with videogames, cosplay, rehashed TV shows at the multiplex, bar hopping on Tuesday nights, and Buffy/Angel slashfic.
posted by incessant at 9:04 AM on July 6, 2010


I bet this (routine egg storage/IVF in your late 30s/40s) will be standard operating procedure for middle class folks in fifty years. Women want (and deserve) careers. Right now, childbearing/raising in your 20s/30s and careers don't mix very well (for a whole bunch of reasons). So women have to make a choice: children or careers? (Of course it's more complicated, but bear with me). Egg storage/IVF enables them to have both, which, to my mind, is good.

Of course if we could figure out a way to allow women to have children in their 20s and stay on the career track, that would be better. This would involve changing the ratio of "parental investment" in children (dad would have to do more...); the way corporations deal with advancement (moms couldn't be penalized for taking time off to bear/raise children); and the way we think about and provision childcare (it would have to start earlier and become cheaper).
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:04 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


The thing she never really addresses, in the article or the chat, is WHY they are choosing to go through all this as opposed to planning to have children in the next few years. She speaks generally but not about their specific situation. I'm still curious about that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]




I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age.


Family leave and affordable child care options that make people feel like they don't have to have tons of bank--and career advancement--already to procreate responsibly? Vaguely related New York Magazine feature on how parents with more systemic support (i.e. less stress) are happier.
posted by availablelight at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age.

I think our relationship with money probably and materialistic attitude. And need for security, financially, emotionally, etc. Living in DC, one main reason we never took having kids seriously is that we can't afford the best or even good enough as we got. We're also fairly stressed by our jobs and desperate to relax. We need to be able to take care of ourselves very well financially before we have kids. And, though we're in our thirties, we're just not there yet. Our peers appear to be though, driving fancy cars, having triplets through IVF, adopting babies from Africa and China, buying property. Maybe they're deeply in debt, but it doesn't seem so from how they talk about their financial situation.

So I kind of put it off the table.

Also, health insurance here is a huge problem.

We, as a couple, can't help but come to the conclusion that despite any abstract longing, are better off without kids. We don't feel strongly enough that the benefits of kids without having financial and family resources outweighs the risks, liabilities, unhappiness, and stress kids bring. It would make feeling poor worse. I certainly can't see it making us happy.
posted by anniecat at 9:13 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


We, as a couple, can't help but come to the conclusion that despite any abstract longing, are better off without kids.

Isn't that different than couples who want to have kids "someday" but hope to push it off for many years? Or are you saying that couples who feel the way you do might change their minds someday?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:23 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My generation would have to get over themselves and realize they aren't the center of their own little VF/NM diorama filled with videogames, cosplay, rehashed TV shows at the multiplex, bar hopping on Tuesday nights, and Buffy/Angel slashfic.

Got dumped by somebody on LJ, did ya?

(Also, Buffy/Angel would not be slash. Spike/Angel, Wesley/Gunn, Buffy/Faith, etc would be slash.)
posted by kmz at 9:25 AM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


There was a comment by, I wanna say jb but I can't find it right now, on how Americans historically have had kids later in life then other western nations and the early-marriage-baby-boom 50s was an anomaly.

And having a civilized, affordable social network in place, paid leave, daycare, etc would make some technological stop-gaps unnecessary.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on July 6, 2010


(I took "Buffy/Angel slash" to mean "Slash based in the universe(s) of the TV shows Buffy and Angel" not "Slash based on Buffy and Angel gettin' it on" because for one thing they already did.)
posted by DU at 9:41 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Ah, good point. Seeing the '/' between two names just makes me instinctively think pairing rather than fandoms.)
posted by kmz at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2010


This is a great idea. Ideally everyone should be able to store and freeze zygotes when they're sixteen or so. And then turn off their fertility until they want it back on.
posted by alasdair at 9:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


My generation would have to get over themselves

I'm suspecting that you're a younger generation than I am, and yet I heard the same kind of talk as this growing up, both about my own generation and that of my elders. Have to go back to the Great Generation before self indulgence wasn't the norm, and even then....

Maybe they're deeply in debt, but it doesn't seem so from how they talk about their financial situation.

Madoff? No, really, people lie all the time about money. And really, there is no such thing as financial security. A fortune can disappear in a heartbeat. (Care to buy an old pre-revolutionary Russian bearer bond I have?)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:04 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure there was an episode of Law & Order SVU involving someone stealing a canister full of eggs, some of which belonged to people who had saved their eggs for later use.
posted by mulligan at 10:05 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age.

