Last night, I was part of the most fascinating and thought provoking panel discussion at the screening of this amazing film about the relationship between the growing fertility treatment technology marketplace and freelance work. I was struck by how brilliant my fellow panelists were. Truly inspiring women who came at the topic from diverse sets of expertise and backgrounds:
- Maggie Breslin is a designer and researcher with a focus in health care. She co-directs The Patient Revolution project, an attempt to skill and support patients as a force of change in health care (http://patientrevolution.org).
She pioneered the role of designer/researcher at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation when she joined in 2005 and helped build the program until she left in 2011 to establish her own practice. She has published in journals ranging from Design Issues to Archives of Internal Medicine, teaches at the School for Visual Arts (SVA) in the Design for Social Innovation program, holds a Masters of Design (MDes) from Carnegie Mellon University and a BS in Mass Communications, Film and Television, from Miami University.
- Gwen Schroeder (@gweyen) is a film maker whose contributions have led to Academy award-winning films, critically-hailed documentary programming, and viral online video. She recently documented her own process of freezing her eggs (go girl), and while going through her journey, decided to save some money on her hormones and purchased her drugs in Dubai. That’s where she realized this wasn’t just a US story, and that these stories needed to be widely shared. Gwen is currently directing a short documentary on reproductive tourism in the Middle East.
- Molly Heintz (@heintzmm) is the managing director and co-founder of the editorial consultancy Superscript and an editor at Co.Design, the online design + business section of Fast Company magazine. She was also our lovely moderator.
- And of course, Rachel Abrams (@TurnstoneTweets) the film maker. She is a design strategist, visual storyteller and creative place-maker. She runs Turnstone Consulting here in New York. Her work aiding policy by design has brought about, among other things: green taxis in the outer boroughs, the new brand identity of the Queens Museum and most widespread, New York’s citywide system of maps for Citibikers and pedestrians. Among other things, the vocabulary of “way finding” led her to write and illustrate “Pins and Needles”, in 2013, about navigating fertility, and ultimately to produce tonight’s film, for the Open Society Foundations’ US programs’ Inquiry into Technology and the Future of Work. This film, Let’s Get To Work, was co-produced, filmed and edited by Yvonne Jukes and researched by Kate Nicholson and will be the focus of our discussion tonight.
And then, there was little ‘ol me. As a very funny man I know and love put it, I should embrace the fact that I was essentially bringing the rice crispy treats to a very sophisticated dinner party. Meaning, my only expertise is simply the fact that I had frozen my eggs and blogged about it, and while my mission is serious, my angle and tone have been light-hearted and humorous. I’d like to say I’ve made the complex and mysterious a bit more simple and human, but honestly, I also had not thought about it as deeply as Rachel has (until last night!).
The topic of the film and the discussion was heady, but also fascinating and invigorating.
After watching it several times (I had to – it’s complex, and remember, I’m the girl who brings the rice crispy treats!), what I finally took away from it is simple: embracing this amazing, miraculous technology is all well and good, and it’s definitely part of the equation, but technology alone won’t fix all of our problems. As Rachel so eloquently put it, we’re often quick to turn to technology to fix our issues. But in the case of making babies and starting families, technology alone isn’t going to solve it all. We have to think about, and deal with, how we got here in the first place.
In the current environment, if you follow my logic of Birth Control 2.0 and educate women and men about their reproductive realities earlier, let’s say by the time they’re 26-28, you’ve at least made them aware and given them options. Those options, assuming the woman wants babies to begin with, look something like this:
1. She takes her chances and lives her life, and hopes she’ll have a healthy reproductive system whenever she’s ready to have kids.
2. She freezes her eggs at a very hefty price tag.
3. She starts a family, potentially before she’s financially, professionally and personally ready to do so.
But these options all kind of suck at the moment. They’re limiting because of the context in which they exist.
The first one, for obvious reasons.
The second, because we have a health care system that covers Viagra, but not egg freezing, so she suffers financially unless she’s wealthy (and if she’s a normal 26 year old, she’s not wealthy). And later on, should she ever choose to thaw and hatch her eggs, she pays even more.
Finally, the last option. Because of the work place environment, because of how little the state does to support working moms and families, and because of what we currently value in the work place, this is probably the suckiest option of all, which is why so many of us waited. In most major cities, in professional circles, twenty something is considered a very young age to have a baby. In fact, if a woman has a baby at that age, we assume she must not be very ambitious. At best we simply dismiss her, at worst, we have some pretty negative preconceived notions of her: She must have married well. She just wants to go be a wife and a mommy. Loser.
I’m being dramatic, but in many places in the US, that’s the perception of women who actually have babies when women are biologically meant to have babies. And once they make the decision to do so, there’s nothing in place to support her. At best, she has some disability time with pay in some states, at worst, no maternity leave at all. So she either employs expensive child care that eats up most of her paycheck, or she doesn’t go back to work because it’s simply not worth it.
So as I now see, there is much more to my Birth Control 2.0 mission than simply access to better sex education, and to fertility treatments. And that’s why #letsget2work and #futureofwork is so important.
I’m just scratching the surface, so more to come!