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Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Words and Not the Woman

Normally I'm not a fan of the PR-you-might-be-interested-in-this approach, but damn, I was interested in this (Anna, are you in my head?). Daniel Nester wrote a post this week called "Nobody Loves My $20,000 Baby" that ties directly into the brouhaha surrounding Alex Kuczynski's article. First and foremost, you should read his blog post because it speaks to the commenters who range from spewing bile to leaving "helpful advice" in regards to infertility. Actually, it speaks to commenters AND the people who say things to your face.

It's not that infertility is unique--it is just strange the division that moves through the medical world: this condition is respected; this one is not. This disease is considered a disease; this one is considered a choice. Nester writes:
My wife and I have been called selfish and narcissistic by adoption activists. Religious zealots have condemned us as immoral manipulators of God’s will. And prudes just don’t want to discuss where babies come from. Every time I mention our struggle to conceive a child in an Upper East Side Petri dish, I wander into a minefield of awkwardness, discomfort, and rage. I’m made to feel I’ve provided way more information than is socially acceptable.
It is entirely acceptable to critique an argument, critique a piece of writing, critique the way something was said. But a person in and of themselves? Alex Kuczynski was equated with Hitler on a Gawker comment (forgive me if I like to keep my Hitler comparisons to those who have organized a genocide). She was called "bitch" more times than I can count. The advice given was laughable--do people honestly believe that with 11 IVFs under her belt, she didn't have time to think through her decisions and weigh her options?

Nester asks, "what is the protocol for talking about the IVF process?" Literally, I'm asking this here. What is the protocol for answering questions and speaking about your life when the response is critiqued so harshly? The person's intelligence and ability to make decisions called into question?

When I wrote about the surrogacy article on BlogHer today, I was speaking more to the fact that this is the reason a culture of secrecy still exists. Was it a great article--frankly, no. It had some wonderful moments that really resonated with me. I really ached for her as I read it. But it was in desperate need of an edit because too many statements could be read in too many different ways to make it helpful. Her point wasn't clear; her reason for including parts of the story unclear.

But I think more telling were the comments that came after the article. The posts about the article.

A commenter over on my post made the point that newspapers used to edit the responses as well--if you wanted to publicly discuss a piece, you wrote a Letter to the Editor and a few of the coherent ones were published. With an online medium, anyone can leave their thoughts. And they do--whether they advance an argument or make a point at all. If people had critiqued the article (and the photographs do not count as the article because they are two separate entities), I would be fine with anything written. But to critique her is ludicrous. We don't know her. We haven't walked in her shoes. We haven't made her decisions even if we've chosen a similar path.

I have been wondering all week what Alex Kuczynski has been feeling.

Since I cannot get that (unless, Alex, you want to weigh in here so I can stop worrying?), I would love to hear your thoughts on Nester's article.


Julia said...

The whole money thing bothers me. If every state was a mandated coverage state then discussion of IVF with a random clueless person could center on difficulties of going through treatment, both physical and emotional. We could talk, then, of what it means to decide to undergo testing or treatment. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants. Instead, as is talk of treatment is always talk of money-- how much the treatments were, whether it was the right thing to spend the money on, etc...
And that's wrong. It just shouldn't be an issue. Everyone who needs it should have access to it. Interestingly, it would probably mean that more people would do it, and everyone else would realize they know someone who did it (can you tell we just saw Milk last night?), and then the whole concept wouldn't be so foreign.
And shortly after that, rainbows would sprout spontaneously from our butts. For sure.

WiseGuy said...

I read through Nester's article, and also that of Alex. It is awful to read the kind of comments that both of them are getting. Some of them border on being vile and some of them promise him hell in his after-life. Does the choice of wanting a baby, no-matter-what, must become so hard, and if mother nature is not helping, should we just kill ourselves with passive acceptance? Am I responsible for the world's population? If people throw their kids into the gutter, does it become a burden on the infertiles to take upon the responsibility of someone else's irresponsibility? When people talk about reproductive rights, is it only meant for the capable?

Kristin said...

It truly is awful the things commenters said after both the articles. While I didn't get the impression that Alex Kuczynski was a person I would like, I would NEVER presume to criticize her choice to have IVF.

JuliaS said...

Wouldn't it be interesting to see the people who balked about the money being put to better use suddenly given $20,000 and told how they should spend it. Always easy to give advice when you aren't the one supposed to take it. I find it interesting too that it is always the infertiles who are supposedly responsible for adopting and taking care of all the impoverished children in the world.

