The Daily News

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Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Get Your Story Straight

I love my body. I really do. Except. You know. My stomach. It's really big. And my thighs. They're really wide. And my ass. It's strangely shaped. But I love my body. Except. You know. I'm short.

Okay, class, what is wrong with all of these comments? Anyone? Anyone? I'm talking shit about my body...well, yes, that's true. But the reason why I'm talking shit about my body is actually the larger issue. Because every statement above is a comparative term. Big--how can you know what is big unless you know what is small? Wide--how can you know what is wide unless you know what is narrow? Strangely shaped? Who is to say what is normal vs. strange? And where is the cut-off that makes someone tall vs. someone short?

If this were a commercial, I would be half-spitting/half-crying while I confronted a gaggle of supermodels--I learned it from watching you!

Which isn't entirely true. The supermodel may be the face of the campaign, but the general media created the campaign. And it does a lot of damage because it is human nature to absorb and incorporate what we see or hear into our own vision of the world. Stick a child in a violent home and they will absorb violence. Tell a girl she is beautiful and she will believe it until the day that she starts absorbing these societal ideals of beauty (studies usually put the age as six). Run several news stories sensationalizing infertility and you wonder why the general public thinks we're a bunch a raving lunatics.

This is the only way I can compare it. My rational me knows that I'm falling into the media's trap when I judge my body. My rational me knows that I shouldn't care if my stomach isn't flat because flat does not mean perfect. Flat simply means flat. And some stomachs are flat and others are nicely rounded. And it means nothing. And the ideals of beauty are defined by the culture--not the general world population. Therefore, my round stomach is beautiful elsewhere. And the rational me knows this. But. I can't help but feel like crap about my body, feel self-conscious about my body, drap my arm awkwardly across my stomach to hide the bump. Because it's so ingrained. You're bombarded with information to make you feel ashamed about your unique body. So you over-ride your rational side and feel self-conscious.

Which is the same thing that happens to people who love us. They hear about infertility and they see us struggling and they see the devastation. But they get a message from the media that we're bleeding lunatics and baby-crazy. They take the concept of "medical" out of this medical condition and make it something controllable. A personality quirk. And that's where I think many of the rude statements come from. The "just relax" and the "take a vacation" and the "have more sex" and the "you can always adopt." Because the non-infertile's rational side can see that you're grieving and anxious and frustrated and (in some cases) in physical pain. But the non-infertile's media-enriched side is remembering this image of "infertile as crazy."

Hence these two media stories this week:

If you haven't yet seen this, click here to watch a video on MSN News about infertilty and the under-30 crowd (thank you, Carolyn and my dad for sending it along). The first problem is that whoever wrote this can't seem to stick to their own angle. They want to reveal those petulant, pouty twenty-somethings who are jumping into IVF just because they can't wait to have a baby. Oh...and we hope you miss this fact and we're sticking it at the end of the broadcast...but this woman actually does have a problem. That needs attention. If she's not ovulating, how does the reporter think she is going to have a child without help?

I am all for not jumping into hysterics (what am I talking about? I'm all for everyone-who-isn't-me not jumping into hysterics) and giving it a bit of time--if all seems fine. But why would you wait something out if you know there is a problem? Just to see? If it clears up on its own? And while I would believe it if they said that there are frantic twenty-somethings who are demanding Clomid and getting it (because I know this problem exists), I highly doubt that swarms of twenty-somethings are enduring IVF for no reason. And that they can find REs to perform IVF (and seriously, as Carolyn says, if this is true, why isn't the RE accountable for not turning down this patient?).

Which is to say that it is possible to be under 30 and have trouble conceiving--a fact that this broadcast wishes to sweep under the rug. And these shows make women feel guilty or second-guess themselves. Why should they have respect for their own bodies if the media is essentially mocking them? Because there are women with actual problems (that they know are problems) who are going to watch that program and not get the help they need because they think they need to stick to the guideline of one-year-of-trying. And the people who are supposed to be there supporting them now have an image of an infertile person as crazy. As baby obsessed. As impatient.

