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With Egg-Freezing So Expensive, Should Long-Term Boyfriends Chip In?

A technician in Amsterdam opens a vessel containing women's frozen egg cells.
AFP/Getty Images
A technician in Amsterdam opens a vessel containing women's frozen egg cells.

Egg-freezing. Come on, single ladies; you know you want to. In fact, you wish you had already, like, 10 years ago. Admit it.

Despite your justified resentment of the way certain media outlets bait fertility fears for sales and clicks, despite the 2 a.m. Internet surfing that reveals egg-freezing is like an insurance policy that often doesn't pay out, despite a nagging suspicion that cryopreservation is some misogynistic hoax — you nonetheless wish you'd frozen those little suckers right around the time you got your master's degree.

Doesn't matter whether you know you want kids or not: You want the option. After all, your ex-boyfriend Alex, the one who hemmed and hawed about that ring, will have the option to have biological children into his 50s at least, and probably well beyond. So will most of the guys you date. (Thanks, biology!)

Here's the rub: It costs $13,000 to $20,000 to pump you full of hormones and then extract your genetic material — a thick wad of cash that might feel humiliating to part with, even if you have it handy. (And we're not even talking about the costs of storage and thawing.)

But is it fair for you to bear those costs alone? Certainly women bear the brunt of procreation costs — from actual labor to child care, as well as the attendant opportunity costs — even though they still make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.

At the same time, egg-freezing has provided a handy way to monetize a woman's fertility: "It makes fertility a commodity," says Sarah Elizabeth Richards, whose book, Motherhood, Rescheduled, follows four women who froze their eggs.

So who should pay? If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe the village should help preserve its women's fertility.

There's a strong evolutionary argument that your family should chip in, as suggested every time your parents ask when you're going to settle down and give them some grandchildren. Their selfish genes wish to propagate, so why don't they help?

There's also an argument that the government should chip in with subsidies — or tax credits or deductions — to help women fund the cost of a procedure that arguably will provide a future benefit to society: a new generation of taxpayers.

But the most plausible source of funding? It's Alex, the beleaguered bad guy of the tragic tale we've heard a thousand times: Boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love, move in together and talk marriage. But as months turn to years and a ring fails to materialize, girl begins to worry that Alex is a chronic commitmentphobe. Worse, he effectively has taken an option out — at no cost — on her fertility, which is a depreciating asset. Why shouldn't he chip in for the cost of the procedure?

"I do think there's a place to say, 'There's a cost to me for staying in this relationship, and it's fair if you help me absorb it,' " Richards says. (That, Richards says, would be a better strategy than a post-hoc revenge tirade along the lines of "you ignorant cad, this is your responsibility, too!")

If done correctly — meaning openly and without resentment — it could even bring a couple closer together, Richards adds.

"It can help him invest in the relationship and make him feel less guilt about wasting her time," he says.

The trend is new but not unheard of, Richards says. She wrote about an alimony case in which the woman demanded $20,000 to cover the cost of freezing her eggs and says that lawyers now are creating "love contracts" and "cohabitation agreements."

And as marriage rates continue to decline, there may be more room to consider the formal obligations cohabitants have to each other.

"The courts are beginning to grapple with the fact that marriage is no longer the only place where people enter long-term commitments, make sacrifices and incur long-term obligations," says Stephanie Coontz, a scholar whose book Marriage, a History charts the evolution of wedlock, mating and romantic love.

In a just world, unmarried women wouldn't bear the entire cost of their depreciating fertility.

In other words, Alex, your invoice is in the mail.

Pooja Bhatia writes about justice, policy and many other things for Ozy ... AND makes an exception for oysters. You can follow her@bhatiap.

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Pooja Bhatia