Burbidge is a rich and successful business woman with five children of her own. The youngest two of these were conceived through IVF in her late 40s after she divorced her second husband and decided she also wanted to have children with her new “partner”, 15 years her junior. She has recommended that companies consider paying for egg-freezing and fertility treatment as an employee benefit so that women can advance their careers without worrying too much about the biological clock ticking. This presumably means that women won’t even need to waste time away from work looking for a man to have the children with, as their fertility package will be able to help them find a sperm donor.
Fertility packages are already offered by a number of companies in the US. Goldman Sachs started offering IVF, egg retrieval, egg donation and other fertility treatments to its staff last year, paying up to $40,000 dollars to any employee. Apple, Facebook and LinkedIn also offer fertility plans in the UK. There is now a “World Fertility Day”, a response to the rise of infertility among people who are choosing to have children later and later. In 2019, the average age of a first time mother was 30.6 compared to 26.4 in 1975.
There are so many other reasons, beyond what is written in the Catechism, why suggestions like Burbidge’s are wrong for society and deeply unfair to the women whom she thinks she is speaking on behalf of.
It goes without saying that the Catholic Church is opposed to IVF: for the process to be effective, several human embryos need to be created, most of which are destroyed in the process. Secondly, the Church believes that human life is respected when a baby is conceived through the sexual union of two people, not in a laboratory.
And there are so many other reasons, beyond what is written in the Catechism, why suggestions like Burbidge’s are wrong for society and deeply unfair to the women whom she thinks she is speaking on behalf of. By offering a fertility package, companies are actively encouraging their female employees to delay creating a family in favour of furthering their careers. It sends the message that they should be working harder and for longer, also that IVF is easy and generally successful. It further implies that having children is a right and not a gift – something you can simply pay for when it suits you.
There is always the possibility that a male employee will have been promoted above you while you are away on maternity leave. But surely this is a fair compromise in return for the privilege of being able to grow and give birth to a human life?
What Burbidge fails to mention is that many women who leave having children late will be disappointed. Many will suffer what is often a harrowing process of hormone injections, failed cycles of IVF, miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies as a result. In fact, only 40 percent of women under 35 will manage to have a baby via IVF, while for women over 42, the success rate is only 4 percent. The rate of miscarriage is higher than for natural pregnancies and studies have also shown an increased cancer risk for women who have been through the process. Nature doesn’t seem to play a role in Ms Burbidge’s plan for working women, but there is a reason that nature dictates women are more fertile when they are younger: they have more energy for the pregnancy and the aftermath, and their bodies recover and regenerate faster.
There are also a lot of things that companies and the state are already doing to make it easier for women to take a break from work to have children, such as offering maternity pay and the knowledge that their job will be there should they wish to return to it. Some companies are now also offering extended paternity leave to fathers, which allows women to return to work sooner than ever before, should they wish to. Employer fertility packages undermines all of this entirely. Yes, there is always the possibility that a male employee will have been promoted above you while you are away on maternity leave. But surely this is a fair compromise in return for the privilege of being able to grow and give birth to a human life? Women might for once rejoice in the knowledge that no man will ever be able to enact this particular miracle, rather than feeling hard-done-by.
Aged 33, I am surrounded by women who want or have babies, women who don’t know if they want babies yet or at all, as well as those who want them but not until they are 38, when they will have secured the role of partner at their law firm. I also inevitably have friends who desperately want children but are struggling to conceive, many of whom may have left it too late. This is the reality of being a 30-something woman in Britain today. Nothing seems simple anymore. But surely, when it comes to something as primal as reproduction, it should be just that – simple? Children are a blessing not a curse, and this idea that a woman’s career should come first is contrary to nature and will end in tragedy for many people. As humans our strongest instinct is to procreate, however hard we may try to suppress it.
Olenka Hamilton is a freelance journalist and supplements editor at the Catholic Herald.
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