Naomi Campbell: supermodel, phone thrower, jetsetter...and stirrup queen? News sources are buzzing with Naomi Campbell's battle with infertility, struggle with infertility, and renewed fertility. But it sort of begs the question: if an infertile woman is not actively trying to get pregnant, is she battling infertility?
I ask this not as a commentary on Naomi Campbell's journey towards single motherhood--she has no obligation to tell us how many donor inseminations she has done or what this mysterious non-cyst was that was removed from her...vague...reproductive tract. I ask this because of the assumptions that are made by the journalists when writing their headlines.
Battle and struggle are active words connoting constant vigilance and active measures. I hear struggle and I don't picture a person going about their day; I picture me, bloated on stims to the point where I couldn't close my jeans, sniffling through the lunch hour.
Yet Campbell reveals very little about the steps she attempted to get pregnant prior to the surgery in March nor has she discussed what has happened since with the exception of the fact that she changed boyfriends. In fact, it is not clear at all that she ever attempted to get pregnant despite the cyst-that-turned-out-to-be-something-different-when-they-opened-it-up. Just because someone cannot have children does not mean that they are actively trying to have children.
Hence my issue with "battle" and "struggle."
The slipperiness of language is not only used to blow up a story to make it newsworthy (I guess "Naomi Campbell Has Fibroid Removed! or Naomi Campbell's Polyp Party-Crasher! just doesn't have the same ring) but celebrities employ word choice to make something interesting seem less so.
This summer, when People magazine announced that Rebecca Romijn was carrying twins, they casually mentioned in the article that the babies were conceived "without the help of in vitro fertilization or the fertility drug Clomid." The investigative reporter in me immediately said, "why not add IUI with injectables to the list...hmm?...UNLESS THAT WAS HOW ROMIJN OBTAINED HER PREGNANCY GLOW AND BABY BUMP!"
The problem with celebrities revealing some and not all or journalists playing with language is that it leads to misinformation. And while it isn't of dire importance to know whether or not a dress came off the rack or is truly couture, it is important for men and women to have facts about reproductive health straight so that they make sound decisions about the timing and route of their own family building. When you go into reproduction believing that AMA stands for the American Music Awards you can understand why some people are shocked to learn how much fertility declines after advance maternal age is reached after the age of 35.
Which is also why journalists need to learn that the proper term is transfer rather than implant. A doctor cannot implant embryos into a woman's uterus. Using that term makes IVF sound as if it is instantly successful--a panacea for all your infertility woes. And when the New York Times can't get the terminology correct, it sets a tone of sloppiness (lest you think the New York Times has changed their ways since 2000, the same mistake is still repeated in 2008).
We need to use the same energy we bring to educating young girls on the realities of teen pregnancy to educate adult women about the limitations of fertility. To not believe celebrities who claim that fertility can be miraculously restored with every small operation or those who strangely know their child's gender when they're in the first trimester (but who did not use IVF with PGD according to a reliable source in their camp!). And, at the same time, make sure that the general public doesn't believe that IVF is a newfangled procedure only performed on nameless, baby-desperate women in secluded clinics. After all, if 12% of the reproductive age population is infertile, you have to believe that more than a few Prada-clad celebrity babies were the product of fertility circumventing procedures.
Unless, of course, movie careers ensure unending fertility.
I'm not a fertile woman, but I play one on tv.
Cross-posted with BlogHer.
More than one have said it in the comments so I wanted to respond in the post to be clear--you can struggle and battle infertility in many many different ways. Through any of the four paths (treatments, adoption, donor gametes, or living child-free) and all four are active paths with mindful decisions. You could battle infertility without ever seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. You could struggle with infertility and not be actively trying to build your family.
BUT the problem I had with the headline is that it makes a lot of assumptions. It is not clear from anything Naomi Campbell said that she ever tried to have a child, wanted to have a child prior to the operation, or was upset. All of that was assumed by the journalist and the title made sensational. It may be true that she battled infertility or it may not. The point is that journalists are choosing how infertility is portrayed vs. presenting a realistic vision of the information presented (and the problem, of course, is that if all she reveals is that she had a non-cyst removed, it isn't newsworthy and they have to make it larger and newsworthy in order to justify placing it in the magazine).
If Naomi Campbell had said, "I was actively trying for three years to have a baby and didn't realize anything was wrong until I started seeing an RE. I'm really lucky that I had medical intervention and hopefully, my fertility is now restored"--well, that deserves a blurb in a magazine and perhaps a title with the word "struggle." And she may have said that, but when it doesn't make it into the article, I have to go with what I read. And I read nothing in any of those blurbs that stated there had been a struggle or battle or that she had even tried to build her family. And that, to me, is sensationalizing a story with assumptions rather than presenting facts.
Which is a long way of saying that I am in agreement--you can struggle emotionally with infertility forever. And you can struggle financially with infertility long after you're done with the actual family building. And you can struggle physically with the conditions that brought on the infertility indefinitely. But I'd only put on the label of struggle or battle if the sentiment came from you. I would never assume that I knew how you were processing your infertility. I can only write generally how many do process infertility based on my own experience and what others write. But I can never speak specifically about an individual person's experience.