Life Lessons from Teenagers

“So, what do you guy think of this?” I asked my students, using all my effort to bite my tongue and let my students express their own opinions. I was discussing the 2014 decision by Facebook and Apple to subsidize egg freezing for female employees as part of their benefits plans. My own initial thoughts on the matter were visceral; the subtext of this “opportunity” is to encourage women to work while we are young and worry about family later.

I was discussing this issue with a group of students interested in future medical careers. They are high achievers and envision themselves as career-motivated, even as teenagers, so I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised by their positive responses to the egg freezing deal. My students thought it was wonderful. They praised the companies for allowing young women to have careers without having to “worry” about their biological limitations. I struggled to keep my own mouth shut as they excitedly envisioned their futures career women then mothers. I wanted to say, “How about supporting women with paid maternity leave?” or “Why don’t we consider more affordable childcare and flexible work schedules?” But I didn’t. I stood by and soaked in their opinions with admitted alarm.

As I reflected on their responses in the coming days, I realized that their responses could easily have been my own, 15 years ago. I was a high achieving student. I wanted to do something that “mattered” with my career—revealing a cure to cancer or discovering a new drug, something that would impact the future of the world. I vividly remember thinking that I didn’t want to get married until I was at least 29, an age much later than that of my own parents who were married at 23. As my own life went on, however, I fell in love and got married (at 23, as luck would have it). By 27, I yearned to have a child with a longing that was overwhelming and fierce.

During my pregnancy, I was finishing graduate school and looking to make a career transition. As I researched opportunities and networked with fervor, I would frequently chat with my own mother about my excitements and anxieties. One afternoon, she said to me, “Your priorities will change when you have your baby.” And I was mad. I was angry at the suggestion that all of my education, preparation and career exploration might be somehow useless or wasted.

In the end, my mother was right. My priorities did change, thought not in the negative way I had perceived. I have found a career I love; It is certainly not of the prestige I had envisioned as an impassioned teenager, but it allows me to make a difference in my small part of the world. And now, as I look forward to by 30th birthday, I hope for a second child. My hope is surrounded by tremendous anxiety regarding the cost of childcare for 2 children and how to prepare for months of lost wages during maternity leave (I’m relatively new to my job and have little accrued vacation time).

So when I mediate this discussion with my students regarding companies paying tens of thousands of dollars for egg freezing, I can’t help but wish I could have that amount of money for childcare and maternity leave. I want to tell my students how they will feel when they have their own children. I want to express to them how it feels to watch your own parents grow old and worry that they will never meet their grandchildren. I want to tell them how hared it is to leave an 8 week old in childcare. I wanted to tell them why my little girl doesn’t yet have a sibling. But instead, I listen to their excitement and say, “that’s so interesting!” because there are some things that only life can teach us, and I too am still learning.

(I certainly know that there are many wonderful outcomes from egg freezing procedures, especially for young women who undergo chemotherapy, etc. The opinions expressed here are only mine.)

More Reading on Egg Freezing:

This entry was posted in early career scientist, female scientist, graduate school, job search, motherhood, role models, teaching, transitions. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Life Lessons from Teenagers

  1. Abigail says:

    I am one of those young women who is a fan of these policies (although of course I also think there should be more support in place for women who want children earlier, too). My parents waited 9 years after being married before having me, which allowed them to be in a more secure financial situation while I was growing up (and enjoy each other without children around!). I want to travel the world and live in a bazillion different countries, but once I have a child I want them to grow up within a strong community. There are so many reasons for me personally to want to wait to have a child that have little to do with work, and so I’m glad that some companies are working to support these desires as well.


  2. NetworkingMatters says:

    Thank you for posting. This is a compelling opinion that I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. I’m left feeling like I want women to have our cake and eat it too. Egg freezing is just one piece of a network of support that is severely lacking for most women. I’m happy to see companies supporting this particular choice that a woman can make, but I still want our other choices to be supported too. Meaning birth control of our choosing for those of us who don’t want kids, and paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare for those who do – whenever in our lifetime we decide to make that choice. It seems like various companies pick one need and champion that. Don’t get me wrong, some progress is better than no progress, but I want more of the Facebooks and Apples of the world to adopt the “whole package” to set an example for other successful or up-and-coming companies.


  3. Kit says:

    As a 27 year old married postdoc in applied math, I thank you for your words. I would struggle with the answers of your young students also, as now I feel that I want a child, not in ten years time (particularly because my husband is 12 years my senior) but in the coming future, and I have much anxiety about the options for daycare and leave that I will have.


  4. peírama says:

    It’s interesting reflecting on how a younger me might have responded to this. I had the same reaction as you to this news. Obviously its a complicated issue but it seems like some early career flexibility and support would be better than medical procedures. Just because one has eggs on ice doesn’t mean that using them will be easy.


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