Woman freezes eggs over partnership issues

Courtesy of Marsha C. Inhorn

Below is an excerpt from a book by Marcia C. Inhorn.Motherhood on ice: Mating gaps and why women freeze their eggs,” To be published by New York University Press (May 2023).

As a medical anthropologist and gender researcher, I was able to collect egg freezing stories from 150 American women across the country. As my research clearly shows, these women are part of a specific U.S. demographic of highly educated professional women, with thousands now turning to egg freezing.

82% of the women in the survey were single and had no partners in sight. All but three of these single women were heterosexual, and even three bisexual women declared themselves interested in partnering with men and raising children. However, as seen in all egg freezing studies conducted to date, the lack of a partner was a common feature of women’s lives.

Relationship problems are causing egg freezing

The single women in this study were of two types: women who had never been married and were currently unpartnered, and women who had previously been partners but had broken up. Half of all women fell into the first category. Some of these women have had one or more serious relationships in the distant past, but those relationships ended some time ago. Some women had never been in a serious relationship for reasons they didn’t understand at all. Without a partner, these single women turned to egg freezing to “buy time” while continuing to search for a partner with hopes of future marriage and motherhood.

A second group of single women, about one-third of them, started egg freezing after a relationship broke up. These included both divorces and breakups from long-term relationships and engagements. These women’s stories are told in more detail, but here, the trauma of these relationships is often painful and has left them completely lost. Thus, egg freezing offered a path to cure.

Among unmarried singles and women whose relationships ended, four-fifths of the women in this study were single. Being single, or what other studies describe as a “lack of a partner,” was the main reason these women froze their eggs.

However, even women with partners faced the problem of continued partnerships. About one-fifth of the women in this study had a partner at the time of egg freezing, but half of these relationships were unstable. Some women were seeing “new boyfriends” around the time their eggs were frozen. In these cases, however, it was very difficult to see if the relationship would last. I have found my relationship with my partner to be very volatile. In both cases, egg freezing was performed as a sort of back-up plan to see if the relationship would develop or disintegrate.

Of about 10% of women in stable relationships, women engaged in egg freezing while waiting for their partners to be “ready” to have children. I gave various reasons for the delay. For example, completing an advanced degree or professional training, making a significant career move, or in some cases, being significantly younger than your female partner. In other cases, men were simply not ready to be fathers and asked their female partners to wait.

In summary, 91% of the women who participated in this study were single or in a tenuous relationship. This is the relationship problem that underlies the egg freezing phenomenon. That is to say, a highly educated American professional woman often struggles to find a compatible male partner with whom she can build a family. It presents three major partnership challenges.

  • A man who is reluctant to partner with high-achieving women and leaves these women single for years.
  • Men who are not ready for marriage and children often lead to the end of relationships.
  • Men who exhibit bad behavior such as infidelity and ageism often lead to relationship instability and breakdown.

male partner problem

Because of these heterosexual relationship problems, otherwise accomplished American women pursue a stopgap measure—egg freezing—to preserve their path to motherhood.

This may seem obvious, but reproduction is inherently relational. Both male and female, or at least sperm and egg, must come together for reproduction. Ideally, it also involves the emotional investments men and women make in each other and in their children. But what happens when these reproductive relationships and investments are unleashed and gone missing? In reproductive health circles, this problem is called the “man as a partner” problem. Abandonment of female partners and offspring.

I argue that educated American women also have certain “man-as-partner” issues that need to be recognized, called out, and confronted. In the women’s stories told in , the lack of stable reproductive relationships is the bane of women’s existence and has a significant negative impact on their reproductive lives.

This is a “professional women’s problem in the first world,” but, as one woman put it, it nevertheless drives the demoralizing state of cessation of reproduction. Only by listening carefully to what educated American women have to say about this can we realize how big this American mating gap is and how American women are turning to egg freezing as a reproductive bridge. You can understand why.

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