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Fertility Treatments: Desperation and Reduction

October 26, 2009

The New York Times had a story recently about the risks inherent in fertility treatments. I came across it reading SLOG, in which Dan Savage provided some choice words about the couple who disregarded their doctor’s advice to “reduce” the number of fetuses, causing a difficult sextuplet pregnancy and the eventual death of four of the six babies. The couple decided to “let God do what he’s going to do.” Savage points out that if they were really going to do that, they would have remained childless or adopted.

This story annoyed the crap out of me. I suppose I’m meant to feel sorry for the families who wanted children so desperately that the endured insane medical procedures and were then faced with difficult decisions. It’s sad when children die, and it’s unfair that a woman who desperately wants to be a mother should have to make the decision to kill a fetus because she chose a more economical treatment over one that was safer and less likely to result in multiple embryos. But I find myself without  much sympathy for these people. Why, in the context of fertility treatment, is it called “reduction” or “elimination” or even “termination,” but not “abortion”? It’s the same ghastly decision, the same ghastly consequence. And it could all be avoided.

Maybe my biological clock isn’t ticking loudly enough. I just don’t find the biological imperative to leave one’s DNA legacy to be so compelling as to warrant this insanity. Fertility treatments sound awful. They are expensive and stressful. For me, the costs outweigh the benefits here. Remaining childless is an option. Adoption is an option. Mentoring is an option. Babysitting or nannying is an option. Teaching is an option. Ug.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Becca permalink
    October 27, 2009 12:21 pm

    I think that, for some people, that clock is ticking loud. And if they have the money, time, emotional fortitude, etc., to deal with fertility treatments, more power to them. In some cases, adoption is not an option, for whatever reason (I read one blog written by a woman whose husband was adopted and unfortunately felt like he never bonded with his adoptive parents and overall found it to be a traumatic upbringing. For them, adoption was not an option). And certainly many people try fertility treatments and fail, or decide to stop, or whatever, and do remain childless.

    I guess my point is that these cases we hear in the news are sensationalized stories about folks who don’t represent all infertile people. Octomom? I mean, seriously. Reproductive endocrinologists all over her RE’s irresponsible decision to transfer eight embryos. Some people are hypocritical re: “nature taking its course/the Lord’s will” in terms of using science to get pregnant and then not reducing when too many embryos “take.” I guess my point is that these stories about six, seven, eight babies at a time being born, and then slowly dying…that’s not representative of how it happens for most people. To tell a couple who wants a child badly enough to undergo fertility treatments or even to adopt (because that is also a long and involved and emotionally strenuous process) that babysitting, nannying, mentoring is an option…seems reductive, dismissive, and hurtful.

    OK, now I have written a novel. xo!

    • Betsy permalink*
      October 27, 2009 2:08 pm

      Good points. And I agree that equating baby-sitting with child-rearing is unfair, so thanks for calling me on it.

      I guess I just can’t relate. I don’t know what it’s like to want children and not be able to have any. It strikes me as a little arrogant to believe that everyone is entitled to have children.

      I have wondered about people like the man you describe as having had a traumatic adoptive upbringing. I can understand his wariness of the process since he had such a bad experience, but it’s not as if you’re guaranteed to have a smooth and connected parent-child relationship just because you’re biologically related.

      My ire is mostly directed towards the couple in the article who seemed unwilling to accept the risks and responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with the decision to pursue fertility treatments. Their situation may well be very uncommon and their attitude unusual, and I believe the article did make the point that many couples faced with the decision to “reduce” are forced to because the more expensive, and safer, treatments are out of their reach. But if you are going to go down that road, you need to acknowledge and accept the whole package. Those surviving babies are really sick and really small.

      I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to have babies of their own, or that adoption is the obvious second choice that everyone should make. I question the time, energy, heartache, and expense that goes towards the pursuit of passing along DNA and continuing the family name, but I’m not going to tell anyone they should spend those resources in other ways if that’s their choice. As you know, the issue of having children is one that is fraught for me. I’m still navigating my way towards a decision, and articles like these make me think. I’m pretty sure fertility treatments are not for me, but I know they can work, and many lucky couples now have families because of them, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone a family.

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