Monday, October 26, 2015

Clocking in: Christine's Egg Freezing Adventure

Photo credit: http://www.vogue.com
We often hear about egg freezing as a recommended option for professional women who want to postpone having children to their late 30s or 40s or perhaps even later. Christine is brave enough to both go through this process and write about it so that we can have the details of what it entails.

A bit about Christine
Read Part 1 of her post here.
Christine did her PhD at the University of Zurich, and I was one of her mentors and collaborators.  She is an amazing researcher who was invited to meet President Obama three days after her PhD defense. She is also the first PhD I wrote a letter of recommendation for. I particularly enjoyed writing that my opinion of her abilities is seconded by that of the president of the United States of America.

Christine is now a researcher in astrophysics at Caltech where she holds a prestigious fellowship from the US National Science Foundation. She flies planes for fun, and is scheduled to be in Antarctica for one year starting in January 2016 for training and research.

My favorite part of her post is her statement that women come with a built-in 3D printer that creates people, and that men should be begging to use it. That is simply sublime, but I should and will refrain from elaborating further.

Note that this is a very personal choice, and we each have the right to make our own choices. It is not OK to insult or write abusive comments.

What is my opinion on the subject? Egg freezing is a good plan B if a woman plans to have children after her mid-30s. The age of the mother at the time the eggs are harvested plays a crucial role in determining the success rate of the procedure.  There are, of course, in any age pool some people who succeed naturally, some who need treatment and for whom the treatment works, and some for whom IVF fails. Young frozen eggs increase the probability of success when IVF is needed. They do not guarantee success.  This treatment is quite expensive, but, if the patient is young and healthy enough, it may be financed by selling some of the eggs.

All the female professors I have met who have families and have led discussions on the subject, regretted not having children earlier, and building a life around them vs. waiting for tenure or some other poorly defined "right time". After having a child myself, I agree with them.

Advice from Tusa Tavi
My last conversation with Tusa Tavi (the sister of my grandpa) went along the lines:
me: I passed my qualifier exams today! 
TusaTavi: That's nice, but you do have a university degree.
me: I do. I also have a Masters, and I am working towards a second Masters and a PhD.
TusaTavi: Then you can support a child.
me: I cannot have a child alone, and right now there is nobody in my life with whom I would want to have and raise a child.

TusaTavi: Well... go to class and drop a pen. See who picks it up. If you don't like them, try again.

Octavia - middle-aged
Grandpa, Mom, Ionica, Tavi & Mariana
Tusa Tavi then reminded me that she had helped raise many children above and beyond her job as a Mathematics professor.  Her last protege was still in kindergarten. Children loved her because she had always found the time to take them seriously, and listen carefully to everything they had to say. She had been there for her family, friends and neighbors, and for a number random people she met who needed her help, but the one thing she regretted was not having had a child of her own. She thought it would not have mattered so much with who. Most of the suitors had been educated and kind or seemed so from her stories. Once she had a college degree, she was able to both support herself and help family, and she thought she would have been able to support a child at any time since then. Part of her message was that she believed I could do it, too. She said that, anyhow, I should expect to do most of the bringing up myself and so I should not wait too long before starting a family.

Years later with her husband
Octavia - young
Tusa Tavi had defined propriety for me. She had always emphasized the importance of being both correct and gentle. I spent my girlhood listening to her stories. She had married late and had had plenty of suitors before that - each with a funny story of his own. She and my uncle met and started a courtship before the second world war, but only married 15 years later. At the very end, she did not regret any of her suitors, but simply wished she had had more strength and courage herself.

 She died before I went back home to visit and so we never spoke again.  She was 90 and I was 22. 

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