And (AGAIN) I am all for the one-year rule if you have no known issues. But what do you do when you notice things are wrong by month four? Just ignore it for the next eight months? And some of this just smacks of sexism to me. Hysterical women with their floating uteruses (what do you think is the etymology of the word "hysterical"?). Call me a bleeding heart Gloria Steinem, but if men ask for a semen analysis before a year, are they labeled as hysterical and baby-crazy? Or just medically savvy? Or just being a self-advocate?

The other story is the one about the abducted baby who was returned to her mother today. Shannon Beck, grieving woman who lost her child late in her pregnancy, abducted a week-old child and tried to pass it off as her own. And my heart goes out to that mother--it truly does. I think we can all recognizing that holding another woman at knifepoint and taking her child is wrong. But it's the way Shannon Beck is portrayed in the media that is damaging. Each article refers to the police profile they created while searching for the culprit (and how often do you read about the police profile in a news story AFTER they have captured the perpetrator? Truly--think about this fact for a moment. I'm not saying while they're still searching for the perpetrator and enlisting the help of the general public. This report came out AFTER Shannon Beck was arrested).

"The abductor had been profiled as someone whose child had died recently, or as someone who could not have children, but had told people she was pregnant and needed to steal a child so her lie would not be found out" (The Washington Post, September 20, 2006).

Again, infertile woman as crazy. As a liar. As someone desperate. And if the perpetrator had turned out to be a serial killer who was a mother of three--would we have ever known the profile the police had created? Probably not. But because they were correct, they needed to let us know that they were correct in their assessment. And because it takes any sympathy away from Shannon Beck. She steals. She lies. Therefore, the public can conclude that she deserves to be punished for her crime.

And I'm not saying that she didn't commit a crime. There should be consequences for her crime. But where are the nets in society that catch a woman who is grieving this deeply? And why do we have to throw more judgement at her? Why can't she be tried off the pages of the newspaper. In a court. Without the judgemental language creating an image of infertile woman as insane. As baby-obsessed. As fucking desperate.


aah0424 said...

I too am not a fan of how the media portrays infertile women.

The NBC report on younger women had me furious. It seemed very one sided, but it also seemed like it was cut short-like it just ended. There were no scientific facts, no details about what the girls diagnosis is. To me it was just crap news. There was no real point. I e-mailed the reporter and the network, but unlike Carolyn I didn't hear back.

My husband and I have known since before we were trying that we would most likely be infertile. He's known since he was 16 because he had cancer. I was 28 when we started trying and it wouldn't have mattered if we were 23 or 36 we would still be dealing with the same thing I'm sure. Would I have been classified as impatient if we had done the testing right in the beginning? I would hate to think that, but I probably would have been.

On to todays news. When I first heard about the baby being abducted and the mother being assaulted my first thought was what you just posted from the Washingtom Post. My other thought was a woman who wasn't pregnant, but had said she was to try and keep a guy. I wish that hadn't been my first reaction, but unfortunatly it was.

The part that you referenced from an article in the Washington Post was actually written in a St. Louis paper on the 17th, so the profile was discussed prior to the suspect being caught.
I will agree with you on one thing, if they had put out this profile and it had actually been a mother of 3 who did it they probably would have been platering all over the news how it wasn't your usual psychotic infertile who did it. Either way it would have still been made mention.

So, now I sit here and think I hope my fertile friends that know what I'm going through aren't thinking, "Wow, I hope Amy doesn't get that desperate!"

heather said...

ok, i didn't watch the video yet, as i'm at work and don't have a speaker on my computer...but that makes me mad! i started ttc when i was almost 23, tried for over 6 years before turning to ivf at 29. i did clomid, metformin, and a study. i've known i had pcos for almost all of those 6 years, and still i waited. i say if you know you're not going to get pg on your own and you can do ivf, do it!!! who cares if you're young, good for you on doing it earlier, when chances are it'll work. oh, i can't wait to get home and watch that video and grr at the computer monitor!!

C said...

