Wednesday, January 28, 2009

about the eight

Oh, woman who just had eight babies, what were you thinking? Seriously? Did you not consider how much worse this was going to make it for every woman who is trying, valiantly, to explain to her in-laws, nosy neighbors, well-meaning colleagues, and super-fertile friends the truth about fertility treatments? Did you not know that now, every person we might confide in will automatically respond, "you'd better be careful, you might have eight!" And how much this will irritate an already fragile population of women whose reproductive health is roundly misunderstood by, oh, 98% of the population?


(What? I'm overreacting, you say? Are you suggesting that this is not, in fact, all about me? Humph.)

This reminds me of the weight-loss commercials you see for programs like Nutri-System and Jenny Craig, where the featured celebrity tells you that she lost "forty pounds in a week and a half! And it's so easy! You can do it too!" and you notice, maybe, in the corner of the screen, a sentence in The World's Tiniest Font announcing that said celebrity's weight loss is "not typical." Of course, the typical weight loss customers don't make for exciting commericals. Nobody wants to see your next-door neighbor on a commerical announcing, "I lost two pounds in a month! And even that was way harder than I thought, and this packaged food tastes like crap!"

So, one easy blame-factor here is the media. For every successful high-order-multiple birth, there must be hundreds which don't go nearly as well. But we don't hear about those. In the equivalent of tiny font, broadcasters tells us that risks in these situations are very high, but let's face it - that doesn't really sink in when you see eight tiny, reasonably healthy, very sweet babies on the screen.

I always believed that I would not choose to do in-vitro. I thought that if I had fertility trouble, I would go straight to adoption. And yet here we are, at the precipice of IVF #1, and my perspective has changed. So, on the one hand, I really can't cast too many stones at this mother (and father). We can surprise ourselves. You can't know with 100% certainty what you'll do in any given situation until you're in it.

But, honestly, I do believe their decision to have all eight was horribly irresponsible. As much as I enjoy watching Jon and Kate Plus 8, when they start talking about how it was "God's will" for them to have these six babies, I just shut down. I believe in God. I go to church every week, actually. I've been pretty pissed off at God during this whole infertility thing, but I believe God can take that.

As far as I can tell, this particular couple hasn't thrown around the "God's will" thing (yet), and maybe they never will. But, seriously - is that what people really think? If so, how come nobody says, "well, we're infertile, I guess that's the will of God." If you find yourself in a situation that can be changed, how come you think that God's will always lands on the side of the change you want?

I don't think infertility is the will of God. But I'm equally unconvinced that you can take fertility drugs, find yourself pregnant with a litter, and then say, "oh! It's the will of God!" At the very least, you have to think about what kind of shitty theology that produces. If God really goes around interfering directly in people's reproductive systems, then what about a couple who tries IVF seven times and never succeeds? Is that the will of God? What about someone who gets pregnant with six babies, who are born prematurely and all die within the first month? Where's God there? And where's your personal responsibility?

Well. Enough of that for now. Their decision is entirely personal, of course, and it doesn't matter a bit what I think about it, as far as they're concerned. But infertility is such a misunderstood reality that I get frustrated when the little information that's actually out there leads to even more misunderstandings. Just for the fun of it, I'd like to clear up a few things. In honor of the eight babies, here are eight truths about least for me:

1. Not all fertility treatments will lead to having eight babies.

2. In-vitro fertilization is actually the best way to AVOID having eight babies.

3. Saying "just relax" is not helpful. Infertility is not caused by not relaxing. Go tell a cancer patient to "just relax" and see how that goes over.

4. We, the infertile women and men of America, do not want to hear about how your "best friend's cousin's neighbor's co-worker" got pregnant right after she gave up trying to get pregnant and adopted instead. These stories are 1.) largely apocryphal and 2.) not helpful anyway.

5. We are not being bitter when we remain convinced that someone who has not endured infertility simply does not understand the heartbreak of it. It's just true.

6. It is not the responsibility of the infertile to adopt all the needy children of the world.

7. Requiring fertility coverage on insurance plans actually decreases the cost of health care. Infertility is a medical condition. Any insurance plan that covers Viagra ought damn well to cover fertility treatments.

8. It is not at all inconsistent that I keep my fertility struggle largely secret and yet expect every celebrity who just happens to give birth to twins at age 43 to admit to any and all fertility treatments. I know this sounds totally inconsistent. Trust me. I have a little magic formula in my head to make this all work out.

Be well, eight babies and mom. As much as I disagree with your decision, I hope with all my heart that you're healthy and thriving. And God knows I hope never to have to face a decision about reducing the number of babies in a pregnancy. Right now, I'm just hoping for one.


  1. Yep, when I heard the headline yesterday morning I braced myself for all fallout. Agree with everything you wrote, especially that everyone will now jokingly tell me that I'm going to have eight freaking babies. And then I'll have to bust out my "Jon and Kate + 8" monologue to try and educate someone that can't be educated! Arrgh!

    I tell myself that once I'm a fertile I will be honest and open about our past struggle, because it will be over at that point. But, not really sure if I will (we are totally in the closet at this point). Hey, I have magic formulas in my head too!

  2. I got the whole "how many babies will you have, I hope not 8 like that lady" talk too. It's funny, most people don't realize that we will be lucky to get just one. I have had to educate the friends and family I told about my IVF about the process and they still get freaked out by stories about high order multiples. I'm thinking they just won't learn so now I'm just going to tell them I'll get my own show on TV if I have bunches of babies. :-)