That's easy: Just undo the industrial revolution.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fucking rich assholes, there's thousands upon thousands of orphaned and foster children that need homes.


Totally semi-unrelated:
I'm predicting that in the next few years lonely women will birth their own pets through puppy or kitty IVF fetus implants to feel the experience of birth but not have the responsibility for care of a little human.
posted by wcfields at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


My personal capital begins being built when I enter the workforce. Thanks to the miracle of compound interest, money earned now is exponentially more valuable than money earned later. While young I have no capital income to draw on to support myself other than work. Tack on to this that while young I have a greater capacity to push hard and the requirement to establish credentials. Spending huge amounts of time on kids is much more attractive when I'm 40. There are sound economic reasons to not have kids, or to have them later.

If we lived in Sweden, taking time off to have kids would be less burdensome, because a) high taxation and generous pension mean that my safety in retirement is much less a function of capital accumulation now b) generous parental leave and benefits would mean that I could afford to work less, wouldn't be fired, and would bear little of the direct cost of care.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


The president of the cancer research center where I work had kids in his 30s. He recently said that he wishes he'd waited until his 40s, to get his career off to a strong start first.

Taking a few years off to get kids going in your 20s, vs. in your 30s, could make a difference of tens of thousands of dollars of annual earning potential later on, not to mention a vast difference in career self-fulfillment. It's a tough choice.
posted by gurple at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm predicting that in the next few years lonely women will birth their own pets through puppy or kitty IVF fetus implants to feel the experience of birth but not have the responsibility for care of a little human

I'm predicting that this will not happen, but will totally be made the premise of a major Hollywood movie franchise.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:53 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I wonder what would have to shift in society to make the groups who delay having children feel more comfortable having them at an earlier age."

I would need:

--Consistent access to health care/health insurance
--A social safety net
--Affordable, quality childcare

I'd also like those things in order to have foster children, but oh well.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Fucking rich assholes, there's thousands upon thousands of orphaned and foster children that need homes. "

Heh. You obviously do not know that much about adopting or fostering, but OK, feel free to judge right out of the gate. Why let reality or empathy get in the way?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:02 AM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm predicting that this will not happen, but will totally be made the premise of a major Hollywood movie franchise.

It will have John Travolta and Kirstie Alley and will be called Look Who's Barking, followed by Look Who's Still Barking and Look Who's Being Hit With The Squirt Bottle Because He Won't Stop With The Barking, Look Who's Licking His Own Anus, and Dear God Would You Please Stop Humping The Furniture, when li'l puppy goes to boarding school with those dudes who were humping their ottoman.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Isn't that different than couples who want to have kids "someday" but hope to push it off for many years? Or are you saying that couples who feel the way you do might change their minds someday?

I have no idea. I tend to feel like everybody else seems to have it more together than we do, even though we look like we have it together. It's hard to feel good enough to have children and to not (maybe this is overthinking) worry that I'll feel like a failure as a parent. Which means I would probably even put off the whole freezing the embryos somedayuntil the decision would be made for me.
posted by anniecat at 11:05 AM on July 6, 2010


I was taking a marriage class and the teacher mentioned that it's common for women in Syria to get married at 16 or 17, have 5 or 6 kids, and THEN go to college in their 30's or early 40's, followed by law school, careers etc etc.
posted by exhilaration at 11:23 AM on July 6, 2010


The NYTimes had an interesting article yesterday on motherhood for female professional golfers.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:03 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was taking a marriage class and the teacher mentioned that it's common for women in Syria to get married at 16 or 17, have 5 or 6 kids, and THEN go to college in their 30's or early 40's, followed by law school, careers etc etc.
posted by exhilaration


I live in Utah, and this sounds familiar.

I have four kids, started when I was 29. We had our last child when I was 37. What would have really helped my career was not being born with Attention Deficit Disorder and a side helping of Asperger's. I think it would suck to start having kids when you're older, because you're less mentally flexible when it comes to dealing with and playing with kids. It's easier to be a parent when you're younger. Kids are really great, and really frustrating and require a lot of sacrifice. I don't know if there's any technological way around that. My wife has made most of those sacrifices, and is now itching to get back in the workforce, and I don't blame her.

How satisfying is a really good career? I am asking honestly, not trolling here.
posted by mecran01 at 1:00 PM on July 6, 2010


Fucking rich assholes, there's thousands upon thousands of orphaned and foster children that need homes.

