Would you work in an Amazon warehouse to get pregnant?
That’s my question of the week after reading The Cut’s article about women pulling graveyard shifts in backbreaking jobs to pay for IVF. Yep, it’s a thing.
In a previous edition of this newsletter, I questioned what would change if there were more financial and career safety nets that incentivize motherhood. This is especially pressing as infertility figures are skyrocketing at an alarming rate and women everywhere are delaying motherhood. Today, I want to specifically dig into motherhood as an employment benefit. That may sound flippant, but we need to talk about how and why employers are incentivizing work via the “reward” of fertility, childcare, and parental leave benefits.
When you think about the lengths a person might take to start a family, highly invasive fertility procedures that are physically and emotionally taxing might come to mind first. But there’s also the crippling financial cost of fertility treatments. Some facts: One in six heterosexual couples in America struggle to get pregnant. A single IVF fertility cycle can cost between $15,000-$30,000, with most patients having to go through multiple cycles of treatment to conceive. To add to that, most insurance plans don’t cover the cost of fertility treatments, so people rely on their employers to provide additional benefits. To pay for the costs of fertility treatments, it’s common for couples to take out loans, launch fundraisers, or apply an IVF grant (yes, really!). There’s a deep irony here. Culturally, women are bombarded with the universal societal pressure to conceive, but in reality, America “doesn’t treat the desire to give birth, or the choice not to, as a basic reproductive right worthy of coverage.”
For those unfamiliar with the U.S. healthcare system (hello, fellow Brits) there’s no National Health Service-equivalent, so the predominant path to securing healthcare coverage is through an employer (via benefits). And in this system, reproductive choices are treated the same as cosmetic surgeries — it’s considered more of a “nice to have” versus a necessity. So employers are offering fertility benefits more and more, not just to fill in the gaps where the healthcare system left off, but to entice people to work for them. Which works. It’s well-known amongst “whisper networks” that people opt for larger companies over small businesses when they want to have children — and why shouldn’t they? These healthcare benefits are a necessity, despite the fact that they’re wrapped up in a much larger, failing system.
Fertility benefits are a double-edged sword. While they can signal the appearance of a good employer, the benefit can also trap employees (especially low-income workers) into working for the company out of fear of losing their chance at parenthood. It’s like having golden handcuffs not around money, but around being a parent. This is the reality women are facing right now. As The Cut highlighted, Amazon and Starbucks are two companies that are recognized for offering excellent fertility benefits to all their employees (salaried and hourly). They’re so renowned that there are even TikTok accounts and Facebook groups (Starbucks’s group has over 9,000 members!) set up by employees to share the details on how to leverage the company’s insurance package, offering tips on how to survive long shift work while pregnant or while receiving IVF treatment. Ironically, the work that many women feel forced to take on, like graveyard shifts in warehouse freezers, 12-hour days on their feet, or carrying heavy loads, is exactly the work discouraged by doctors while freezing your eggs or undergoing IVF. There’s also evidence that overnight hours or heavy lifting on the job can reduce fertility in IVF patients, according to a study from Harvard’s School of Public Health. Talk about a catch-22.
Despite grueling work conditions, many women quoted in The Cut piece were actually grateful to their employer, as they saved tens of thousands in medical bills. But they were still angry at the government for not covering fertility treatments, which seems like it should fall under basic human healthcare instead of a luxury only provided by huge corporations.
What do you think? And if you feel comfortable sharing the lengths you went to in order to get pregnant, we’d love to hear your story.