It's been almost a week and that NBC story still has me fuming. There were so many things wrong with it that I didn't even know which to pick when I blogged about my exchange with the reporter (I stuck with the RE angle since it was the only argument I could coherently make at that point) and every single one of them reminded me of how my very first RE made me feel when I went in for testing. Hearing, "Well, I see that you're only 25 years old," was pretty much the last way I wanted that appointment to start, and it ended up with me in tears.

There are days when I'd like to send out a press release to the effect of, "I'm not crazy, I'm just infertile. My uterus is effed up, but my mind is perfectly fine, thank you." To take out a full-page ad in the New York Times telling people how wrong stories like NBC's are. It's not crazy to want to be a parent. It's not crazy to seek treatment when you know something is wrong. And once and for all, you can be under 30 and be infertile. Really! It's not just in our heads.

Lut C. said...

The media, well what can you expect. What makes me really mad is that none of my GP's listened to me when I suggested there might be something wrong.
The first GP didn't know that irregular periods were a bad sign, though my intuition told me so. Even after 1 year of TTC she didn't think it necessary to send me to a specialist. Argh.
The second GP didn't have a clue either. She thought the luteal phase was variable and not the follicular phase in women with irregular cycles. Come on!

Why didn't I go straight to an RE, because I was under 30. I was afraid of being turned down for being too young.

At least it taught me I need to stick up for myself.

mandolyn said...

There is a fire raging in the pit of my stomach. "Intensely Offended" doesn't even come close to how I feel about that story.

You're right, Mel, they clumsily try to paint a picture of the world where 20-somethings couldn't possibly have infertility issues. Oh no. They are just members of the "Have It All culture," just "unwilling to wait for what they want." Gimme Gimme Gimme.

Ok. Gimme ovaries that fucking work, dear reporters. How ridiculous am I, at 26, wanting something that is obviously targeting toward women 10 and 15 years older than me? I always knew that conceiving might pose a few issues. I hoped it wouldn't. I got off the pill and it felt like all hell broke loose. I feel lucky to have found some of my problems early, before the year mark. My period had to be medically coaxed into joining the party, but my ovaries were still hiding in the corner, frowning and refusing to play nice (or really, at all). Normal isn't possible here. But I'm sure that my only real problem was simple impatience.

I don't have an issue with the IFers who viewed the piece. We know that reality. My problem lies in the interpretation of it by the non-IF community. It's enough to hear, "Well, mandolyn, you've got to remember that you're still young" and "just TRY to relax" without hoping those people don't watch news stories like this one and think, "See? I was right. She does just need to calm down about the whole baby thing."

It just contributes to the social awkwardness of infertility, especially for 20-something women. I've had several people (including my mother) tell me that they really hope once I do have a successful pregnancy that my body will just "jumpstart" and get back to doing things normally. Except that it won't. And I'm actually ok with that. I get it. To them, infertility is almost a dirty word; they want to just flush it out of my system. Because it's that easy.

Inferitility is not dirty. It isn't "impatient." We aren't "unwilling." But thanks, MSNBC, for carelessly throwing the topic around. Oh and (Bonus!)additional kudos to you for having the reporter bouncing a baby on her hips. That really helped drive your point home.

(Thank you for the video link. Mrs. C mentioned it in her blog a few days ago and I was sorry that I'd missed the broadcast. Sorry, C, I still can't comment on your blog...courtesy of the new blogger.)

Christy said...

I'm so glad you're talking back to this misinformation.

It's just so friggin wonderful that now it's not just selfish, self-absorbed, self-important 30 and 40 somethings who want IVF but now whole new decades are added to the sterotype! Who are these "impatient" women who can't be bothered to just relax and try to have sex like normal people? Because, really, we all know that's all you have to do to have a baby in this country (I read it in the newspaper somewhere! My neighborhood church lady told me so, too!)

Have any of us ever met _anyone_ who even _remotely_ fits this characterization, no matter what her age is?!?

And when my husband read me the part of the article about the new baby getting stolen, I said, "What do you want to bet they try to pin it on an infertile woman." He laughed and said, "There's a reason I didn't read _that_ part of the article.

You see (as evidenced above), I get a little pissy about this kind of thing. Grrrrrrrrrr.


~r said...