I'm going to save everyone some time and lots of GRAR by just linking to the discussion we had the last time someone made a comment like that here.
posted by lunasol at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't meet a person I wanted to have kids with until I was 25, and we didn't marry till I was 27, or have a kid till I was 34. I have often wished for a time machine so I could go back, meet him earlier, and have my kid 10 years sooner, but oh well.

Becoming a mom in my 30s rocked in terms of being more competent and knowing who I was, but sucked in terms of my knees already being shot to hell.

So what I'm saying is that while storing my young eggs to use later would have been a good idea, so would some vat-grown replacement body parts.
posted by emjaybee at 1:20 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


How satisfying is a really good career? I am asking honestly, not trolling here.

I have no idea. I went to a women's college, got the impression that because I wasn't thinking marriage or kids that I'd be some kind of career superstar, but I'm currently stuck in a nonprofit job, and I didn't become Executive Director by 30. I'd never fully assessed my limits and needs, having had no real world experience. It was implied by career books and my college and my mentors that if I could control my career, but (and I could be the outlier) I haven't been able to do so. I haven't gotten jobs I wanted, I haven't joined the class of people I went to school with who fly through McKinsey and Bain or work at glitzy nonprofits. Becoming a success was one reason the idea of kids and family was off the list my freshman year of college.

If I felt like I had more control over my career or more direction or something, then maybe I'd feel more fulfilled. But it's really only that I feel bad about myself relative to everyone else who seem to be having more fun and making more money. I can't imagine that having kids could be more satisfying than financial security and a good marriage or partnership.

The other problem is this: a lot of women have to take care of their parents or spouse's parents who are aging now and it seems like maybe when you're ready for kids financially, that's just when your parents start needing you more and more. And that's stressful too.
posted by anniecat at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My generation would have to get over themselves and realize they aren't the center of their own little VF/NM diorama filled with videogames, cosplay, rehashed TV shows at the multiplex, bar hopping on Tuesday nights, and Buffy/Angel slashfic.

Well, what's wrong with that? The problem would be if they were bringing children into the world and still devoting the same amount of time to videogames, cosplay, etc. They're not, so let them be selfish. At least they recognize they're not ready for kids. The problem is people who want to have it both ways.

Unless, of course, you think they have an obligation to procreate for the good of the species, but I'm betting that's not what you mean.
posted by Evangeline at 2:09 PM on July 6, 2010


How satisfying is a really good career?

Alternatively, how common is a really good career? Most people I know have jobs. Some like them sort of, some endure it for the social aspect and change of routine. Others die a little every time they head out, but do so because they need the money or the insurance. In those cases, it's the family that makes it bearable.

And the highfliers? I know it's a cliche, but most of the ones I know have pretty messed up personal lives, once you lift the rug a bit. (There are exceptions, of course.)

I once read a Margaret Drabble story (or someone like her - it was years ago), in which a character notes that getting married wasn't a gamble (divorce, anyone?), but having kids, well, that was taking a real risk. Good when it works out, potentially hellish when not.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:21 PM on July 6, 2010


What, no idiocracy tag?
posted by $0up at 2:35 PM on July 6, 2010


How satisfying is a really good career?

Really damn satisfying, so far. I hope mine survives my impending fatherhood.

I'm no high-flier, but I really enjoy what I do, a lot, and I think what I do is important. My current career is a big switch from what I was doing right out of college, and I doubt I would have had the time and energy to get an MS and change gears so completely if I'd had kids in my 20s.
posted by gurple at 3:16 PM on July 6, 2010


I was also really curious why the couple would go to such lengths for their "insurance" and didn't plan instead to try it the old fashioned way first...I think that's a pretty unusual situation.
posted by agregoli at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2010


(And personally, since we don't want kids right now (I'm 30, husband 31), it IS hard to imagine these lengths. The main thing for me is that if I waited too long and suddenly decided I wanted kids, I would never even consider those medical interventions, because I don't really want to pay for them or support them - it's not for me. So the decision would be to get over the kid urge and do something different with my life.)
posted by agregoli at 3:49 PM on July 6, 2010


The eggs get older, the uterus doesn't. Get the eggs while they're young and stick 'em in the uterus whenever.

