Are You Infertile? The New York Times Thinks You are Rich and Whimsical

I want to dedicate this post to my father. Tonight he lies in a hospital bed suffering from complications as a result of a cancer surgery. My father had a long career as an intrepid, truth-seeking journalist, in a golden age of newspaper journalism. I flatter myself that he would like this post.

My dad, with his grandson.

Also, many thanks to Keiko, Mel and Esperanza.

Ah, the Grey Lady. Bastion of objectivity. Lately I have been wondering, though: what is UP with The New York Times and their coverage of infertility?

Let me start by saying that I respect most of the reporting that The New York Times does: we need their investigative journalism here and abroad and no one else can bring that to the table right now.

But The New York Times has consistently published articles that marginalize those who are going through infertility.

Bold statement, I know. Do I think The New York Times is intentionally doing this? I don’t know the answer to that. But here’s what I do know:

One in eight people suffer from infertility. Infertility effects people of all reproduction ages and incomes and those who are in their twenties are increasingly being afflicted. Those going through infertility suffer from similar levels of stress as those suffering from cancer. (For more facts about infertility, go to Resolve.) It is a devastating disease: that’s right, a disease. Yet to criticize and scoff at those who suffer from it is common.

All this most of us in the ALI (Adoption, Loss and Infertility) community know. Mel says we preach to each other and we need to turn the message outward. Keiko says we can only be heard if we keep talking, and talk loud enough in large numbers. I couldn’t agree with them more.

Back to The New York Times: the style/life section often runs stories about people undergoing infertility treatments. I have read hundreds of blogs about infertility. The vast majority of these are written by people who often have to postpone treatments because they can’t afford them, or who are unable to foot the incredible expense of adoption (for those who like to say, “Just Adopt”, know that adoptions often cost more than $30,000) and this is really, really sad.

If you read the articles about infertility in The New York Times, you would think that only the very wealthy (and whimsical, but we’ll get to that later) suffer from the disease. Patients profiled: a 46 year old woman using donor eggs who already has multiple children reducing twins, a woman with multiple homes, pictured with her baby and baby nurse (!), who pursues many treatments and finally settles on surrogacy, a woman has “twiblings” after using two different surrogates and donor eggs.

These are by no means the TYPICAL infertility patients who walk through the doors of hundreds of offices of reproductive endocrinologists each year. But you would not know this from reading The New York Times.

Other stories featured in The New York Times: the high cost of twin pregnancies (warning of the dangers of pre-maturity associated with twins!), multiples lead to dangerous pregnancies, how women should “lower stress” as a way to battle infertility (in other words, just relax!) and articles about “fertility tourism”.

When The New York Times covers infertility, there is almost always either an exotic angle featuring a wealthy person or, choice. Here’s where we get to the controversial issues like reducing twins, what to do with embryos. The subjects considering “choices” are treated as whimsical at best.

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. (From “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, 8/10/2011)

And:

“It just never felt right,” Mr. Stansel said. “We prayed many nights. A lot of sleepless nights. Originally we thought we might do the reduction. We chose to carry all six and, we believe, let God do what he’s going to do.” (From “Painful Choices With Fertility Treatment That Leads to the Most Dangerous Pregnancies”, 10/12/2009)

Here’s the thing: The New York Times spends almost all of its considerable resources on the extreme edges of infertility, the boundaries of treatments. But for the vast majority of us suffering from the disease, we’re just in the weeds. Suffering from miscarriages. Taking Clomid. Saving for IUIs and IVFs or adoptions. Fighting with insurance companies. Advocating for a tax credit for fertility treatments. We are a significant percentage of the American public and we are not represented or accurately portrayed in The New York Times.

I don’t know how we can change this: maybe the hundreds/thousands of ALI bloggers could retweet this article and ask The New York Times to write an article about Family Act of 2011, S 965, which would offer a tax credit for the out-of-pocket expenses associated with infertility medical treatment? Instead of the next article featuring the wife of a billionaire hellbent on genetically engineering her children, could they focus on Bodega Bliss, who has suffered from her fourth miscarriage and has to seek answers beyond her family doctor? Or Keiko, diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at age 26, who is pondering difficult and expensive choices beyond her means? Or Dresden, who detailed her difficult voyage to become a mother while caregiving for her grandmother? Or Smart One, whose past history with infertility motivated her efforts to be a gestational surrogate? Or why not write about Broken Brown Egg, a group that is become a rising voice advocating for infertility awareness in the African American community. THESE are the heartbreaking and inspiring tales of infertility that are untold. And happen every day, to people you know.

What ideas do YOU have for telling the real story of infertility to the public? Are there other media outlets covering infertility more accurately? Are we doomed to being misunderstood?

Addendum:

I don’t have access to Lexis Nexis, but these are the articles I found about infertility in The New York Times in the last four years. The headlines are indicative enough of the intention of the articles in most cases, I believe.

