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:

5 responses so far

  • girlparts says:

    Do you wish someone had shared the perspective you have now with your 15 year-old self?

  • eeke says:

    Did the students understand that the success rate, in terms of live births, is extremely low? It shouldn't be sold as a guarantee of a baby later in life, but rather as an enhancement of the probability of having a baby at advanced age from something less than zero (or maybe greater than 5%, depends on age; >40).

    Maybe by the time this generation is old enough, significant advances will be made in IVF technology, but I wouldn't count on it.

  • Zuska says:

    Why do parents not give their sons the "your priorities will change when you have children" speech?
    When I was heading off to grad school at MIT, my senior thesis advisor deemed it important to let me know that nothing I ever achieved would matter to me as much as my children. (Which is too bad, since I never had any.) My soon-to-be husband did not receive a similarly "inspirational" speech from his senior thesis advisor.

    I'm aware kids need a lot of attention and nurturing. I just am underwhelmed by the notion that their arrival should have a momentous impact on a mother's career choices but essentially be experienced as an unremarkable, and unremarked upon, event in the father's career choices.

    • Pascale says:

      Women are still the "default" parent. Dad's job is to make lots of money and support the family; mom makes sure the money gets spent the right way to feed, clothe, and otherwise nurture everyone. Even when mom outearns dad, this is the stock assumption.

      That is what really needs to change. I'm sure with a bit of effort we can completely reverse societal expectations, right?

  • Christina says:

    @Zuska I don't think my husband's priorities *have* changed or had to change after children. Who takes off when they're sick or it's a daycare vacation day and not a work vacation day?Who has given up going to conferences for years?

    Should his priorities have changed? Probably. Have they and did he need that warning he didn't get? No.

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