Yesterday Richard and I were guests on the Diane Rehm show, along with Barbara Collura (pictured above, far left), and Dr. Paul Gindoff (next to Barbara). Barbara is the executive director of RESOLVE, and Dr. Gindoff is professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the George Washington University Medical Center and director of the Fertility & IVF Center at The GW Medical Faculty Associates. We didn’t get to talk about marmosets or lowland gorillas in captivity, but I thought it was a good and hopefully helpful conversation (you can listen to the podcast here; click “Listen” at the top), and especially appreciated the stories of the callers and commenters on Orion‘s site and Diane Rehm’s. (One of the things I wondered about, before I wrote the essay, was whether it was possible to have this discussion in the context of an environmental magazine. I feel very grateful to Orion magazine and to my editor, Hannah Fries, for making room for it.)
However, I have some thoughts about comments surroundings the issues of infertility and assisted reproduction in general. I’m still reading through and thinking about some of the comments that were left on Diane Rehm’s website, but it occurs to me that the way this issue is often debated in online forums (and also probably at family potlucks and water cooler gatherings) contributes to the silence that Barbara spoke about so eloquently yesterday. Here’s one thing Barbara said on the show:
When you’re diagnosed with infertility, you silence yourself. You feel stigmatized, you feel alone. You don’t talk about it. And that’s partly why what we try and do in this infertility community is to tell people you’re not alone, seek out that help and support, get connected with others, whether that’s online or in person.
I agree with Barbara, and have found attending my RESOLVE group to be a more powerful and helpful experience than I ever expected. I don’t think I would have chosen to write about my experience if I had not first attended my group. However, I’m a writer professionally, and I’m somewhat used to, or at least prepared for, the choices I make and the words I choose to express myself being debated and discussed by strangers. So it pains me to think that someone who does not care to invite debate over their choices might be afraid to tell other people about a treatment or decision–expensive, difficult, fraught–because of the many uninformed, unscientific, and even unsympathetic things they expect to hear. Raw foods or acupuncture or will cure your infertility. Drink whole milk, eat meat, relax, go on vacation. You are too fat or too thin, you exercise too much or too little. You should have had your family when you were younger. You should do IVF right away! You should “just adopt.” (Having thought about adoption for a while, I know there are just as many unkind and uninformed things people have about that choice, too.) One of the points I try to make in my essay, and that I tried to make on air, is that you cannot know what you would do to build your family* unless or until you experience infertility for yourself, and also–as Dr. Gindoff and Barbara Collura were careful to express–that every individual will have a different experience.
It’s interesting to me when people try to universalize anecdotal evidence, when everyone becomes an expert on something as complex as human infertility and the choice to bring a child into the world–or not. Virginia Woolf struggled with it. So did Frida Kahlo (as a commenter on Orion recently mentioned). Medical doctors and researchers struggle with it. Someone you know might very well be struggling–in silence–because she is afraid of judgment she doesn’t deserve.
*another point I did not make on air, but wanted to: you do not have to have children to be or to have a family. Richard and I and our two cats and our parents and brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.: we are a family. Already.