Lowering Odds of Multiple Births (2/19/2008)
India Nutures Business of Surrogate Motherhood 3/10/2008
A positive article! After Years of Fertility Treatments, Facing Life Without Children 6/10/2008
Her Body, My Baby 11/28/2008
Birth of Octuplets Puts Focus on Fertility Clinics (2/11/2009)
Picture Emerging on Genetic Risks of IVF (2/17/2009)
The Trouble With Twin Births (10/11/2009)
Grievous Choice on Risky Path to Parenthood (10/11/2009)
Payment Offers to Egg Donors Prompts Scrutiny (5/11/2010)
Meet the Twiblings (12/29/2010)
An American Family: Mom, Sperm Donor, Lover, Child (6/19/2011)
The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy (8/10/2011)

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58 Comments

Filed under Family, Infertility

58 responses to “Are You Infertile? The New York Times Thinks You are Rich and Whimsical

  1. Mel

    I think it would be an interesting study to choose five or six large issues and see how the NYT covers the information. Are the articles sensational in nature, or do they provide a panoramic view? I agree that the NYT tends to cover the outliers with IF — the extreme situations instead of the day-in-the-life. I wonder if it’s simply a mistaken thought that controversial equals newsworthy.

    • This is a great point. Does the NYT cover other issues in the same way, painting a group in the same general unflattering light as infertility? I don’t know. I haven’t noticed any other particular issue being treated this way, but would I? Maybe not. I’ll have to do some digging…any issues you want to throw out there? Healthcare? Sports? Travel?

      I wonder too about the controversial = newsworthy angle. That seems like it would be beneath the NYT. But…

  2. Marci

    I was just twitting #infertilitymyths and one of them is that infertility only strikes rich white women. One of the reasons I posted it, was because I remember my instant of surprise when I walked into my IF clinic and saw as Hispanic couple. After beating myself over absorbing the stereotypes, I realized that regardless of whether various sub-communities in our society talk about it, infertility does strike indiscriminately. It doesn’t care what your finances are, it doesn’t do racial profiling, or strike those who “aren’t ready to be parents,” and it’s not a personal judgment from G-d. Those myths and stigmas are horrible and dangerous. They marginalize and trivialize what prospective parents go through.

    • So true. The first time I walked into my infertility clinic I also was struck by how diverse the crowd was. Almost all of the people profiled in the articles I spotlighted were white. Just sayin’, NYT.

  3. First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about your father. Hope he’ll recover soon. That disease is so vicious.
    It’s sad that the media mostly focus on these cases and put even more misunderstanding towards the whole ALI-community. I honestly don’t know how to get the message out properly. Maybe it can’t be understood unless you have been there yourself. Isn’t that why we write about it all over our blogs – to be heard, understood and supported. Sometimes it feels like a very isolating situation to be in in real life.

  4. I wonder if NYT is just going for controversy. It’s horrible because then we in the ALI community have to deal with the ramifications. As far as turning outward to educate beyond our ALI blogs…I’ve been trying to do that since we started fertility treatments. I’ve been open about our journey to friends and family, and attempted to shoot down misconceptions right and left. Guess what happened? One friend of mine is pissed off at me because I’m pissed off that I keep getting the “Now you’ve adopted, you’ll get pregnant!” statement. Perhaps I need to work on my delivery? Oh, yes, but I’ve already calmly told my friends several times that statistically, it’s not likely to happen, and I don’t care if it does. They insist on bringing it up. I’ve had it. They aren’t listening…

  5. What about a letter to the editor? You could send this very post almost. I know it may not reach a large audience like we hope for, but at least it’s a step? You are such an incredible writer, you should be writing for the NYT! Can we petition for a job for you? ;-)

  6. Very sorry to hear about your dad.

    It’s tough because the NYT target demographic IS rich and whimsical. There was an article a few months ago on the dilemma of parents who had crazy-nice furniture then have young children, and what do they do with their $18K coffee table — put it in storage, cover it with bumpers, etc.? Obviously that is not meant to be representative of all parents, and that’s exactly the point. It’s far less fun to read about the decisions someone makes about Ikea furniture. I don’t think that anyone reads an article like that and thinks, “Oh, all parents of preschoolers must have furniture that costs more than my car” (my car anyway; I’m sure the people with museum-quality furniture also have a nicer car than I do). But, people oddly do read the NYT articles about IF and think, “Oh, all infertiles must have unlimited money and must not value the lives of their unborn children,”

    I’ve found the Washington Post to be much more balanced with IF coverage.

    • Thanks about my dad..

      “It’s tough because the NYT target demographic IS rich and whimsical”.

      Ha. This goes back to Mel’s original suggestion:

      “It would be an interesting study to choose five or six large issues and see how the NYT covers the information. Are the articles sensational in nature, or do they provide a panoramic view?”

      I just feel like their coverage is irresponsible, almost, because I agree with you:

      “But, people oddly do read the NYT articles about IF and think, ‘Oh, all infertiles must have unlimited money and must not value the lives of their unborn children.’ ”

      I know so because I read the comments on that reducing twins article. Ouch.

      I’ll be checking out the Washington Post. Thanks for the tip :)

  7. curly

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, jjirraffe!

    I’m drafting my letter to the editor now.

