Sunday, 1 November 2009

Ignorance and the role of the media

I don't think anyone understands the pain and uncertainty of IVF as a treatment for infertility until they have gone through it themselves, or at least lived through it vicariously by watching someone close to them go through it. I had no idea how hard it was, because so few people ever talk about that side of it - certainly you see a lot fewer sympathetic articles in the media than articles saying IVF is becoming too easily available, criticising its development as a way of commoditising life or implying that the 'selfish' people who go through it are putting their potential children at increased risk of birth defects, premature birth, etc ad nauseam.

A few weeks ago this article appeared in one of the Sunday supplements, and made my blood boil - don't click on the link if you want your blood pressure to stay at a normal level. But the trouble is, this is the sort of article that you see in the mainstream media on almost a weekly basis - and articles like this influence people's thinking.

So we're fed the idea that IVF is a lifestyle choice, something that people do because they're too selfish and too busy buying shoes and handbags and hanging out in wine bars with other single career women at the time when they should be having children, and then realise too late that the next accessory they want is a cute little baby, and they need artificial help to get that - especially as some of them have been too busy enjoying themselves and making money (eugh, how vulgar!) to pick up any likely-looking father material along the way and so need to buy some suitable man-juice before they can start manufacturing the baby.

Look at the huge variety of people this woman interviewed for her book - "my friend who worried at 39 that if she didn’t marry a man she didn’t love that she would lose the chance to have a child; Karen, the single mother who became pregnant with donor eggs and donor sperm at 46, and Ann, who became a ‘single mother by choice’ at 30 and then met the love of her life" and "married women who are uncertain about their careers, even their spouses, but certain that their future must include parenting. They’ve asked similar questions. How much time do I have? Can I freeze my eggs? Should I test my fertility? Will motherhood make me happy?"

Did she interview any women who suffered from infertility, other than as a result of having put their career first and left it too late? Did she talk to anyone in their 20s or early 30s who suffered from any of the huge range of problems which make it impossible to have children naturally? Did she talk to any married couples whose problem was MFI? Because if she did, she doesn't mention it.

Are people who think like her really in the majority? The media would certainly have us believe that, but I don't think they are - I think they're just so used to getting their own way that they shout louder and make more fuss about their situation than those of us who are suffering the private pain of infertility. There are many many people in the world who never tell a soul that they're suffering from infertility, and just pretend they never planned to have children anyway.

This paragraph was the only nod in the whole article to the fact that some people suffer from infertility and are not using IVF as a lifestyle choice:
Advancing reproductive technology is making these new choices possible, but how much should we depend on it? There are many women and couples who face infertility not because of their age or because they waited, who view this technology not as a choice but as their only chance for a biological child. But it’s still important to examine if the commercialisation of reproductive technology is making the act of becoming a parent too much like shopping for a pair of designer shoes.

This woman has a lot to learn, and so do the people who depend on the media and second-hand stories to educate them about reproductive technologies. I suppose it's up to us to try to make the people around us understand that infertility is not a lifestyle choice, and that some of us can't just "relax and it'll happen". And perhaps that will have a ripple effect and increasing numbers of people will begin to understand.

But we're fighting an uphill battle when there's so much misinformation out there.


  1. I completely agree with you about people who are "so used to getting what they want screaming louder." It's such a shame that these articles almost always either ignore infertile couples or completely misunderstand them. IF is such a hard road to walk, and I guess if you are lucky enough to not experience it and used to getting everything you want you forget to acknowledge the needs and feelings of those who don't.

  2. ohhhhh what a superficial article. I wanted to wack her over the head with her designer hand-bag. I'm going to be completely judgemental myself here and say that you could only write an article like that if you had lead a life where you were used to getting everything so easily. She would never have written that article if she had seen someone first hand struggle with infertility.