In some ways I see the point some made about not talking so openly about it - some things are personal and if you don't want comments on it, etc . . . Blogs are a bit less personal and people can choose to read or not read. I'm not holding anyone a captive audience over the punch bowl and forcing them to hear how my children were conceived in detail. Though, having been through experiences that were extremely trying - having a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on a bit was a panacea. So, in that regard I was a bit choosy in whom I confided such details.

I was a bit put off by the woman the original article was about and I cannot say for certain the writing and pictures weren't entirely the cause of that. As for what she did and spent to have her child - that's her business and I cannot fault her for it.

I agree with the first Julia - removing the price tag and focusing on the human aspect could make a world of difference in the discussion of infertility.

I, for one, would personally love to see a race of Butt Rainbow people. :0) Though, with chirping birds, flowers and a little pot of gold at the end of it to finance a few rounds of ovary flogging . . .

Wordgirl said...

I started reading the article the day it came and promptly put it down because I was so sickened by the photography -- and I'd argue a bit here only to say that I'd be surprised if the author had absolutely no say on how her article went to print or what photos accompanied it.

As Julia at 'A Little Pregnant' points out -- the photo editor was anything but subtle -- strange because I felt that the tone of Kuczynski's piece was one that didn't fully give weight to the issues of privilege and class -- perhaps a passing nod but no more, not that she should have to be doing mea culpas all over the place for her wintering in Idaho -- but she can't be oblivious to the way it would be received -- and much of the vitriol, I'm certain, was fed by that.

I was touched when she allowed her invulnerability to crack and let us see the private heartbreak of fertility that we all know too well, and it let me see her as someone, not separate from me, but part of this bullshit journey -- but I still was left hardened to her and her plight -- though it could easily be my own.

When I got to the point where she was discussing choosing the surrogate and got to the interpretation of Cathy's essay -- I sucked in my breath. I thought she was unbearably condescending -- her 'computer-generated' answers --vs. the other women's scrawl...she went to college....her husband to William and Mary....and so on.

So whatever else came next -- whatever part I may have been moved by -- even her trying to see the positives in her body not carrying the child -- even if it means seeing her friends as haggard... all of that was a moot point and all I saw was the woman on the well-manicured lawn with the baby nurse standing at attention.

I'd be surprised if Ms Kuczynski was shocked by the response she received; she's a gifted writer -- and as such I would think she'd be prepared for the response of such a carefully crafted voice -- and if she truly is surprised then perhaps she is more privileged than one might guess.

As for the comments -- the internet is a wonderful equalizer -- there are no lions at the gate -- but that does mean, of course, you get the unfiltered stream of consciousness of your market...and you get everyone's voice...even the ones you don't want to hear -- and while they may be uniformed about fertility -- they are angry about something ... and that is worth sussing out.

Thanks for the thoughtful piece Mel,


Mrs. Higrens said...

On a related (but not the same) topic, has anyone else seen the AP story out of Chicago about the three different groups banding together to offer a low-fee option for alternate egg donors in the event the original egg donor backs out (for either medical or personal reasons)?

The article was in my paper today, and it wasn't until after I was on my way to work that I realized that, thanks to IF, I wasn't surprised to see and read that article. I'm sure some people out there have strong negative reactions to the "meddling".

Tash said...

I decided not to peruse after being warned not to read the comments. I knew exactly what was coming down the pike. I concur that the article could've been a touch more *delicate* in its message, but you know? She was brutally honest. About her feelings, ABOUT THE MONEY, about everything. She touched the rail which says people with money, like her, can afford to undergo the medical advancements that others can't. And I think that's something everyone needs to think about in regards to infertility *and health care in general.*

I've concluded after a week of reading commentary and chewing on the article, that the pictures were intended as in-your-face symbolic irony (see: NYer cover with Obama as terrorist) and failed miserably.

Wordgirl said...

I had my snappy little retort and then I wrote 'uniformed about fertility' -- instead of uninformed -- which made me laugh at myself...what would that uniform look like?


Who needs an editor now? Me!



Rebeccah said...

The day the article came out, I was walking down the hall with my boss. I recently told him that we're adopting, so he should have had some sense that I've struggled with infertility. He brought up the article, and we agreed that the writing wasn't the best. "What I really can't believe," he continued, "is that she had 11 of those whaddya-call-its ..." "IVFs." "Yes. What kind of person would do that?!"

