A tool that can heal or hurt
In over two decades of my work as a fertility advocate, I’ve celebrated the arrival of many IVF-conceived babies, with mothers and fathers who followed this road to parenthood attentive to internal cues and protective of their overall level of health.
I have also seen women like Gen Glassman conceive naturally after 7 years and 15 failed medical treatments when they, as Gen put it, decided to “do something good for my body and mind.”
And I have seen women propelled by fears of childlessness, reach for the big guns of IVF as a way of tuning out the body’s call for attention. For them, a potentially useful tool became a self-punishing weapon.
Each year, Resolve, the National Infertility Association, on the National Advocacy Day calls on those suffering from the “devastating disease of infertility” to march on Wasthington, requesting a federal mandate for IVF insurance coverage. In addition to banners and slogans activists are offered the opportunity to meet with legislators (“appointments made for you”) in an effort to show the human face of this devastating issue.
All of this “support of the infertile community” is made possible by Ova Science, Ferring Pharmaceuticals and Walgreens, whose logos have been prominently displayed on the landing page advertising this day of “advocacy.”
Assisted reproductive technology as instrument of healing
I have been learning, researching, teaching and writing about infertility since my own hopeless diagnosis over two decades ago. For the most part I’ve focused on the opportunity that comes with this life crisis, while occasionally pointing toward the dark side of a profit-driven industry.
As noted earlier, my work as a reproductive healthcare educator has never been about rejecting the use of assisted reproduction for women who have chosen that road.
The moving Fertile Heart stories of IVF babies and the stories of Fertile Heart babies conceived through egg donation are a testament to the possibility of using ART as an instrument of deep healing.
Nor do I oversimplify the link between our health challenges and our lifestyle choices. Blaming ourselves for our childbearing hurdles would not only be the ultimate exercise in futility, it would also be an act of arrogance, implying that we are the sole creators of our circumstances.
What we do makes a difference, but the unfolding of our reproductive lives takes place within a larger story.
A devastating disease requires an aggressive cure
That story can be dangerously skewed by calling infertility a devastating disease
Devastating diseases require aggressive cures, such as the embryo selection method developed by the team of experts at CARE Fertility, Britain’s largest independent clinic. The technique hailed at some point as the “most exciting and significant development of the last 35 years,” takes thousands of snapshots of the developing embryo, in order to select the one most likely to grow into a healthy baby. If you’ve been following the precarious trajectory of embryo selection, you’ll note that this new method hopes to replace the old one of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), in which a cell, instead of having its picture taken, is removed from the embryo and subjected to genetic testing. Some IVF doctors suspect that PGD might in fact damage healthy embryos, and instead of being a cure for infertility, the cell removal could actually cause IVF failures.
Infertility may in fact at times requite in-vitro intervention but it is a symptom of an underlying imbalance or a consequence of a disease such as cancer, not a disease in a usual sense.
Missing peace of the puzzle
In close to two decades of counseling and teaching, I found that the missing pieces of the puzzle were rooted in myriad physical and emotional causes. The attempt to sidestep such warning signals might not only further disrupt endocrine function, it can rob aspiring parents of the opportunity for healing that comes with every health crisis.
It’s a serious business and I love you
What if infertility, as heart wrenching as it may feel—after all we’re mourning the children we feel should be in our arms right now— is in fact the kindest possible wake up call? What if it’s the body’s attempt to pick the low-risk embryo, a selection method more reliable than the 5 thousand snapshots and morphokinetic algorithms of the latest invention. What if it’s the complex human organism attempting to shield us and our not-yet-born children from harm, saying, Honey, having a baby is serious business. I’d love you to get stronger before you take it on!