I blogged about this today also. I was reading the public comments on one of the news stories, and I had this urge to jump up on my soapbox and scream We're not all Rebecca DeMornay!! ... but then I'd be kinda proving that Fertility-Challenged-and-Psychotic thing.

I had not seen the "impatient-not-infertile" story before now. Really, they could have found a better example than the woman they interviewed, if that was their point. I'm not sure what they were trying to say - how dare she seek help after four months of not ovulating!? Please.

Some day, people will realize that infertility is medical, not mental.

Jamie said...

This post is so true. The media definitely protrays infertility in the wrong light and in many ways I think we can blame them for the "stigma" that infertility seems to carry.

I am one of those horrid "20 somethings" that is doing IVF. I lost my first tube to an ectopic pregnancy and my second tube was removed due to hydrosalpinx. There is no way I am going to get pregnant unless I do IVF.

Granted, I am an impatient person and I would love to have a baby RIGHT NOW (or 2 years ago when we started trying) but that has nothing to do with why I am doing IVF. I actually waited a year to start my first cycle!

megan said...

I too am one of those impatient 20 somethings.. blah! It's not that I am impatient to have babies, it's that I've never carried one to term!! That's not a medical problem, that's just me getting too impatient. not that it didn't take me over a year to get pregnant in the first place either! argh. this just pisses me off.

Bea said...

I'll leave Shannon Beck to one side for now. That's just a terrible situation for all concerned - that's a pretty good summary of what I think.

But that article? Where was the bit which said that IVF is now cheaper, relative to the average wage and cost of living, than it was 15/30 years ago and therefore 20-something couples are able to seek treatment *when they need it* instead of *five/ten years later when they can afford it*???

That's what I want to know.

Ooh, that really touched a nerve because I've had this from relatives. And there is a 0% chance of us conceiving without ISCI because of our MEDICAL PROBLEM. There is no reason for us to delay doing IVF just to demonstrate patience.


Melissa said...

Ugh...I wrote a blog on that stupid NBC story the night it happened. I was fuming-along with the rest of you. My husband thought I was over reacting...until he saw how all of you responded! And I have to say-shame on the woman who participated in the story for not sticking up for "us." I mean..well....they probably edited things she said for the sake of their story...but still...I'm pissed...and days later I'm still so angry. If ER weren't on NBC I'd boycot!

And here's the other problem with the story-It really didn't "teach" anything. At all...No useful info...Shame on NBC...

Tina said...

So glad you said something about the Shannon Beck story -- the profile I read on her really jumped out at me too, although, like other posters, I admit that I had that same thought when the crime was first reported. It is definitely a sad story all around.

Other things that struck me about the story -- what the heck was a woman who'd had a fullterm miscarriage that day doing walking around alone? What hospital would have discharged her on the same day? Why wasn't her husband with her? How could she have been left alone that day -- a woman experiencing such loss should have been in counseling that day and for days after, not left wandering, desperately looking for a baby to fill the void.

The other thing that struck me is that I will NEVER ever put a sign outside my house announcing that I just had a baby.

Katie said...

Add to that profile: "slightly overweight"

(as heard on Good Morning America Radio XM radio channel 155)

Is anyone writing to these people to complain????

Sami said...

I wrote about the NBC report as well... I was livid while watching it and my husband even got irritated. I too emailed the reporter and have not heard one word of apology, of you know what you're right - I skewed my topic. You picked a true "infertile" rather than the "fake infertile" you were hoping to do a story on. So very very irritating. Especially since I went to the RE at age 27 and 7 months after we started. Bite me was my thought at the reporter.

As for the article about the baby that was abducted - I had the same questions why was it okay to portray and to talk about infertiles as if this is something that they "normally" do. We may have hostile feelings towards pregnant women at times - but I don't think I've ever thought - hmmm going to steal a baby.

So very very irritating.

The Town Criers said...

To echo a few comments--exactly! What was a woman who had just experienced a late term pregnancy loss doing walking around post delivery? Truly, did she deliver and they just kicked her out of the bed sans counseling, family, and all? Where is the culpability of her health professionals?