I mentioned my blog friend who has had 14 transfers -- some fresh, some frozen -- then told him that just because some of us run out of money doesn't mean we wouldn't try forever if we could, and that he was lucky he had his daughters without having to spend thousands on IVF or adoption. The look on his face was priceless. How to reconcile his preconceived notions and knee-jerk snide comment with a real-life infertile standing right there? I really think that the more of us talk about things like this (not in an obsessive overly-detailed way, but just letting people know that we're part of the IF community), the less discriminatory people will be when confronted with other infertiles who might not conform to society's idea of a "respectable infertile," whatever that may be.

momofonefornow said...

I got swept up in this mess this week. A blog post written by a woman whose name I will not mention (I don't wish to give her any additional attention) set me ablaze. She used the term narcissistic about people who undergo multiple IVF attempts. I left a comment, it wasn't as nice as it should have been. I was surprised by how intensely I felt burned by their scathing comments about AK. I felt persecuted for her, or maybe right along with her, if that makes any sense.

The next morning, still stinging from all of the cruel comments that I read I went to school where my instructor gave me a diminished grade on a paper because I pointed out that one way to fix the population decline in Europe is to offer the infertile people that actually want to have children the treatments required to make that possible. The scathing comments on my graded paper?

1. IVF causes birth defects
2. It is horribly expensive
3. Adoption is the better choice.
4. Adoption is the motal option, ART is not.

I assure this made me furious. How dare anyone refer to my child, made with a little help and a lot of love, as the result of immoral choices. I assure you, I have made a lot of immoral choices in my life but he was not one of them.

loribeth said...

I have the NYT magazine at home but haven't had time to read it yet. I can only imagine the comments...! Thanks for the Daniel Nester article (there's also a Canadian tennis player named Daniel Nestor who recently became a new dad, & I thought it was him at first!!). I wish people wouldn't be so judgmental, especially when they've never had to walk in our shoes for even a minute. I wonder how many of them would change their tune (& how quickly), if the shoe was on the other foot. I know I have found myself doing all sorts of things I could never have imagined myself doing (including living childfree) these past 10 years because of infertility and stillbirth.

MrsSpock said...

I was so upset by the comments they spurred me to write a post about it myself.

There was so much about her article I would have changed. I think she painted herself in a bad light in her attempts at humor.

I think the NYT could have chosen someone with a different story.

I wonder, too, what she is thinking of the vitriol swirling around her in the aftermath.

JamieD said...

I liked the AK article for her unforgiving honesty. She admitted publicly a lot of things I have trouble admitting to myself.

As far as the number of IVFs - what can I say. If I had a crystal ball that said "You will get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby after IVF #8" you can bet I would be on board for all eight. Only problem is, IF isn't covered by our insurance and Hubby & I live comfortably but would never be able to come up with that kind of money.

I don't want to turn this into a "My IF is worse than her IF" so please don't take it that way but I do feel that AK missed out on a significant part of the IF struggle so many of us deal with. We all are desperate for a child and would do anything for that child but very few of us have the financial resources AK has.

I feel like there are so many doctors and clinics out there that are willing and capable of giving me a baby but I will never have the money to take them up on their offer.

Cricket said...

While I appreciated the message of the Nestor article, I was peeved that he wrote of the implantation of eggs. Nothing chaps an IFer's ass more than saying implantation vs. transfer and I thought in strange coming from an insider. I didn't even try to point out egg vs. embryo. After $20K, you should have the lingo right, particularly when there are editors and publication involved.

As for comments, there are idiots everywhere and unfortunately a lot of them have computers.

Infertility Warrior said...

All the ignorant comments by people that know nothing about infertility, just reminds me how much awareness is needed. Our journey, our struggles, have meaning. Fighting infertility is a noble fight - just as deserving of praise (if not more) than those saving their own skins. Awareness must be raised so that infertiles can actually be PROUD of what they go through to become parents.

Bea said...

This is a good question. I have mentioned it if it's come up, and if I've got the time and energy to explain myself. Both of these are happening less and less often as time goes by. The result: someone around me recently announced an ART pregnancy and I didn't know they were doing ART. Could have helped/listened - didn't know. If you come up with a protocol... not everyone wears the pomegranate bracelet.