The authors of the NYT op-ed “Selling the Fantasy of Fertility,” were right on target when they pointed toward the seductive sales pitch of the infertility industry. What Miriam Zoll and Pamela Tsigdinos failed to spot is the elephant in the room, the lie at the center of the expanding global baby making industry: infertility is a disease.
A rising number of state of the art clinics, and the ongoing crusades of national infertility advocacy groups push for “legislation that will allow more people to afford IVF treatments,” which would, “improve the lives of infertile patients,” and help them, “gain control over this devastating disease.” The message of the promotional videos is clear: infertility is a disease and IVF is the cure. In close to two decades of fertility education and advocacy, I have come to recognize infertility as a symptom of myriad underlying physical, emotional, and, at times, intangible, obstacles.
The inability to conceive a child is one of the most emotionally significant challenges a woman can face. When we view our circumstances through a lens of desperation it is easy to miss the subtle sleight of hand that occurs when IVF-sponsored consumer groups, bankrolled by the highly profitable industry, promise a way out of isolation. The threat of childlessness can feel devastating; we are mourning the children we feel should be in our arms right now. But this pain is the ache of unfulfilled longing, not a disease.
Medical technology is a tool. It harms or heals depending on how we use it.
Among the couples I’ve worked with, the average length of trying to conceive has been 3 years, involving an average of 3 failed medical treatments. And even in this population I have witnessed women with as many as 14 failed medical treatments conceive naturally after less than a few months of a physical and emotional overhaul. (click here to read story)
Over the years, I have welcomed the arrival of many IVF-conceived babies with mothers who followed this path to motherhood attentive to internal cues. (click here to read their stories) I have also seen women, propelled by panic to reach for the big guns of IVF as a way of tuning out the body’s call for attention.
What if instead of perpetuating the lie of infertility as a devastating disease, we saw our childbearing difficulties as the attempt of the complex human organism to shield us from harm? What if we chose to hear it as a voice of a protective ally that says: Honey, having a baby is serious business. You’re not quite ready.
Could overriding the finely tuned authority of the endocrine system be setting us up for a serious health crisis later in life?
High tech reproduction is not going away. As is always the case in a free market economy, the responsibility to be careful consumers lies with us. Unless we begin to do our own thinking and choosing, our love affair with medical technology will continue to supply the baby making business with a steady stream of eager buyers. I agree with Miriam Zoll and Pamela Tsigdinos that the promise of a quick fix is hard to resist. But buying into the lie of the label can indeed turn us into “fertility junkies.” Who can resist a cure when facing such a dreadful diagnosis?
Here’s a question for anyone who wishes to engage: what is the one symptom; one specific physical, emotional, or spiritual imbalance you’ve been able to discover through this difficult, and also mysterious challenge full of wonder and yes, also, immense opportunities for healing?