  8. In case y’all were curious what their next article about the ALI community is, this tweet says it all.

    “Did you adopt from China? Have you worried your child was taken from birth parents without your permission? Tweet NYT’s @johnireland w/your story.”

    I am without words.

  9. a

    Oh boy. Just read that last topic. My nieces are from China, and I’m pretty sure my sister and BIL got some sort of idea of their history.

    But for the links, I think you could send this post as a letter to the editor! Do they have online versions? It would seem that the NYT is appealing to a demographic different than mine. However, it seems irresponsible to have no balance whatsoever. Then again, I just read a biography of William Randoph Hearst, and I’m fairly convinced that balanced, responsible journalism does not exist…even if people try.

    Hope your dad continues to improve…

  10. RAWR.

    Yes. Exactly. All of what you just said.

  11. I love this post. I love that you took the time to look through all of these articles and actually comment on the trend. It’s so infuriating that a publication like the NYT can does this in such an insidious way. It’s just subtle enough that the general public doesn’t notice, they just think their way of thinking is right! It perpetuates a cycle that needs to be stopped. I wish a respected newspaper like this one could write something about infertility that we felt good about. Maybe, someday, that will happen.

    • This:

      “It’s just subtle enough that the general public doesn’t notice, they just think their way of thinking is right!”

      …is right on the money. That’s what I HATE about this coverage.

  12. Sending a prayer your father’s way, friend.

  13. Great post! Yes, definitely “letter to the editor” worthy.

  14. I’m betting/hoping that by now your dad has read (and loved) your post and is very proud of you.

    I like Mel’s point, and also what BabySmiling says about the WaPo. Now we just need someone doing a thesis or dissertation on the topic to devote themselves to the research.

    • Thanks! My mom read it aloud to him, and he liked it. Or so she said ;)

      I was thinking about this: I was thinking how they treat others with health conditions (b/c infertility is a health condition): obesity, diabetes, Multiple Scoloris, ???

  15. such an excellent commentary. I hope you did transform it into an LTE and submit for publication. and I’ll bet your dad is proud and hope he’s doing better.

    bravo!

  16. I agree with everyone’s comments — great topic for an academic thesis! : ) & definitely, a letter to the editor is in order.

    I find it scary/sad that — as you have noted — the NYT is considered one of the great bastions of quality journalism. And in some cases, it is. But definitely not in this regard. :p

  17. I have found the NYT to be abysmal in their coverage of infertility. Which is a shame. They go for fringe sensationalism every time. I actually boycott them, because if they are that myopic on a topic I know a great deal about, how can I trust the reporting they are doing on other subjects?

    • I admire your tenacity. I have thought about that: whether a large scale of boycotting is possible/would people would participate. I should talk to Keiko who organized the PETA boycott.

  18. I wanted this separate from my NYT comment. My very best wishes to you and your father as you care for him during this difficult time. This well written and well researched post is a wonderful tribute to someone who has raised a loving and intelligent daughter. I cared for my Mom while she was on hospice for months, at the beginning of our infertility journey. Mom shocked all the doctors and her family nickname is Lazarus. It is over four years later and she is still here enjoying her grandson and driving us crazy.

    • Thank you so much for your story, which brings me both tears and hope. I’m so glad you mom is still here enjoying her grandson. I hope my dad can recover. He’s such a smart helpful person.

  19. IF is definitely not the first issue that the NYT has misrepresented. The coverage of Bush II’s war in Iraq is probably the most glaring recent example, particularly Judith Miller’s reporting. In that case, Miller parroted the administration’s line on WMDs and presented patently false information as truth. I think the best way to deal with this is to not rely on exclusively on the NYT (or the mainstream media generally) to learn about the world and to ask a lot of hard questions.

  20. I posted this to my Facebook wall last week – thank you for putting into words what has been floating in my mind for years. Check out this new NYT article, and the scathing comments from infertiles (who seem to dominate the comments, unlike most other NYT infertility articles): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/fashion/fertility-is-a-matter-of-age-no-matter-how-young-a-woman-looks.html

    • Note that this article about infertility is in the FASHION section. That says quite a bit about their coverage. One of the ways I fought back was by “recommending” comments that were supportive of infertiles, and that blasted the article – when there are tons of comments, the most recommended come up first.

      • Thanks for the heads up. I sent my letter to the editor today. Interesting that infertiles are commenting on this article a lot. Huh. Going to check it out…

  21. Lots of good wishes and positive thoughts for your father, you and your family.

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  30. Devon

    From the article about the surrogacy:

    “Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.”

    Nice…

  31. So glad you chose to revisit this awesome post during July 2012′s NaBloPoMo, as I could hav sworn I had commented on this one too, at the time you wrote it, as I know I read it. I was surprised to not see a comment from me here.

    Since I am writing this from the perspective of the future, I know a few wonderful things.

    1) Your dad is doing a lot better now and I will keep him and your family in my prayers.

    2) After writing this well thougt out piece, you went on to create Face of ALI which was a fabulous next step in trying to raise awareness of real people dealing with ALI.

    Glad I got the chance to reread and finally comment on this. Great work/writing!

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