Personally, I would do this because I have a progressive and incurable gynecological problem that may eventually require that I remove both of my fallopian tubes. This would get at least one part over with when I'm not freaking the fuck out and would actually be a huge load off of my mind. I would feel a lot more free to pursue adoption--which can be lengthy and expensive--if I knew that, were it to fall through, I wouldn't have closed the door on popping one out the old-fashion(ed)-ish way.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:56 PM on July 6, 2010


I have a great career, and it is very satisfying. I also don't have a fucked up personal life unless you believe it is fucked up for a woman in such a stable situation not to have children. The idea of having kids is terrifying not because I don't think we could handle it, but because I worry that I will never again be taken seriously in the same way at work. I would absolutely 100% freeze some embryos for use in 10 years if I was pretty sure it would work without huge additional risks for the process, but since I'm not sure, I'll probably end up rolling the dice that having kids won't derail my career forever. I wish men could get pregnant.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:35 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


didn't plan instead to try it the old fashioned way first...I think that's a pretty unusual situation

Huh? If you don't freeze eggs (and/or embryos) when they're "fresh", so to speak, you can't go back and do it later.

The whole point of doing it in advance is so you can hopefully avoid multiple rounds of very expensive (and unpleasant, from what I've heard) stimulated IVF later.

Although I could imagine a couple that had frozen eggs/embryos trying "the old fashioned way" when they did decide to have kids, just because it would be cheaper than implanting one of the preserved embryos. If it worked, they'd just either continue to save the frozen ones...or I guess stop paying the bills and let the storage facility flush 'em.

That said, if you had the frozen eggs/embryos and could afford it, it might make sense to use the preserved ones in order to take advantage of the lower chances of birth defects like Down's, which get higher as the mother ages. Although I guess you'd have to balance out whether there are other defects that go up with preserved eggs, and see which was the better route, if cost wasn't an object.

I find the whole topic really fascinating, personally. The amount of paperwork must be staggering, or at least it should be if everyone is really thinking things through and covering all their bases. It seems like it could get particularly weird if you have fertilized embryos, which are preferred in some cases because they freeze better (I guess actually it's that they thaw out better). If you have fertilized embryos on ice and then you break up, is either partner allowed to order that they be destroyed? Or does it take both? And what if one partner wants to use them in the absence of the other partner -- is it allowed and is the other person still on the hook for child support? There's a whole container ship of worms there.

Still, the technology exists, it's going to be used -- we might as well start hammering out the details.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on July 6, 2010


The whole point of doing it in advance is so you can hopefully avoid multiple rounds of very expensive (and unpleasant, from what I've heard) stimulated IVF later.

As I understand it, because egg supply decay and they compete for ovulation, earlier when you have 40 eggs competing your ovulated winner will probably be better than later when you have 2 competing. Whether you avoid more birth defects by fertilizing, freezing, and thawing vs waiting I don't know.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:59 AM on July 7, 2010


FET (frozen embryo transfer) is dramatically easier and cheaper on Mom than fresh IVF. When Mom is young, you probably will have to do minimal gonadal stimulation in order to get a decent number of high-quality euploid embryos; as she ages, you are likely to have to increase both the quantity of drugs administered and the number of cycles they're administered over, and the side effects of those drugs are horrible.

As for why women don't just have kids young? Well, in the USA, where we we have no national health care, you have to have to be married to someone who has good health insurance in order for it to be even remotely "safe" to conceive and bear a child, seeing as the price of a perfectly normal low-risk hospital birth was $12,000 in 2006 for me, and that doesn't even begin to cover the cost of an actual child. You can plan to work through pregnancy, but you can never be certain you'll be able to. And women are more and more reluctant to get married young. So you graduate college at 22, you date around for a while, you meet Mr. Right at 26, date him a couple years, get married at 28, and then you want to wait a couple years before you have kids, and now you're 30. . .
posted by KathrynT at 8:33 AM on July 7, 2010


How satisfying is a really good career?

Depends on how you view work. Some people work to live, just want the money so they can go and do what they want on nights, weekends, etc. Is that a career or just work? Some people define themselves by what they do *for a living* (as opposed to hobbies or volunteer work), and then a career is really important. There are people for whom prestige is everything, and these people need careers to grow in. And other folks find work they find enriching and satisfying, and that's important, too.

I think most people fall into multiple camps. I guess I have a career, but if I was wealthy I sure as heck wouldn't work and would instead focus more energy on my baby. But at the same time, I can think of all kinds of things I'd do for enrichment that are ridiculously similar to what I do for a living anyway. For me, the notion of career is fairly meaningless. Money is a tool, and a necessary evil. I don't need the prestige, and I feel like I can enjoy my kids now more, even with less money. My mom had me quite early, and we had some rough years, but the money and even prestige came later.
posted by Never teh Bride at 8:43 AM on July 8, 2010


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